8 tactics emotionally manipulative people use to control you

For the skilled manipulator, control is the name of the game. 

They’ll employ various cunning techniques to put us under their spell–and typically, we only come to our senses when the damage has already been done. 

So if you suspect you have a manipulative person in your life, you owe it to yourself to start fighting back. 

But first things first: learning their behaviors. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through the common tactics emotionally manipulative people use to control you. 

Once you get the idea, you can start moving accordingly. Let’s dive in!

1) Gaslighting

The manipulator can induce doubt in even the most confident of people. 

They work to make you doubt your own reality and sanity

They’ll flat-out deny truths or facts with so much conviction, we end up buying it. 

Go with your gut. If you feel you’re being manipulated, listen to that voice. 

I was watching a true crime documentary on Netflix last night. 

It was about a domineering, sociopathic man who took complete control of a woman psychologically, leading her to break ties with bewildered family and friends. 

It was disturbing to hear their recorded phone calls as he manipulated and gaslit his perplexed victim into obediently following him.  

Vulnerable people are the gaslighter’s prime targets–so if you happen to be feeling a little tender, don’t allow yourself to fall for their tricks. 

It may be difficult at first, and by design, you might even question your memory or perception, but in time, you’ll get the hang of it.  

2) Guilt-tripping

When a manipulator senses weakness, like a predator in an African grassland, they’ll swiftly go in for the kill. 

One of their primary methods? Using guilt to control others. 

My ex used to do this all the time to get her way. And like the village idiot, I’d often fall for it. 

She grew up spoiled and was accustomed to throwing tantrums to get people to bend to her will. 

So if I couldn’t do something for her, say join her and her friends for lunch because I was working, she’d throw a fit, sometimes tearfully claiming I didn’t love her or that I was negligent and uncaring.

She knew that when the tears started flowing, I’d cave. 

It took me a few years to wake up, but when I finally did, there was no looking back. 

I set things straight, firmly outlining what I’d no longer put up with. 

And sure enough, we split up shortly after. No regrets. 

3) Love bombing

Here’s the thing: intimacy only counts when it’s consistent. 

If your partner is loving, caring, affectionate, and kind one minute, and cold, indifferent, and even mean-spirited the next, something is off. 

Naturally, this sudden shift in mood will bother you, make you doubt yourself, confuse you. 

You might ruminate, obsessively replaying scenarios in your head where you could’ve possibly done something wrong. 

You’ll frantically try to regain their affection for peace of mind, only for them to continue to withhold it; you don’t quite realize that you’re giving them the upper hand on a silver platter.  

In cases like these, the manipulator has successfully made their victim emotionally dependent on them.

Mission accomplished. 

4) Isolation

I’ve watched enough YouTube videos about cults to know that isolating their followers from other people is one of their textbook moves. 

Cult leaders don’t want you to be exposed to loved ones, which, in their minds, can sway you away from their toxic influence. 

The same general mentality is prevalent among everyday manipulators. 

They fear free thinking and independence, as this could mean all their manipulation, indoctrination, and brainwashing could go down the drain.  

Hence, they’ll discourage you from seeing friends and family, perhaps by convincing you that they’re bad people, which is ironic for obvious reasons. 

At the end of the day, the manipulator’s goal is simple: they want you to feel helpless without them. 

5) Passive-aggressive behavior

As you may have gathered by now, manipulators are no fans of stability and self-assuredness in the people they’re trying to manipulate. 

They want a perpetual sense of uncertainty and unease so you become easier to manage. 

Passive-aggressive behavior aligns with these desires. 

If you know someone who expresses negative feelings indirectly, via sarcastic comments or silent treatment, instead of openly discussing them, this isn’t only immature, it’s downright manipulative too. 

6) Triangulation

Manipulators love a bit of not-so-friendly competition. 

They want you to earn their affection; they want you to continually prove your desire for them, to massage their fragile ego. 

Sometimes, they’ll even bring a third person into the mix to make you jealous and set you straight. 

I get that nobody is perfect and that, in the context of a relationship, we all can act immaturely from time to time but certain things should be considered out of bounds–triangulation being one of them. 

So if you know a manipulator who tends to resort to these measures, consider it time to start sprinting in the opposite direction. 

7) Projection

A person with manipulative tendencies is not one to often take accountability.

They’re experts at distracting and deflecting attention away from their shortcomings and negative actions. 

Think of the politician who is corrupt and incompetent yet will divert attention away from themselves by falsely blaming innocent parties for those same indiscretions. 

In this case, they’re manipulating the public, the same way everyday people manipulate each other. 

8) Constant criticism

As established, your being mentally strong and confident is not in the manipulator’s interests. 

They’ll actively work to undermine your self-esteem and self-worth through frequent yet subtle criticism and belittlement.

Remember, they won’t insult you outright. 

Instead, they’ll take light jabs at you all day, gradually chipping away at you and any confidence you may have once had. 

They’ll be so sly and cunning that you won’t often realize you’re being put down, but the damage will be inflicted all the same. 

This brings to mind the metaphor of the frog in boiling water. Have you heard of that one? 

It suggests that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will immediately jump out. 

However, if the frog is put in room-temperature water that is slowly heated, it won’t realize the danger and will suffer a slow death. 

This metaphor is often used to depict a person’s inability to detect gradual, damaging changes (like a manipulator’s understated criticism) in their environment. 

So if you notice something’s off, leap out before you get boiled. 

Don’t be that frog. 

Final words 

Some people willingly remain in denial about their situation, they’ll perpetuate a toxic status quo for far too long. 

Not you though. 

The fact that you’re reading this now means you’re aware there’s a problem. This might be the most crucial step. 

Now you have to start actively protecting yourself.  

This can mean sitting down with the manipulator and setting firm boundaries… or dropping them from your life altogether. 

It’s your call. 

As long as you take action and stand up for yourself, you’ll be in good shape moving forward. 

You got this. 

Picture of Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.