When we think of abuse within relationships, we often imagine physical abuse.
However, emotional abuse is arguably a more common occurrence.
Because it’s a more subtle form of maltreatment, it’s not talked about as often—even if it can be extremely harmful and toxic in its own ways, too.
It’s precisely because it can be so inconspicuous that you need to learn how to recognize it when it happens to you.
Especially because emotional manipulators are often clever and skillful, their actions typically won’t feel abusive unless you’re in the know.
Here are 10 signs you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator.
1) They hurry to get close to you
Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, need to develop organically throughout time. You get to know a person first, then gradually get closer.
However, if you have this weird, uncomfortable feeling that they’re trying to get too close to you too quickly, then they probably have an ulterior motive. This is one of the earliest signs of an emotional manipulator.
Here are a few ways people do this:
- By “love bombing” or by aggressively showering you with affection;
- By trying to (or get you to) become vulnerable too soon after the first meeting;
- By inserting themselves into your friend groups unprompted;
- By constantly and incessantly wanting to talk to you;
They want to become intimate with you as soon as possible. Then, after knowing your secrets, insecurities, and overall emotional patterns, they’ll use them against you to get what they want.
A classic example?
A new date is being overly romantic to get into your pants ASAP. They make you think that they, like you, also want a proper, committed relationship, only to leave you after getting the intimacy that they want.
2) They exploit your insecurities
A good friend, partner, or family member should be an emotional safe haven. They should be respectful of your boundaries and be kind to you about your insecurities.
Emotional manipulators will use your insecurities in a wicked mind game. They exploit them, making you feel worse, in order to get what they want.
Here’s an example: let’s say you have some abandonment issues.
If your partner is emotionally manipulative, they will constantly hint that they might leave you if you don’t do what they want. You, therefore, feel pressured to give in to their demands out of fear that they might leave you all of a sudden.
3) You’re losing your individuality
Emotional manipulators essentially want to control you. They want a pawn who will do what they want.
If you’re losing sight of your own thoughts and desires as you try to fulfill their wishes, you’re being emotionally manipulated.
This can be a tricky thing to spot because compromise is common and often required, especially in long-term relationships like marriages.
For example, in some households, one partner might sacrifice their career to be a homemaker. This can be a reasonable arrangement or a toxic one—it depends on the context.
So how do you know if you’re just compromising in a healthy way or are being abused and controlled?
That’s simple: are they compromising too?
Compromising means that both parties are giving up a few things for the overall wellness of the relationship. Both people’s needs and wants must be fulfilled to a reasonable degree.
If only one person’s wishes are being followed at the expense of their partner, then they are being abusive and manipulative.
4) They downplay your concerns
Because they’re all about manipulating you to get what they want, they naturally try to dismiss your own concerns.
They want all your attention and efforts to be for them and for them alone.
If you express your concerns or needs in the relationship, they will try to convince you that they aren’t that big of a deal. Or, perhaps more sinister, they will use them to further attack you.
Here are a few examples:
- If they keep going out with a person you’re not comfortable with, they might accuse you of not trusting them.
- If you express the desire for more quality time, they’ll call you clingy.
- If you state that you’re uncomfortable with their demands to know where you are every moment of the day, they’ll say you’re cheating.
Not only will this make you feel worse about yourself (and be more vulnerable to manipulation), they can redirect the conversation to their wants.
5) They make false accusations
As you can see from the examples above, making false accusations and gaslighting are an emotional manipulator’s main tools.
By accusing you of things you didn’t do, they are putting you on the defensive mode. Their aim is to shatter your emotional stability or even doubt the things you’ve said or done.
They are baiting you to explain and defend yourself. Then, they might use your defensiveness to further accuse you of being toxic.
Has your partner accused you of lying or cheating even though both of you know it’s not true?
Making false accusations is one of the biggest signs you’re dating a manipulator.
Their aim is to create intense emotional tension, leaving you in a more vulnerable state for further manipulation and exploitation.
6) They don’t respect your boundaries
And if they don’t respect what you want, they also won’t care if you don’t want things.
In short, they don’t take no for an answer.
You don’t want to go out drinking with them after a long, tiring day at work? Well, they’ll accuse you of not being a good partner.
Or ask you to overexplain why you don’t want to. And they still won’t accept your explanation.
They’ll dispute with lines like:
- But I won’t be free for a long time after tonight!
- But I haven’t seen your friends in a long time!
- You already didn’t go with me last time!
They’ll probably argue with you for everything you say until you just give in. Or, if you won’t, you’ll get angry—and they’ll use that against you!
7) They deflect accountability
They will never admit that they’re manipulating you.
In fact, they might not even know that they’re manipulating you per se—just acting selfishly out of impulse.
Still, they’re hurting you nonetheless. But of course, they always have an excuse.
They will never admit it and take accountability. Worse, they might even deflect it back at you in an attempt to manipulate you further.
If you fall for it, you might even be the one apologizing, even if you’re the one wronged.
For example, if you express that you’re uncomfortable with how they always demand to know where you are, they will tell you that you’re being unfaithful.
This is an unreasonable demand and a toxic accusation.
However, clever manipulators will either make you believe that they’re being reasonable or wear you down so that you apologize instead. Either way, they’re dodging accountability.
8) You’re overly cautious with them
If you feel like you need to walk on eggshells with them, they might be manipulating you.
Remember, a good, healthy relationship—romantic, platonic, familial, or even in business—will be built on mutual trust and rapport.
And if you feel tense, unsafe, or uncomfortable around them (all while keeping you attached), then they have succeeded in emotionally manipulating you.
They want you to fear them or doubt your every action.
Once again, they’re simply trying to make you think of them and their needs at the cost of yours.
After all, they might threaten you with a breakup or a tantrum if you don’t watch your words.
9) Your health is being affected
Because of the awful emotional conditions of your relationship, it’s no surprise that you won’t be in the best shape.
- Is stressful;
- Is anxiety-inducing;
- Worsens your insecurities;
- Makes you doubt yourself;
- Make you afraid of your partner or your future with them.
And the worst part is this is all likely intentional by your partner.
They want your mental health to deteriorate.
Or at least they won’t care if it does, as long as they get what they want.
Of course, these adverse mental health effects will translate to physiological problems, too. You might have trouble sleeping or eating from the nerve-racking state of your relationship.
10) They disrespect you in other smaller ways too
Here’s the thing: emotional abuse is not limited to big acts or particular instances of explicit manipulation. It’s an entire behavioral pattern.
Do they talk to you with respect and affection, or are they passive-aggressive or angry?
Do they roll their eyes when you assert your boundaries, or do they respect them?
Do they make small, derogatory comments about your looks, job, or interests, or are they supportive of you?
Do they always show up late, or do they respect your time?
Do they interrupt you when you talk, or do they listen intently?
These are just a few of countless examples, but if it’s mostly the former, then you’re likely with an emotional manipulator.
The bottom line
Emotional manipulation is a common yet subtle form of abuse.
It is important to spot and correct it if you want a truly healthy relationship.
The thing is that many people who commit emotional manipulation may not be aware that they are being manipulative.
Their actions may not be borne out of explicit malice.
In fact, even well-meaning people can be prone to occasionally using manipulation tactics. After all, it stems from selfishness, and we all have selfish tendencies.
So we hope this list helps you recognize emotional abuse in your relationships—whether you’re on the receiving end or actually the perpetrator.
Then, once you’re aware of it, you can leave or work on it to build better, healthier relationships.