8 ways to spot a emotional manipulator, according to psychology

If you’ve ever dealt with an emotional manipulator, you know how draining it can be.

They can twist your words, make you question your memory, and even cause you to doubt your self-worth.

This is no minor issue. Emotional manipulation is a serious concern that can lead to significant distress and confusion.

Recognizing emotional manipulation isn’t always straightforward. But with insight from psychology, it’s possible to identify some key signs.

This article is aimed at helping you spot an emotional manipulator and understand their tactics.

By learning to recognize these signs, you can better protect yourself and handle difficult interactions.

1) Inconsistent behavior

One of the first signs of an emotional manipulator is inconsistent behavior.

This can be quite confusing and unsettling. One moment, they may shower you with affection and praise, but in the next, they could become cold and distant without any clear reason.

In psychology, this is often seen as a classic manipulation tactic. The aim is to keep you off balance, so you’re always guessing and second-guessing yourself.

This unpredictability also makes it harder for you to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, which can lead to self-doubt and anxiety.

Inconsistency isn’t just their mood swings. It can also be reflected in their words and actions.

For instance, they might promise you something one day, only to go back on their word the next. Or they might portray themselves as a victim in one situation, and then act as an aggressor in another.

2) Excessive charm

On the surface, an emotional manipulator may come off as exceedingly charismatic and charming.

They have a talent for making you feel special and valued, often right from the beginning of your interaction.

This charm offensive can be so potent that it blinds you to their manipulative tactics.

Psychology explains that this is a calculated move. By winning you over with their charm, they create an emotional bond that makes it harder for you to recognize or confront their manipulation.

You might even start to question your own judgment when things don’t add up, because they’ve made such a positive impression on you.

While it’s natural to be drawn to charming people, excessive charm can sometimes be a red flag.

Remember that genuine people will show consistency between their words and actions over time. So if someone’s charm feels forced or seems to mask inconsistencies in their behavior, it could be a sign of emotional manipulation.

3) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the manipulator tries to make you question your own reality or sanity. They might deny things that have happened, dismiss your feelings, or convince you that your memory is incorrect.

This tactic is particularly harmful because it erodes your trust in yourself and your perception of reality.

Over time, you may start to doubt your experiences and feelings, which can lead to a sense of confusion and low self-esteem.

Victims of gaslighting often feel a constant state of self-doubt and can even suffer from severe anxiety and depression.

So if someone is always challenging your memory or making you feel like you’re “overreacting” or “imagining things,” it could be a sign that they’re manipulating you.

4) Lack of empathy

It’s hard to imagine that someone close to you could lack empathy, but it is a common trait among emotional manipulators.

They may seem uninterested or dismissive of your feelings, often brushing them off or making light of them.

This lack of empathy isn’t reflective of you or your feelings.

Remember, everyone has a right to express their emotions, and those feelings deserve acknowledgement and respect. If someone is unable to show this basic level of understanding, it could indicate they’re practicing emotional manipulation.

You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and recognizing these signs is a step towards ensuring you surround yourself with people who value your feelings.

5) Playing the victim

We all have those moments when we feel like the world is against us. But for emotional manipulators, this is more than just a passing feeling: it’s a regular tactic.

Often, manipulators will play the victim in order to gain sympathy and control. They might exaggerate their problems, shift blame onto others, or claim they’re always being treated unfairly.

The aim is to make you feel guilty or obliged to help them, even when the situation isn’t your fault.

If you find yourself constantly trying to ‘fix’ situations for someone, or feeling guilty for things that aren’t your responsibility, it could be a sign of manipulation. 

6) Guilt-tripping

A common tactic of emotional manipulators is guilt-tripping. They know how to use your feelings of guilt as a tool to get what they want.

For instance, let’s say you decided to spend a weekend by yourself to recharge.

An emotional manipulator might respond by saying something like, “I guess you don’t care about spending time with me anymore.”

This statement is designed to make you feel guilty for wanting some time for yourself, when in reality, everyone needs a little personal time now and then.

7) Frequent ultimatums

Ultimatums should be a last resort, not a regular part of conversation.

If someone consistently uses “my way or the highway” tactics, it’s a clear sign of manipulation.

Emotional manipulators often use ultimatums to control others and get their way. They make you feel as if you have no choice but to comply with their demands, out of fear of losing the relationship or facing severe consequences.

Relationships should be built on mutual respect and compromise, not threats and coercion. You have the right to make choices that are in your best interest without being made to feel guilty or fearful. 

8) Trust your instincts

When it comes down to it, one of the best ways to spot an emotional manipulator is to trust your gut.

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Your feelings are valid, and you know yourself better than anyone else does. If you often feel uncomfortable, confused, or upset after interactions with a certain person, don’t ignore those feelings. They could be indicating that you’re being manipulated.

Remember, everyone deserves to be in relationships where they feel valued, respected, and safe. Don’t let anyone manipulate your emotions or make you doubt your worth.

You have the right to stand up for yourself and to choose relationships that are healthy and positive. 


This article has provided some signs to help you identify emotional manipulators, but the ultimate power lies with you.

Trust your instincts, value your feelings, and don’t be afraid to establish healthy boundaries.

Remember, spending time in healthy and supportive relationships is never time wasted.

Picture of Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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