10 disturbing signs of emotional manipulation that most people miss

Have you ever known someone who can get whatever they want, whenever they want it? Have you looked at this person with awe, and yet, a little bit of distaste in your mouth because it doesn’t seem right?

Well, if you felt like they were taking advantage of you or someone else, you are probably right. Many people are master emotional manipulators in work, life, and relationships.

It’s a tough thing to spot and it hurts like hell when you realize someone has been playing you for their own advantage, but there are ways to recognize it so you can stop it before it even happens.

While some types of social influence are healthy, emotional manipulation can be quite damaging. And it’s important to distinguish what is healthy to what is not.

It is a healthy thing to socially influence someone to do better, to encourage them and motivate them. It is a part of the give-and-take of every healthy and constructive relationship in our personal lives and in the workplace.

Emotional manipulation is the complete opposite. It’s all about “taking” from one person for their own benefit. And when you are emotionally manipulated, you lose your power and become vulnerable for exploitation.

What is emotional/psychological manipulation?

Psychological or emotional manipulation involves influencing someone thoughts and emotions as a way to control them. This can be done through crafty and abusive practices, oftentimes unhealthy to the victim.

Manipulators will try to control people by using their weaknesses or vulnerability against them. They exploit these vulnerabilities to achieve their own goals, regardless of the harm they do.

Have you ever had a colleague talk you down to make you feel insecure at work? Has a romantic partner given you an ultimatum not to do something important, like move to another city, to keep the relationship?

Master manipulators are the worst kind. Their tactics are hardly obvious. And what’s worse, they make you feel like it’s all your fault.

Why is emotional manipulation harmful?

According to Chantal Heide, a relationship expert and dating coach, it creates mental and psychological havoc:

“Guilt, shame and fear are very negative emotions that make us feel uncomfortable, and people who use emotional manipulation in negative ways trigger those feelings to incite avoidance, getting their partners to choose alternate behaviours in an attempt to feel more comfortable emotions within the relationship.”

Do you think you’re being emotionally manipulated by someone? Here are 10 ways people can emotionally manipulate you to get what they want. Watch out for these tricksters so you can stay ahead of the game.

10 ways people emotionally manipulate to get what they want

personality questions to ask1) They invite you to their space.

One way that master manipulators gain control over the situation is by inviting you to their home or office so that you are in their territory.

It’s a control thing and makes you feel like a guest so you won’t speak up against them. Keep your eyes peeled for sneaky people who are trying to take advantage of you in their homes.

2) They listen first.

You might think this is good behavior, but what they are doing is looking for holes in your story, finding things to criticize you about, and judge you for their own purposes.

They’ll let you talk all day just to turn around and use that information against you to your face or to others.

3) They twist the facts.

Even if you are very clear about what you want, need, or said, they will find a way to turn the truth around and work in their favor. And they’ll brush it off by saying things such as “oh yeah, but what you meant was…” and then you are left defending yourself.

Psychologist Dr. Mariyam Ahmed says:

“An example of that would be if someone said, ‘I can’t believe you would say that! Who would say that?’

“You almost end up questioning yourself. So either [the person] will completely deny they agreed to do something, or ever said something.”

4) They inundate you with information.

To overwhelm you, confuse you, and get you to agree with them, they’ll often put a great deal of information on you so that you don’t have time to respond. This is so you can feel overwhelmed enough not to want to process such an information overload.

As a result, they’ll make the decision for you and then you’ll just have to go along with it.

5) They block you with red tape.

At work, this is especially common. Bosses who don’t like subordinates will block requests or issues with tons of red tape to maintain power over that person. Give you enough road blocks and you become frustrated enough to give up and succumb to what they want.

It’s a power play and can really hurt organizations as well as individuals.

6) They speak louder.

For some reason, people think if they talk louder it makes them sound smarter or better. They also think it makes them right. Emotional manipulators do this all the time.

It’s their own way of intimidating you into submission.

They just keep talking. And can even accompany their tactics with aggressive body language. They talk louder and over everyone else to gain control of the room and then you have no choice but to listen to them.

7) They are negative.

Emotional manipulators are not happy people and so it comes through in their work and life. They yell and scream at everyone, or they are very quiet, but either way, they aren’t actually having a good time.

It’s probably their own unhappiness that makes them want to make everyone else around them unhappy, too.

Many times, they recognize they can control someone else, which they think makes them happy because it gives them a sense of control. But it just ruins life for everyone.

8) They use ultimatums.

They’ll give you a tight deadline, tell you to take it or leave it, or decide ahead of time that you need to do something specific in order to please them.

It can be hard to know if it’s a bluff or not. But with these people, it’s always hard to tell. And they are so good at what they do you actually believe them.

It’s tricky and if this emotional manipulator is your boss, you might not realize that they are trying to set up your for failure.

9) They make fun of you.

They might laugh at you and make you feel shitty about yourself or something you accomplished. It comes out as a backhanded slap and others might not even pick up on it, but they meant it and you sure as hell felt it.

They do it in such a way that is not obvious to everyone else but you. This is because they know your weak spots and how to really hit them.

It could be as simple as a comment about the way you dress, but you know they meant to hurt you.

What’s worse is they manipulate you into forgiving them, that they even guilt you for being mad at them in the first place.

Life coach Patty Blue adds:

It’s more common for them to still put the blame on others, whether it’s co-workers, crazy drivers or their family. But they’ll do it in such a sweet authentic tone, you’ll be tricked into giving them yet another chance.

10) They judge you openly.

They make no apologies for saying you are wrong or doing things wrong. And by wrong, what they usually mean, is that you are not doing it their way! You’ll always be wrong unless you do it the way they think it needs to be done.

They even enjoy doing it. Manipulators get a kick out of embarrassing you and showing others that they have power over you. They will keep doing so.

They’ll never be happy so stop trying to please this kind of person and focus on making yourself happy instead.

11.) They’re your “friend” only when it’s convenient.

We’ve all met people who don’t give us the time of the day, but when they need something, immediately acts all friendly to us.

You may not have thought about it before, but that’s one sure sign of emotional manipulation.

They just want to get close to you because they need you. Not because they like you or want to be your friend.

Emotional manipulators are selfish, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want – even if that means blatantly using someone.

12.) They make you question yourself.

Emotional manipulators are experts at making you doubt yourself, they might as well have a degree for it.

They will make you feel silly for saying and doing things you feel strongly about. And they will diminish your feelings as if you’re unimportant.

Hays explains:

“This is classic gaslighting, an emotional and psychological abuse tactic that causes the victim to question their own sanity and/or reality.

How to deal with a manipulator

credit: Shutterstock/ Nicoleta Ionesc

Once you know what to look for in a classic manipulator, you might be a little thrown off your game to realize that these people are everywhere. It’s alarming really to consider how many people go out of their way to put you in a position that serves them and only them.

First, manipulators know how to detect your weaknesses. They’ll ask you very pointed and leading questions to discover things about you that you might not want people to know.

The second thing they’ll do is figure out how to use those weaknesses against you. For example, if you let it slip that you feel intimidated in front of a crowd, they might try to get you to give a speech at the next board meeting.

They’ll tell you it’s for your own good, but really it has to do with you making them look good because you’ll look so bad. Another thing classic manipulators do is they will work their black magic on you to make you think you are not worthy.

In the case of getting you to speak in a board meeting, they’ll be sure to follow up with you following the meeting to let you know that maybe you should think about a career change since it clearly gives you so much anxiety to be in that role.

Finally, a classic manipulator will continue to take advantage of this three-pronged approach in all kinds of situations. If this person is a co-worker or boss, you’ll be able to leave them at work, but if it’s a family member or close friend, it is even more difficult to separate yourself from the toxicity of the classic manipulator.

All of these things will have negative consequences to your well-being.

Dr. Heide says:

“Staying in a situation where control is constantly being applied means one will lose the ability to think for themselves, and will instead always take their cues from their partner in an attempt to avoid negative emotions.

“This stunting of their emotional growth reduces their sense of accomplishment, and eliminates opportunities for important validation. In turn, their self-dialogue will be, ‘I’m not important, I’m not worthy… I’m not loveable.’”

What to do about a classic manipulator

You need to take active steps to rid yourself of a master manipulator.

As Dr. Heide advises:

“A relationship with a person who has no regard for others and is using manipulation to selfishly gain advantages in the relationship should be ended immediately.

“Steps [should be] taken to ensure safety since individuals like this rarely give up control easily.”

Now that you can spot a classic manipulator from a mile away, it’s time to create a plan for dealing with these people. There is a lot to consider, but much of it starts – and ends – with you.

1. Know your rights.

Knowing your rights, for example, related to the workplace can help you get a head in your job. If the manipulation is bordering on harassment or threats, you can always take your complaints to a senior authority in your organization.

Know your rights as a human being as well. You don’t have to let people treat you like this. One of the easiest ways to deal with a classic manipulator is to keep your distance from them.

As to how to deal emotional manipulation, Támara Hill, licensed therapist and certified trauma professional, advises:

“I encourage you to be very careful when it comes to how much you let this person into your world. It’s okay to have boundaries. You can’t 100% trust a person who didn’t like you at first and now wants to connect.  Take baby steps or no steps at all. And that’s ok.

2. Create distance.

Don’t put yourself in situations where they will have a chance to make a dig at you and compromise your integrity. You might not realize this is happening for some time, but once you do, you’ll need to take action to get them out of your life, if only physically, and for a little while at a time.

Támara Hill adds:

“Avoid them until you are ready (or strong enough) to take their controlling behavior without getting angry. If you get angry or show any signs of anger, the controller will only flip things on you and blame you.

“Distance yourself little by little until you feel you are gaining better self-control. Minimize the person’s expectations, rules, or wants and keep in mind that you are only human. Do what you can but avoid feeling responsible for pleasing them. That’s not your job.

“And if you feel you need to “please” them, consider whether or not the relationship is healthy and worth it.

3. Don’t blame yourself

Remember that none of this is your fault. Manipulators are narcissistc and mean to hurt you. It’s not an accident. And since you would never want anyone to hurt you, it’s logical for you to remind yourself that this is not your doing.

According to Hills, you need to believe in your own version of the truth.

She says:

“Keep the truth in the forefront of your mind. Don’t let this type of person guilt-trip you. Now, there is a thing called a “conscience” and if you are feeling guilty about something own that and move on. It’s the only way to grow. But if you have nothing to be guilty about, don’t let this person guilt-trip you.”

4. Stand up for yourself.

One final strategy for cornering a classic manipulator is to give them a taste of their own medicine – turn the questions on them. Put the spotlight on them. Expose the flaw in their argument and let them know you are onto them. If nothing else, the shame might keep them out of your hair for a while and give you the space you need to figure out a longer game plan for helping them exit your life for good.

Emotional manipulators are good at micromanaging you, making you feel like you’re unable to make decisions for yourself.

Deal with it by standing up for yourself.

Hills advises:

“Make it clear that you do not appreciate being micromanaged. You can do this in a variety of ways such as being subliminal (i.e., taking control without permission, answering the micro-manager in a way that displays your ability to take care of your responsibilities, staying on top of your responsibilities, etc).

“Once micro-managers see that you are in control and not them, they will (in some cases) back off. When it comes to your identity, just be who you are.”

Whatever you decide to do about a classic manipulator in your life, decide that you are going to look after your best interest. The manipulator is not going to change. They can only be removed. They won’t learn, they won’t think about how it’s impacting you. So you can’t rely on them to fix this for you.

Take control, recognize you have a right to not be manipulated and get to work changing the situation.

(Do you want to increase your resilience? Check out our popular eBook on developing mental toughness here).

In conclusion

It can be unsettling when you realize that the person in front of you is a classic manipulator. What is most disorienting about this discovery is trying to figure out what to do about it.

In many cases, a classic manipulator is someone close to us, or in a position of power over us. This can make it especially difficult to separate yourself from these people even if you muster the courage to do so.

But if you maintain your distance, know your rights, and turn the questions on them, you’ll be fine.

If you find that the damage done is too heavy to handle on your own, there is no shame in asking for help.

Seeing a therapist or counselor may help you to uncover just how much the damage is and how you can handle it in a healthy way.

Dr. Heide agrees:

“Therapy should take place to uncover what brought them into the relationship in the first place, and how they will avoid becoming victimized again in the future.”

Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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