7 Signs of an Emotional Manipulator

It’s natural to encounter conflicts among personal relations in life, but what happens when wanting things a certain way takes a dark turn? 

According to Psychology Today, over 50 percent of adults are expected to experience emotional abuse in their lifetime. Emotional manipulation is when a manipulative or abusive person exercises specific strategies to gain control over or victimize another person. This typically comes from an inner desire to hold power over someone through abusive tactics. Although emotional manipulation is commonly discussed with regard to relationships, it is not limited to occurring in a particular type of relationship or equation between anyone. As further described by WebMD, “Manipulation can happen in close or casual relationships, but they are more common in closely formed relationships…manipulation is defined as any attempt to sway someone’s emotions to get them to act or feel a certain way.” Oftentimes, the victim of a manipulator is left feeling helpless, distressed, and trapped in a toxic cycle which can severely impact their mental health. 

In order to identify the many distinctive behaviors and actions of an emotionally abusive person, let’s take a deeper dive into the signs of a manipulator.

Before we get started, please keep in mind that this article serves as general guidance purely for educational purposes, and is not to be taken as a substitute for professional advice or assistance.

1. They Are Too Much Too Soon

Emotional manipulators are skilled liars who have an ultimate goal in mind for the next thing they are after. They will do whatever it takes to achieve this, starting by skipping the important steps of a strong foundation of a relationship. Whether it’s a business relationship or personal, emotional manipulators seem to be in a rush to get to the sweet spot of shared vulnerability. They establish a false sense of intimacy and make you perceive them to be emotionally open and sensitive. Their narcissistic tendencies cause them to mirror your desires really well, allowing them to create a persona of who they want you to believe they are but it’s all an illusion. They overshare too much too soon and act to portray sensitivity all while playing a ruse of making you feel “special”. This makes the victim feel as though they’ve made it into the exclusive inner circle of the manipulator, gaining their concern and sympathy, while establishing that the victim is now responsible for their feelings. 

2. They Pretend to Be Concerned When It’s Convenient

You’re stuck in a rut and need some support and reassurance. Your manipulator will initially display a sense of eagerness to take action and help, but this energy will soon turn into reluctance and indifference towards your situation. When a victim is in need of help in any situation, an emotional manipulator will find a way to make it about them, and helping the victim in any way will go nothing short of their toxic urge to remind them that they are a “burden”. Emotional manipulators can pretend to be concerned about their victim only when it’s convenient to them, and that’s as far as they will go to show care for anyone. 

3. They Refuse to Help Resolve Problems

Emotional manipulators tend to create a reason to have an argument, and often feed off of unresolved tension as it serves their power. In these situations, the victim falls back on their emotional attachment to the manipulator, and the manipulator will use that against them to feel responsible for the issue at hand. According to Anita Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “In a healthy relationship, both partners will listen to each other and be willing to compromise. A manipulator will have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude about it”. Emotional manipulators claim the role of the victim. Nothing is ever their fault no matter what they do or fail to do. If they get upset, it’s on you for upsetting them, and if you get upset, that’s also on you for having unreasonable expectations. Thus, the victim is cornered into giving up their side to avoid dealing with a person who refuses to listen to them.

4. They Gaslight You

Emotional manipulators are unsettlingly proficient at bending reality to make themselves appear to be at the short end of the stick in any given situation. Gas lighting can be difficult to identify at first, but has long-lasting effects on a victim’s trust and self-esteem. It is a form of emotional abuse which can often be overlooked. According to Psychology Today, “By manipulating the victim to doubt his or her own sense of reality—continually saying things like, ‘That’s not how it happened,’ or ‘You’re crazy,’—the gas lighter asserts control over the relationship, leading the victim to rely on the perpetrator for a sense of reality.” Gaslighting can instill self-doubt, anxiety, confusion, and can cause a person to develop serious mental health conditions such as depression. 

5. They Isolate You From Others

Emotional manipulators can restrict you from contacting and meeting with friends and family to socially isolate you. A study published in the National Library of Medicine under the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that  “Isolation aims to undermine the victim’s life and identity outside the relationship and foster a sense of dependency.” Through constraining your social circle and support, emotional manipulators gain control over your contacts and connections so they can ultimately gain more control over you. The study continues, “detailed analysis demonstrated that perception of availability of instrumental and emotional support was associated with the severity of assault: the more severe the abuse, the more severe the isolation.” Alternatively, victims can be influenced into self-isolation due to fear of retaliation, an attempt to cease abuse, and due to coercion from the manipulator. 

6. They Know Your Weaknesses and Can Use Them Against You

Emotional manipulators are highly aware of their victim’s weaknesses and are always on the lookout to use that knowledge against them. This abusive tendency stems from their own narcissism and deep-rooted insecurities which they project onto you. They prey on vulnerability, highlight your shortcomings, and live on putting you down and wearing you out. With this psychologically damaging behavior, an emotional manipulator’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing their victim fall. 

7. They Guilt Trip You

Emotional manipulators can use your guilt against you in order to get their desires met. Founder of Take Root Therapy, Saba Harouni Luri, LMFT, explains how the manipulator can take advantage of the victim’s past wrongdoings, personal flaws, and even skillfully influence you to feel a sense of obligation towards them for anything they might have done for you in the past. This helps them gain more control of the victim through exaggerating your guilty conscience and causing you to feel responsible to put aside your wants and needs and take action in favor of their preferences. Emotional manipulators use guilt as a tool to wield their victim’s actions and motivate them to disregard their personal inclinations so they can stay atop the pedestal. And the issue is, they tend to be so good at this that you end up questioning your own sanity. 

Emotional manipulators can be difficult to identify, and even more so, to deal with due to their unpredictable and irrational behavior. They can undermine your sense of identity and individuality. You may feel like there is no way to control or get away from the chaos and toxic cycle, but once you understand an emotional manipulator’s manners, you can begin to proactively set stronger boundaries to protect yourself from this person. While you can’t control the actions of this person, you can set limits in place for what you personally will not tolerate from an emotional manipulator. When they cross the line, it’s time to have an escape route planned to get away. Dealing with an emotional manipulator can be a challenging process, but it’s even more important to stay in close contact with trusted friends or family as you navigate this. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of abuse, please refer to the resources below for more information or assistance: 

  1. Crisis Text Line 
  2. National Domestic Violence Hotline
  3. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness 


Karakurt, G., & Silver, K. E. (2013, December 31). Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age. NCBI. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/

Laderer, A., & Mutziger, J. (2022, March 4). Signs of Manipulation: 9 Ways to Tell If You’re Being Manipulated. Insider. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.insider.com/guides/health/sex-relationships/signs-of-manipulation

Lee, K. (n.d.). Be Aware of These 8 Signs Of A Manipulator. Lifehack. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.lifehack.org/347040/aware-these-8-signs-manipulator

Psychology Today. (n.d.). Emotional Abuse. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-abuse

Steber, C. (2022, March 14). 13 Signs Someone Is Manipulating You, According To Experts. Bustle. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.bustle.com/wellness/signs-someone-is-manipulating-you

WebMD Editorial & Brennan, D. (2020, November 19). Manipulation: 7 Signs to Look For. WebMD. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-manipulation

Leave your vote

6 points
Upvote Downvote

Total votes: 10

Upvotes: 8

Upvotes percentage: 80.000000%

Downvotes: 2

Downvotes percentage: 20.000000%

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hey there!

Forgot password?

Forgot your password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.


Processing files…