7 Examples of Emotional Manipulation

Everyone can be emotionally manipulative towards others, even if they don’t intend to be. However, true manipulators perform each action deliberately and do so on a constant basis. Manipulation occurs when an individual controls another person’s emotions, behavior, and thought processes in order to satisfy a personal need. This can weaken relationships and also cause the victims to feel powerless, offended, and confused. If you feel like someone is actively exploiting you or influencing you in a harmful way, here are seven examples of emotional manipulation to be aware of.

1 – Guilt-tripping

“I never thought you would do this,” “I’ve always trusted you,” “You want ME to pay for this meal?” Emotional manipulators use guilt trips to voice their thoughts in a passively aggressive way. They do so in order to avoid direct confrontation, which can oftentimes be awkward and uncomfortable. If your actions don’t align with their goals, they may try to make you feel guilty. In response, you may feel at a loss for words, overthinking their statements and eventually blaming yourself on everything.

2 – Taking advantage of your insecurities

Have you ever seen beauty advertisements that display a model’s flawless skin, with words like “eternal youth” or “smooth as butter” underneath the image? Although advertisements nowadays promote inclusivity and try to embrace flaws, it’s not uncommon for companies to indirectly utilize people’s insecurities to promote their products. The same goes for interpersonal relationships. Couples may refer to each other’s body image, appearance, or habits, hoping that the other person will improve among themselves.

3 – Always changing the criteria

This occurs when an individual is never easily satisfied. They constantly shift the criteria of what they want to get from another person. For example, your friend may be upset about your behavior and asks you to be more caring of others. Once you observe your mistakes and make efforts to fix them, your friend still remains unhappy about the way you speak and asks you to change that as well. In essence, you may never achieve their desired requests. In this case, try not to feel down, because a) you’re amazing for putting in the effort to maintain this relationship and b) real friendship is unconditional anyway!

4 – Twisting reality

When conversing with someone else, you may have exaggerated or emphasized certain facts over others, and this is completely normal. What emotional manipulators may do is completely twist facts in order to confuse you, gain sympathy, or achieve other goals. Many times, they do so to make themselves seem vulnerable. For instance, they may rant over how their co-workers “mistreated” them when in reality there was only a simple miscommunication. Although it’s hard to detect when they are lying, try to observe their body language and tone when they recite these “facts.”

5 – Diminishing your issues

Everyone’s experiences in life is different, and so are the problems that each person encounter. When someone tries to invalidate your experience by saying things like “you think that’s a problem? Well how about my time with this …” or “be grateful for your issues; they are nothing compared to mine,” take note of what their intentions are. They might be influencing your emotions, making you feel bad for sharing your “comparatively miniscule” problems when in reality, everyone’s experience should be respected.

6 – Gaslighting

This is a type of emotional abuse whereby a person tries to make another doubt their perception of reality. This person might make the victim question if their memories were accurate, or even if their train of thought was valid. For example, when you recite an emotional story about how your beloved pet passed away, an acquaintance might interrupt and tell you that the event is small and you shouldn’t feel as sad as you are. The truth is, only you know what you are experiencing; others may try, but they will never know your true feelings.

7 – Overly complimenting

On the other end of the spectrum, some people will try to sugarcoat everything they say. Sweet talkers will try to influence you by excessively praising and complimenting what you do, say, or even think. Initially, you may feel flattered, and it’s fine to enjoy those initial boosts of dopamine. However, you may want to watch out if this person praises you too much. In a way, you may subconsciously lower your self-defense and blindly trust this person who may try to emotionally manipulate you later down the road.


Manipulators can evoke complex emotions through intricate tactics. You may feel that something is going wrong, but you second guess yourself and deem that you might just be overthinking. However, after reading these examples, hopefully you will have a better understanding of the intentions behind those people and can avoid falling into their emotional traps. Of course, not everyone has the intention of controlling your emotions, and many may do these things with no intention of harm. It’s a matter of how often they do it and if those actions are done deliberately.


Emotional Manipulation: 8 Signs To Look For. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-emotional-manipulation

Frank, M. (2020, June 26). 33 Ways People try to Manipulate You. Retrieved from https://lifelessons.co/personal-development/manipulation/

Gaslighting. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/gaslighting

Villines, Z. (2019, September 20). Red Flags: Are You Being Emotionally Manipulated? Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/red-flags-are-you-being-emotionally-manipulated-0917197#:~:text=Some of the most common,or make them feel indebted.

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