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27 Signs of Emotional Manipulation to Know if You’re Being Used By Someone

The signs of emotional manipulation are sometimes a little hard to spot. They’re subtle but do major damage over time. Spot them before it’s too late!

Signs of Emotional Manipulation

Unfortunately, emotional manipulation in a relationship is more common than you may want to believe. It happens every day, and a lot of the time you don’t even realize it. It leaves you wondering what exactly are the signs of manipulation in a relationship.

The manipulator tends to be so controlling in their own way that you are tricked into thinking their behavior is acceptable or even normal.

Let’s say it now – manipulation is never okay. For sure, we all sometimes twist a little fact to get our own way, but manipulation with the desire to control or get what you want against someone else’s wellbeing isn’t okay. It’s also something you should consider sticking around for. In our opinion, you should leave. [Read: What is a toxic relationship? 53 signs to recognize love that hurts you]

Are you being emotionally manipulated by someone?

Manipulation is cute the first few times, or when it’s a harmless request.

When you hear your girlfriend or wife say something like “I’m not going to have sex with you tonight if you don’t meet me early!” you can’t help but smile about it.

Or if your boyfriend or husband brings breakfast in bed and asks you if he can go out with the guys on a weekend getaway, you may even laugh about it and accept his request.

But what if these cute threats turn into something darker or more bitter or agonizing? [Read: 21 emotionally abusive tricks your partner may be using on you to make you feel weak and helpless]

You may not see the signs of emotional manipulation early in a relationship. But if you notice the cute threats turning into bigger requests, or if your partner starts nagging you or trying to abuse you each time you try to decline their request, chances are, you’re playing helplessly into the hands of a manipulative partner.

Recognizing a manipulative lover instantly

How does your partner react to you when you decline them for something? Do they accept your decision respectfully when they realize you’re being serious?

Do they keep quiet for a while only to bring up the request again a few hours later? Or do they try to force you to do as they say by threatening you or abusing you?

Do they withhold something *be it sex, affection, or by giving you the silent treatment* until you give in?

If your partner can’t accept your decision to decline something *even after you explain your reasons clearly*, and try to force you to do something against your will, in all probability, you’re being manipulated in your relationship, in some small or big measure. [Read: 19 signs you’re in love with a selfish partner who’s totally using you!]

The subtle signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship you may be overlooking

It’s not easy to reflect within and ask yourself if you’re a victim of manipulation in your relationship. But everything starts with self-realization.

If you can accept the fact that you’re a victim of manipulation and emotional abuse, only then can you try to work your way out of the web of manipulation your partner has built around you.

Use these signs, and ask yourself if you feel any of these symptoms around your partner, or in your relationship.

And if you do see these signs of manipulation in your life, it’s time for you to take a stand and believe in yourself for who you are, or you’ll just get walked over all the time and there won’t be a thing you can do to stop your partner from using you or manipulating you. [Read: 16 reasons why you’re so easily manipulated and taken for granted by people around you]

1. You often feel anxious

It’s possible you feel anxious each time your partner wants to ask for a favor. You fear they may ask you something that you can’t do, and yet, you know you can’t deny them their request.

2. You’re starting to hate yourself

You hate yourself for being so weak. You realize your partner is using you or taking advantage of your niceness and your generosity, but you’re too timid to say it to their face.

3. You can’t say “no”

You just can’t say no to them. Just the thought of turning them down or saying no seems like a crazy idea, and you feel helpless and weak each time you even try to say it.

You know the right thing to do is say ‘no’ but you can’t bring yourself to say it. [Read: Your self respect and how it affects your relationship with others]

4. You justify your actions

One of the signs of manipulation is that you try to reason with yourself and justify that you aren’t being manipulated. Instead, you try to convince yourself that it is you who wants to do the favor for your partner.

5. You tell yourself that you’re a bad partner

You feel like a bad partner for turning your partner down, no matter what they ask of you. Deep down you know you’re not wrong, but their manipulation has you second-guessing everything and feeling bad about it. [Read: What makes a good relationship? The 30 things both partners should do for each other]

6. Their expectations grow

Your partner always expects more from you. No matter what you do, or how much you do, they behave like they’re happy and pleased with your giving ways, but they always ask for more. [Read: Am I being abused in love? – 17 questions to ask yourself]

7. You always need to explain yourself

You just can’t say a simple ‘no’ and shut up. Instead, you have a deep need to explain yourself and your actions every time, to everyone.

You want your partner to understand your mind and your reasons clearly. While your partner, on the other hand, is always vague or doesn’t justify the things they do.

8. You hate awkward pauses

When your partner asks you to do something for them, you may be able to muster your courage and say ‘no’. But as they pause and stare at you for a few seconds, you can’t help but feel your stomach churn, and you give them an opportunity to use you. [Read: 8 easy ways to avoid awkward silences during a date]

9. You’re convinced it’s your fault

You blame yourself for not being a good partner. You feel guilty for being idle and relaxed when you could be doing something to please your partner or make them happy. This is one of the big signs of manipulation you may be missing.

10. You feel obligated

You believe you’re obligated to do something for your partner. And, you don’t know why, but somehow, you constantly feel grateful to them for loving you or being in your life. [Read: Should you make this person your priority when you’re only an option to them?]

11. You just can’t lie

You just can’t lie to your partner or anyone else that’s manipulating you, even if you know you’ll never get caught. It’s almost impossible for you to tell your partner you’re busy or you’re too occupied to do something for them.

12. You ask if you’re selfish

You think you’ll seem like a selfish person for not helping them in their troubles. And, you feel really guilty each time you turn their request down.

You feel so bad that you can’t even look them in their eyes because of all the guilt you’re carrying. It just seems so much easier to just hate yourself and do what they ask of you! [Read: 15 types of toxic lovers to watch out for]

13. They often start fights over small things

When your relationship first starts, controlling behavior can be hard to spot. You want to come off as agreeable and easygoing. You may not even notice it, but it can easily become a long-term pattern.

If your partner continuously starts fights about small things like where to eat dinner or Saturday night plans, they pick a fight so that you give in.

Many people hate confrontation, and if that is you, they will use it against you to get their way in every aspect of your life. [Read: Emotional manipulation – 14 ways people mess with your mind]

14. They blame you for other people’s actions

This is one of the signs of manipulation that can be misinterpreted as jealousy. If someone comes on to you and your partner gets mad at you, even though you did nothing wrong, they want to control your behavior.

If they attack your behavior, the way you dress, or even your personality for someone else’s behavior, be that a friend, a coworker, or even a waiter, they aren’t jealous in a cute, protective way. They are trying to change you to make themselves more comfortable. [Read: The 17 not-so-cool warning signs of a jealous partner]

15. They blame you for their actions

Does your partner get outrageously mad out of the blue? Or make a mistake and come back saying if you didn’t get them upset they never would have done it?

That is a clear-cut sign of major emotional manipulation. They are using your actions to get away with something they did wrong. In simpler terms, they guilt you into forgiving them when in fact you didn’t do anything wrong. 

16. They convince you that you’re wrong

Manipulators often hold themselves to a higher level. Although secretly insecure, they come off as if they are smarter than you.

One of the biggest signs of manipulation in a relationship is that they twist the story around, make exaggerated excuses to justify their behavior, and will not give up until you admit you were the wrong one. [Read: Gaslighting – What it is, how it works, and 22 signs to spot it ASAP]

17. They stop you from seeing your family or friends

People who are controlling lose power when you have other people in your daily life. That is because your friends and family have your best interest at heart, and this person does not. If you confide in friends, they may open your eyes to this controlling behavior.

A manipulative person cannot have that. They will do everything in their power to stop you from making plans or spending time with people closest to you. [Read: 21 subtle signs of a controlling boyfriend most girls miss]

18. They flip around what you say

Someone who is manipulating you will trick you a lot. If you question them or even double check something they said, they will put words in your mouth.

You might ask them if they are sure they wrote something on the calendar or picked something up at the store. And instead of simply replying, they will snap and say something like, “What do you think I am, stupid?” They take something meaningless and turn it into an attack on them so that you feel bad. [Read: How to recognize emotional bullying and stand your ground]

19. They blame you for mistrusting them

One of the clear signs of emotional manipulation is when a partner becomes angry for you not trusting them. Now, it’s only the case if you have a reason not to trust them.

For instance, maybe they cheated on you in the past and now you’re struggling to put it behind you. Rather than understanding your worries, they become angry and turn it around on you. That’s manipulation, and nothing to do with trust.

20. They keep secrets

 If you even keep the smallest thing from them like the fact that you had an innocent lunch with a male coworker they freak out. But they keep secrets from you all the time.

They take sketchy phone calls, go out at weird times, and even spend money without you knowing. Someone like this may take a lot of time for themselves, but you have no idea what they’re doing. [Read: The 25 surprising secrets we keep from our partners]

21. They don’t allow you privacy

Again there is another double standard. Although they require you to give them endless privacy you cannot have the smallest bit of it. If you go shopping they might call you or even FaceTime you while you’re out to make sure you are in fact where you said you were.

They might even want to check your phone regularly to see who you’ve been talking to. [Read: Toxic AF double standards in a relationship]

22. They guilt trip you for control

This is another major sign of manipulation. No one is perfect, so surely you have made a mistake now and then. Probably not nearly as many as they have, but they will not let you forget it.

Every time you get mad at them, they bring up something about you to make you feel guilty and take their side. 

23. They talk down to you

This is when emotional manipulation goes from bad or dysfunctional to unbearable. If they continuously talk down to you as if you are less than them or as if you are nothing without them they are not only a manipulator, but also an abuser.

Emotional abuse not only eats away at your self esteem, but it also decreases the chance of you leaving them. Manipulators count on you feeling bad about yourself because if you have any confidence you could leave and do what you deserve. [Read: 17 signs of disrespect in a relationship that reveal a lack of love]

24. They make the relationship about them

Ever have a bad day at work and want to talk about it or vent to your partner? We’re sure you do. But if your partner responds by invalidating your hardships and comparing your problems to theirs, they are not just manipulative but also a narcissist.  

If you feel like everything you do, talk about, and think about regards them and never you, there is an imbalance in your relationship in every possible way.

25. They are passive-aggressive

Someone who is emotionally manipulative may be good at controlling their emotions. That means when they are mad they might not explode or get obviously angry, rather they will hold things against you and carry their anger out for longer through passive-aggressive actions.

This could be specifically making something you hate for dinner, saying rude things under their breath, or even doing things that they know bother you, like talking to a flirty neighbor, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or not recycling. [Read: How to deal with passive-aggressive people and not lose your mind]

26. They use your trust or your kindness against you

Emotional manipulators prey on those who are trusting, kind, and even in need of something. They offer to help you with money. The second you take them up on it, they use it against you.

They use your trust in them to convince you of things and feed into your kindness to trick you. [Read: Devious signs of manipulative behavior you should never ignore]

27. They use fear as a control tactic

Other than guilt which is a bit more subtle, one of the strong signs of manipulation in a relationship is their lack of patience. Someone who is controlling and manipulative may not have great patience.

When they are losing it, they use fear to control you. They know a lot about you. So, they might threaten to tell your parents or your boss a secret. 

Maybe they promised to help you with your student loans or to cover your rent. They will hold that over your head as if you owe them. They will also threaten to take it away if you disobey them. 

Giving in is different from getting pushed into a corner

Your partner’s manipulative behavior doesn’t start overnight. It starts small, and with each passing day, their demands get bigger and bigger, and their tolerance for your refusals too start to get smaller and smaller. And you may find yourself giving in all the time, helplessly, whether you want to or otherwise.

You may think giving in is a sign of true love, or you may assume that’s what lovers do when they love their partner unconditionally. But really, is saying ‘no’ against the principle of true love? [Read: 12 signs of true love in a relationship]

You’re unable to say ‘no’ to your partner, not because of your true love for them, but because of the fear that they may think less of you if you turn down a request of theirs.

Truth be told, it’s not love that’s forcing you into a corner, it’s your people pleasing behavior and your low self esteem that makes you do things against your will every single time!

When you’re confident about yourself and don’t feel the need to bend over backwards just to please someone, it means you’re at peace with who you are. You believe in yourself and you’re confident that you’re not wronging your partner in any way. [Read: 20 signs you have a people pleaser in you and don’t know it!]

But when you constantly feel the need to do everything your partner asks of you, even if it means doing something you dislike or something that would affect you negatively, it only means that you think small of yourself and constantly feel the need to please your lover just to be accepted.

If you see the signs of emotional manipulation, it’s time to leave

Firstly, if they threaten you with violence and if you ever feel scared for your safety or your life, leave immediately. Go somewhere safe. 

This type of manipulative behavior is something no one deserves. You do not have to live with this. It is difficult to get out of a relationship where you feel you lack control. But you do. You have power over yourself and your actions.

As soon as you see any of these signs of manipulation in a relationship make a plan. This can become dangerous, both emotionally and physically. Not only can you shut down, but you could become numb to this abuse which can escalate it even further. 

[Read: How to escape the harmful effects of toxic love]

Do you see any of these signs of emotional manipulation in your relationship? You may not realize it, but your partner may be using you and emotionally abusing you to get what they want, all because you don’t have the nerve to say ‘no’!

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...