Emotional Manipulation: 10 Signs, Effects, And How To Deal

A partner who guilt trips you and makes you second-guess yourself can destroy your mental health.

Reviewed by Dr. Holly Schiff, Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff Dr. Holly SchiffLicensed Clinical Psychologist linkedin_icon
Written by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Experience: 4 years
Edited by , MA (English) Asmita De MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA (English) Gazala Firdos Ansari Integrated MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
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Are you in a situation where your relationship is going according to your partner, and every decision is made only by them without you included? These are the signs of emotional manipulation. In situations like these, you might feel guilt-tripped for getting your partner things done. This clearly shows that you are in a relationship with an emotional manipulator.

Emotional manipulation is also called psychological manipulation. This emotional ill-treat uses dishonest, indirect, or covert approaches to socially dominate the behavior or ideology of others. Such gambits are ruthless and misleading because they advance the manipulator’s intention at the cost of others.

The term emotional manipulation might sound like a psychological thriller you have read from books or a movie, but this is very much real. This not only happens between partners but can also happen in a relationship between friends and siblings. Read on to know more about emotional manipulation techniques.

Why Do People Manipulate Others

A man emotionally manipulating his partner
Image: Shutterstock

Emotional manipulation arises from a range of motivations rooted in individual desires and circumstances.

Some people manipulate to gain control or power over situations or individuals. It can stem from personal insecurities or a lack of confidence, leading them to use manipulation to feel more secure about themselves.

In some cases, manipulation is a learned behavior that they picked up from past experiences where it was used to achieve goals. Regardless of the underlying reasons, manipulation can harm relationships, erode trust, and create an unequal power dynamic. If you want to know whether you are being emotionally manipulated or not, check out the next section for important signs to look out for.

10 Signs Of Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse are tactics that may be used in toxic relationships to maintain power dynamics in favor of the abuser and exploit the vulnerability of the victim. Coercion, brainwashing, emotional blackmail, guilt-tripping, playing mind games, and narcissism are all examples of manipulative and abusive behavior that can be used to control and exploit others. Here are some signs of emotional manipulation that you should look out for:

1. Critical Comments Veiled As Sarcasm Or Jokes

Your partner may be saying things that are extremely mean, hurtful, or hateful, but in a way that comes off as joking or being sarcastic. Instead of offering you constructive criticism in a healthy manner, they poke fun at you to make you feel bad about yourself. They will say they were just joking and that you are too sensitive.

2. They Take Advantage Of Your Insecurities

You may have shared your insecurities with someone you trust, only for it to come back to bite you. Emotional manipulators are the aces of the game, and they will make sure to hang your insecurities in front of you to control you.

3. They Use Guilt Trips And Ultimatums To Get You To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do

Guilt trips and unexpectedly cruel ultimatums are the most common tactics of emotional manipulation. You don’t want to do something? They will guilt trip you into doing it. You want to do something they don’t? They will put an ultimatum on you. There’s no winning with them.

4. The Emotional Intensity Of The Relationship Is Quite High

The relationship is very emotional and high on negativity. Every conversation with them and every time you are together seems like it’s high on emotions, be it guilt, sadness, or plain heartache. You are constantly in a state of high alert and don’t feel like you can calm down.

5. They Play The Victim

“This is something that always happens to me.” This may as well be their favorite phrase of all time. Any time you try to confront them or get them to stop doing something that is hurting you, they switch on the waterworks, and suddenly, they are the victim!

6. They Make You Second Guess Yourself

Emotionally manipulative partners make you second guess yourself
Image: Shutterstock

Another one of their most-used tactics is making you doubt yourself. For example, you may want to buy a dress that looks cute on you. Their response: “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” Every decision you try to make in their presence is clouded by self-doubt.

7. They Never Keep Their Word

They will say one thing today and deny it tomorrow. Any promises they make disappear into thin air a few days later. Lying and deceiving? That’s just child’s play when it comes to emotional manipulators.

8. They Speak For You And Over You

Another common situation you may find yourself in constantly is them making decisions for you and overriding yours at any given time. Your opinions are best kept to yourself because they are of no value to them.

9. They Are Only There For You When It’s Convenient For Them

Whenever you want them to be there for you, they’re conveniently missing. But when it’s their turn to need you, they bombard you with texts and calls until your full attention is on them. The relationship only works as long as you are of benefit to them. There is no mutual reciprocity.

10. They Ignore Your Issues

Whenever you have problems and need help, it never seems to be their priority. Their problems are important, but yours are best forgotten. Your issues are ignored time and again, but they are back with another textbook excuse for you once you solve your problems on your own.

Ricky James Alan Bryant, a blogger, expresses frustration with how some individuals dismiss his feelings and suggest he needs professional help when discussing his experiences as a victim of emotional manipulation and abuse. He says, “You know back when I was dating my first boyfriend, he use to invalidate my feelings all the time, sitting there making excuses for beating me and went so far as to rape me to invalidate me by making it payback for me breaking up with him for cheating on me (i).” He questions the recommendations to seek psychiatric help, considering that he feels misunderstood and mistreated. He emphasizes his ability to recognize manipulation and emotional abuse and argues that he has come to terms with his past experiences independently. He calls for greater accountability and empathy in a world where victims often feel invalidated.

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A common overlooked sign is, they make you feel guilty for choosing yourself. They cannot stomach watching you happy in their absence. They will make snarky comments on your personal progress in an attempt to hold you back.

Dealing with emotional manipulation is difficult but impossible. Find out what you can do in the next section.

How To Deal With Emotional Manipulation

No one wants to be stuck in an emotionally manipulative marriage or friendship. If you do have the bad luck of finding yourself in one, here’s what you can do.

1. Prepare To Walk Away If Necessary

Prepare to walk away from an emotionally manipulative partner
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Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to walk away from the relationship. If you think your relationship is going south and you are being manipulated out in every decision you make, it’s best to leave the relationship.

2. Examine Your Relationship For Recurrent Patterns

Take time, sit with yourself, and analyze your relationships. Check for recurring patterns of manipulation when you find yourself doing things that you didn’t want to do because your partner made you do them. Make sure you come to the right conclusion for your sake as well as theirs.

3. Consult A Professional

Consult a professional to deal with an emotionally manipulative partner
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Seek out the help of a professional therapist. Sometimes, you may find it easier to go along with everything your partner says and ignore your own needs and boundaries just because you don’t link confronting them. But, a therapist can help you address these issues head-on and confront your partner in a safe and healthy manner. By recognizing and addressing victimization and emotional exploitation through developing emotional intelligence and empathy, we can create healthier relationships and a more compassionate society.

4. Improve Your Other Relationships

Try to work on improving your other relationships and making them as healthy as possible. Sometimes having others around you for support helps you a lot more than you can imagine.

5. Trust Your Instincts

Stick to your gut. If you feel something is not right, introspect and analyze why it feels that way. Make sure you don’t let anyone walk all over you. Your instinct is there to protect you, so trust it when you feel something is wrong.

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Practice activities in mindfulness and self-awareness. Many times it isn’t easy to recognize emotional manipulation for what it is. Only by centering yourself can you recognize subtle signs of people being emotionally abusive with you.

Emotional manipulation can take a huge toll on your mental health. Learn more about how it affects you in the next section.

Effects Of Psychological And Emotional Manipulation

“’Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
Till you put me down, oh.”

These lines by Taylor Swift accurately describe the effect of emotional manipulation in a relationship. Being psychologically manipulated can be extremely scary. It leaves emotional scars that run deep and hurt you to the core. The effects of manipulation may not be seen immediately, but they can be devastating to the point of destroying your self-esteem and self-worth. Here are a few effects that emotional manipulation can have:

1. Constant Feeling Of Uncertain

As you’re always afraid of what the other person wants and never sure if it will end up being the right thing for you, you could start doubting all your relationships with others in your life. Uncertainty can become your worst nightmare.

2. Self-Doubt

Even when you are sure of what you want, you are plagued by self-doubt and confusion. Even when you want to do something, the cloud of doubt makes sure you are not able to do it, leaving you filled with regret.

3. Anxiety

Emotionally manipulative relationship leads to anxiety
Image: Shutterstock

The constant doubt and disregard may lead to you always being filled with anxiety. You feel anxious about the most minor things and overthink the smallest decisions.

4. Hypervigilance

Once burned, twice shy. After experiencing emotional manipulation, it’s not uncommon for individuals to become extremely vigilant of the people around them. You may also find yourself finding it hard to trust anyone new when you start dating again.

5. Dullness

Losing interest in daily life and becoming a passive person is another effect emotional manipulation may have on an individual. You may find life very mundane and treat each day with the lowest regard possible.

6. Shame

You may feel shame stemming from not being able to reach the expectations of your partner. They probably constantly pointed out things about and criticized you, which ended up making you feel insecure and ashamed of yourself.

7. Low Confidence

Low self-confidence is a common effect of emotional manipulation as the manipulator may have made you feel bad about yourself and everything you did. Something that you were once proud of doing (like a hobby or a talent) may now feel difficult. Making eye contact, speaking with confidence – all these skills that came easily to you may now feel scary.

8. Self-Isolation

A common effect that can be observed in victims of emotional manipulation is isolation. They may isolate themselves from the outside world. This may be because of their lack of trust in their environment or shame at what they consider their downfall.

9. Wanting External Approval

As you have become used to being told that you are worthless, you start seeking external approval for every small decision you make. Your trust in yourself is replaced by the need for external approval.

10. Resentment

You may start resenting yourself for putting yourself in a position where you could be manipulated so easily. You may also feel resentment toward the people around you for letting you fall so far down in this hole. This may lead to mental exhaustion and strain on your mind and body.

11. Depression

Emotionally manipulative relationship leads to depression
Image: Shutterstock

The final, most extensive effect is falling into depression. Depression is a psychological condition in which your daily life seems so mundane and melancholic that you are unable to bear the thought of anything going well.

Infographic: 7 Signs Of Emotional Manipulation To Watch Out For

Your mental health and sense of self may be negatively affected by subtle emotional manipulation. Knowing the indicators can assist you in identifying the dynamics at play, from gaslighting and blame-shifting to victim-blaming and controlling behaviors. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the seven crucial signs that could point to emotional manipulation in your relationship.

7 signs of emotional manipulation to watch out for (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

It is difficult to spot emotional manipulation in a relationship, especially if you are on the receiving end. The key here is to sit back and analyze how many of your boundaries are regularly breached by your partner. If you are unsure, look for the above-listed signs of emotional manipulation and see if you can associate them with your partner.

If you are stuck in such a relationship, you may require professional help to understand how to handle the situation. However, do not shy away from walking out of the relationship if nothing works out and you feel you have done enough to mend the relationship. Similarly, if you know someone in an emotionally manipulative relationship, offer your support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do emotional manipulators know they are manipulating?

Yes, in many instances, emotional manipulators know that they are manipulating. However, in some rare instances, even the manipulators don’t know they are manipulating.

How do you spot a master manipulator?

Master manipulators take advantage of your insecurities and always try to exploit them. They will make you dependent and know every detail about your weaknesses. If you spot any manipulator with these qualities, it is better to get out of the situation as early as possible.

What are the 4 stages of manipulation?

The main four stages of manipulation are flattery, isolation, gaslighting, and violence. They act like they want to help you in the first stage and try to isolate you from your friends and family in the second stage. In the third and fourth stages, they start making you feel guilty and threaten you with fear or violence.

What is the weakness of a manipulator?

Manipulators cannot stand confident people who do not believe them. They may not interact much with people who do not agree with them.

What is the root of manipulation?

The urge to control others and exert power over people is the root of manipulation.

Why am I so easily manipulated?

Anyone can be manipulated. But, people who are insecure and worry about others’ opinions of themselves get manipulated easily.

Do emotional manipulators have feelings for you?

No, emotional manipulators do not have feelings for anyone. Their goal is often centered around controlling others and receiving what they want.

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional manipulation or psychological manipulation involves using dishonest, indirect, or covert approaches to socially dominate the behavior or ideology of others.
  • The signs of emotional manipulation include a relationship high on drama and negativity, constant self-doubt, guilt trips, and ignored feelings and needs.
  • The effects of manipulation, even if not seen immediately, can be devastating to the point of complete destruction of self-esteem and self-worth.


Are you feeling manipulated? Watch this video as it uncovers the truth behind emotional manipulation, and learn how to protect yourself.

Personal Experience: Source

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Dr. Holly Schiff

Dr. Holly SchiffLicensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Holly Schiff is a clinical psychologist licensed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York and has over 10 years of experience. She was awarded a Doctorate of Psychology in School and Community Psychology from Hofstra University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology and pre-law advisory. While completing her undergraduate...read full bio

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