Signs Of Emotional Manipulation & How To Deal With It

Emotional manipulation can be very difficult to spot, especially if you’ve endured years of trauma and abuse. My ex played with my emotions a lot when we were together. I never thought there was anything wrong with how he treated me until my friends pointed them out. Even when they did, I still felt it was normal until I met someone else who loved me properly. If you suspect that your partner may be emotionally manipulating you, these signs might solidify your suspicions.

  1. They subtly criticize your every action. Maybe you’re always trying to please them, going the extra mile to prove yourself, your worth, or your needs. You can’t fully pursue your dreams or just live your everyday life without having them say things like, “You think that you’re so smart?” “C’mon, nobody will listen to you!” Over time, comments like this chip away at your confidence and increase self-doubt. This is emotional manipulation at its finest.
  2. They play the victim at all times. When I had fights with my ex, I always ended up being the bad guy. Even when he was wrong and I complained about it, somehow, he’d blame me for his actions and I’d end up apologizing. The problem is that the more you apologize, the more your self-worth depreciates.
  3. They always want you to prove your loyalty. An emotionally manipulative partner will always keep track of your movements including where you are, who you’re speaking to, and what you’re doing at all times. Rather than let that worry you, understand that they’re acting from a place of low self-esteem. They’re highly insecure and so they project their fears on you. Of course, it’s important to note that this can become scary or even dangerous, so don’t hesitate to reach out to someone for help if you feel it’s crossing a line.
  4. They use your weaknesses against you. Maybe you find it difficult to open up to your partner because you feel that they wouldn’t understand or somehow they’d turn it against you when you least expect it. Your partner is supposed to be your confidant, someone who sees all your imperfections and still falls in love with you over and over again. If you worry that they’re going to throw things back in your face as a way to control or belittle you, that’s emotional manipulation.
  5. Manipulative partners play the passive aggression role so well. And I’m not even kidding! Anytime you guys have issues, rather than talk about it, they’ll give you the silent treatment, ignoring you until the severity of the problem reduces. My ex did this a lot and it was very frustrating. Issues are bound to come up once in a while in your relationship, but it’s your ability as a couple to talk things through that matters. Emotional manipulation reduces your ability to give voice to your feelings or find a resolution for problems, leaving you frustrated and upset (which your partner would say is your own fault).
  6. They’re expert liars. Emotional manipulators are very good at lying. Even when you’ve caught them red-handed, they continue to lie and twist things until you believe them and even doubt the evidence you have against them. What’s worse is that they won’t even admit their lie when they’ve been caught out. 
  7. A manipulative partner will gaslight you a lot. Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I ended things with my partner was because I started questioning my sanity at a point. I’d complain about some of his shortcomings and he’d act as if nothing happened. If your partner is constantly using phrases like, “You’re being overly dramatic,” “You’re so sensitive,” or “It’s all in your head” whenever something happens, this is clear emotional manipulation.
  8. They want to control everything you do. It may seem cute at first when they try to choose what you should wear, eat, or places to go, but don’t be deceived. There’s nothing cute about your partner wanting to be in all your affairs even down to the kind of friends you should keep. This is not just emotional manipulation, it’s abuse. 
  9. They don’t mind embarrassing you in public. Manipulative partners thrive on this! They grab any chance they have to make you look bad or to embarrass you even in public. In this way, they can ensure that you never step out of line or do something they don’t approve of, lest they call you out for it in front of anyone and everyone.
  10. They threaten your relationship a lot. Arguments are totally normal in relationships, but you shouldn’t have to worry that even the slightest disagreement is going to spell the end of the two of you. When you’re dealing with emotional manipulation, your partner will constantly threaten to break up with you over the slightest little thing. That’s no way to live.

Ways To Deal With Emotional Manipulation

  1. Understand that you’re being manipulated. The first step toward dealing with emotional manipulation is recognizing that you’re being manipulated. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean that you’re not smart or confident enough – it just means that someone doesn’t appreciate your value and is trying to use their power over you to their own advantage. Once you become self-aware, it becomes a bit easier to break away and find peace within yourself. 
  2. Confront your partner with your feelings. Maybe your partner doesn’t really know they’re being manipulative. The chances are slim, but hey, it’s possible. You could start by talking to them about how you’re feeling and let them know that you’re not comfortable with the way they’ve been treating you. You could also suggest that they seek therapy to address the underlying issues that have led to their tendency toward emotional manipulation. You probably shouldn’t expect miracles as it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to admit they’re wrong, but it’s worth a try.
  3. Work to regain your confidence and set healthy boundaries. When I was dating my ex, I never had boundaries. I didn’t know what I could tolerate and what I couldn’t. I absorbed everything, scared to voice my wants. Thinking about it now, things wouldn’t have gotten that worse if I was firm about my boundaries and how I wanted to be treated. You should do the same. Whenever your partner hurts your feelings, always call them out on it! Emotional manipulation is never okay. It’s not acceptable under any circumstances.
  4. End the relationship. This is a drastic step but likely the only right answer. When you’ve confronted them about their behavior and they refuse to acknowledge what they’re doing or seek help to change it, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s time to break up with them for your sanity.
  5. You should seek help. Emotional manipulation takes a toll on victims. Sometimes, breaking out of such relationships leaves you feeling absolutely broken. You can suffer from low-self esteem, have trust issues, and struggle with anger management, in which case you should seek professional help for a counselor or therapist. They’ll be able to help you process your trauma and begin rebuilding better than ever.