18 Games Emotionally Manipulative People Play

18 Games Emotionally Manipulative People Play

Humans crave connection, and there’s nothing better than knowing someone on a deep, intimate level. However, some people exploit these bonds for their own gain. Enter the emotionally manipulative person – skilled in the art of subtle control, coercion, and exploitation. From subtle tactics to overt maneuvers, the games manipulators play are designed to keep their victims off balance, questioning their perceptions, and ultimately under the manipulator’s thumb.

1. Humiliation as a form of control

Emotionally manipulative people often resort to humiliation to maintain power dynamics in their relationships. By belittling or mocking their partner’s actions and emotions or the actions and emotions of others, they create an atmosphere where the victim feels inferior and less likely to assert themselves. For instance, making fun of someone for wearing a short skirt subtly discourages their partner’s freedom to wear what they want and ensures the manipulator’s narrative remains dominant.

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2. Inciting jealousy

Manipulative people thrive on controlling their partner’s emotions — and jealousy is a potent tool in their arsenal. They may fabricate scenarios or deliberately flirt with other people to provoke feelings of insecurity and possessiveness in their partner. This tactic not only fosters dependency, but also distracts the victim from recognizing the manipulator’s own insecurities and faults.

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3. Using a victim mentality

One of the classic games emotionally manipulative people play is adopting a perpetual victim mentality. They skillfully twist situations to cast themselves as the innocent party, deflecting responsibility for their actions. By portraying themselves as the one who’s been wronged, they elicit sympathy and often trick people into forgoing their own needs to feel sorry for the manipulator instead.

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4. Taking preemptive measures for an argument

Manipulators are adept at steering conversations and preemptively framing discussions to their advantage. They may strategically bring up unrelated issues to divert attention from the actual topic or to gain an upper hand in an upcoming argument. This tactic keeps their partner on the defensive, making it challenging to directly address the manipulator’s behavior.

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5. Withholding issues to use against you later

Emotional manipulators typically withhold information or emotions strategically, using them as leverage in future conflicts or negotiations. By storing up grievances or sensitive topics, they ensure they have ammunition readily available to regain control or influence their partner’s behavior when needed.

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6. Vindictiveness

Emotionally manipulative people may resort to threats of revenge to exert control or seek payback. They may employ tactics like the silent treatment or passive-aggressive actions to punish their partner for perceived slights or disobedience. This behavior not only reinforces dominance, but also creates a cycle of fear that keeps their partner cooperative.

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7. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person causes someone to question their sanity, memories, or perception of reality, as defined by Medical News Today. Emotionally manipulative people may deny events or conversations that occurred, distort facts, or blame the victim for imagining things. It fosters an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety, as the victim is left constantly second-guessing their partner’s intentions and doubting their own ability to trust themselves. This insidious form of manipulation undermines the victim’s confidence and reality, leaving them vulnerable to further manipulation.

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8. Love bombing

Love bombing is an intense display of affection, praise, and attention used by manipulators to quickly establish a deep emotional connection with their target. They shower their partner with grand gestures and declarations of love, creating an illusion of a perfect relationship. However, this intense attention is often a guise for manipulation, as the manipulator seeks to reel in their victims with empty words and promises, making it harder for them to leave later.

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9. Breadcrumbing

Also known as “intermittent reinforcement,” manipulators regularly employ breadcrumbing to keep their partners hooked and seeking their approval. They offer “crumbs” of affection and love only to withdraw attention later, creating a cycle of hope and despair. These breadcrumbs are strategically just enough to keep their partner around. According to Thought Catalog, Psychologist B.F. Skinner’s discovered that inconsistent rewards actually produce more persistent behaviors. This unpredictable reinforcement fosters an addictive dynamic within the relationship, as the victim becomes desperate for affection from the manipulator.

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10. Playing the martyr

Emotionally manipulative people often portray themselves as martyrs, sacrificing their own needs and desires for the sake of the relationship. They guilt-trip their partner into complying with their wishes by ranting on and on about their own suffering and selflessness. This tactic makes the victim feel indebted and obligated to fulfill the manipulator’s demands, further cementing their control.

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11. Triangulation

Triangulation involves bringing a third party into the relationship dynamic to create suspicion, competition, or division between partners. Manipulators may subtly compare their partner to others, flirt with other people, or gossip about their partner to instill insecurity and doubt. By instigating this third party, they maintain control over the relationship while keeping their partner on edge and eager to please.

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12. Selective amnesia

Manipulators often conveniently forget past promises, agreements, or conversations to suit their agenda. They may deny making commitments or change the terms of agreements to their advantage, leaving their partner feeling confused and gaslighted. This tactic undermines trust and creates a power imbalance in the relationship.

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13. Guilt-tripping

skeptical looking man talking to woman

Guilt-tripping aims to make the victim feel responsible for the manipulator’s emotions or actions. They may use phrases like “If you loved me, you would…” or “You’re making me do this…” to shift blame onto their partner and evoke feelings of guilt or obligation. This tactic pressures the victim into complying with the manipulator’s wishes out of a sense of duty or fear of retaliation.

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14. Conditional love

young couple in an argument

Emotionally manipulative people often use love as a bargaining chip, taking it away when their partner fails to meet their expectations. They may withhold affection, intimacy, or praise as punishment for supposed wrongdoings or as a tactic to change. Conditional love creates insecurity and dependency as the victim struggles to earn the right to be loved. Conditional love enforces demands and rules, according to ImagineEmotionalWellness.com. While being in a relationship inherently involves certain conditions (we all have standards and needs), love itself should not be contingent upon meeting these conditions. It keeps the manipulator holding all the cards.

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15. Isolation

Manipulators may systematically isolate their partner from friends, family, or support networks so that their partner’s only outlet is them, their only support is them, and the only person in their ear about anything is them. They may criticize or sabotage relationships outside the partnership, making their partner dependent solely on them for support. This creates a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability for their partner as they become increasingly reliant on the manipulator for social interaction and validation. When the victim is this isolated, it makes it so much harder to leave.

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16. Blame-shifting

sad woman sitting with a glass of wine

Blame-shifting is just how it sounds — the manipulator deflects responsibility for their actions onto their partner. They may blame their partner for their own mistakes, emotions, or behavior, minimizing their own accountability and magnifying their partner’s faults. This tactic cuts down the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, as they are made to feel inadequate and responsible for the manipulator’s actions.

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17. Financial Control

Emotionally manipulative people may exert control over their partner’s finances as a means of maintaining power and dependence. They may dictate how money is spent, take away access to funds, or sabotage their partner’s career or monetary independence. This tactic not only restricts the victim’s autonomy, but also creates a sense of indebtedness and reliance on the manipulator for financial stability.

18. Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is where the manipulator threatens to withhold love, affection, or support unless their partner complies with their demands. They may use phrases like “If you leave me, I’ll never forgive you” or “You’ll never find anyone who loves you like I do” to instill fear and guilt in their partner. This causes the victim to sacrifice their own needs and desires to avoid abandonment or rejection.

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I am a 29 year old writer from Milwaukee, WI. Currently living a life of freedom in Tucson, AZ. Virgo, wine-drinker, lover of bad dancing. Insanity and getting into trouble are my fortes. Writing is my medium.