Home  >  My Life  >  Relationships

Emotional Manipulation: 14 Ways People Mess with Your Mind

Emotional manipulation is a form of abuse that will leave you scratching your head, feeling guilty, broken, and left wondering, what just went on here?

emotional manipulation

It is possible for humans to be manipulated in many different ways. One of the most difficult forms of manipulation to not only spot but to live with is emotional manipulation. Some are better manipulators than others, and it is a way of using one’s insecurities and fears to get them to do what you want.

In a relationship, the key to success is unconditional love, respect, and trust. And emotional manipulation is the antithesis to all of them.

These are the 14 signs you are being emotionally manipulated

So, how do you know when you are being emotionally manipulated? There are fourteen telltale signs someone pushes your buttons to get you to do what they want. They leave you feeling desperate, fearful, anxiety-ridden, and, well, downright like you are going crazy.

Before you head to the psychiatrist to figure out your issues, consider it may not be your issue at all.

#1 You partner uses your biggest fears against you. When emotionally manipulated, your partner often makes you talk first so that they find all your weaknesses. When you begin the conversation, they figure out where they need to be, plot their next move, and figure out how to poke holes in all your arguments by using those things you fear most against you. [Read: 25 signs of covert narcissism: A special kind of mind game]

#2 You only feel loved when you do what they ask of you. Emotional manipulators use things like guilt and the other’s low self-esteem to make their partners feel as if they are only loved when they are doing what they are supposed to do. If you deviate from what is expected of you, then they will withhold love or make you feel guilty for not loving them enough, being kind enough, or doing what they think you should.

#3 When you confront or question them, they turn it around and make you feel bad. When you approach someone who emotionally manipulates you, they have this amazing way to turn everything that you say around. Whatever it is you throw at them they are like rubber and you are like glue.

Similar to a boxing match, they duck, weave, and do and say anything to twist it all around and leave you scratching your head, apologizing, and wondering what the hell just happened.

#4 They diminish not only how you feel, but everything about you. Emotional manipulators work by making you feel insecure about yourself. If you felt strong and confident, you wouldn’t allow them to use your insecurities and fears to keep you in line.

They will be overly critical, minimize you and your accomplishments, and pretend as if nothing you do could ever amount to their own importance. They leave you feeling hollow and empty, and that is their plan. The only way to fill you back up is to gain their love by doing what they want. Then you can feel full again. [Read: Emotional maturity: 13 clues to know if someone has it]

#5 They say one thing, and if that doesn’t work, they change it up mid-argument. Manipulation involves doing everything possible to box someone in. When you are in an emotionally manipulative relationship, your partner says one thing, and then if that doesn’t work, they contradict themselves, or reverse what they said two minutes ago.
The best part about their amazing superpower is they convince you they didn’t just say what they said. It truly becomes maddening.

#6 They do things sideways, leaving you feeling on shaky ground. People who manipulate, don’t come straight to your face to get you to do something. They use the backdoor entry like passive aggressive comments, or even talking to other people so that it gets back to you.

The key to their control is to leave you always wondering what is going on behind your back. They up the noises inside in your head by making you feel insecure. Insecurity is their best means of controlling you.

#7 They have a history of relationships that involve “damaged” people. Often when someone is a manipulator, they have a long history of people who they tell you “abused” or mistreated them. They see themselves as someone drawn to wounded birds because they are an altruistic individual.

The truth is that someone who emotionally manipulates seeks out insecure people to be in relationships with. They either intentionally, or unintentionally, find people who can be easily manipulated. That is typically finding others who have things in their past that have left them fearful, anxious, or just downright lacking in self-esteem. [Read: How to stop selfish people from hurting you]

#8 They can be abusive or overly aggressive. Emotionally manipulative people resort to anger and aggression if they feel as if their subtle or quiet means of manipulating you don’t work. Intimidation is the next best thing. If they can’t make you feel emotionally afraid, they aren’t above making your feel physically fearful. [Read: 21 big signs of emotional abuse you may be missing]

#10 They run and make you chase them or just won’t answer you at all. Have you ever had someone not answer you? That is quite arguably the most maddening thing you can do to someone. When you are upset, and you want someone to hear you, being silent, not answering, or even running from someone, is the best way to manipulate them.

It says to someone you aren’t worthy of listening to or that your feelings aren’t valid. Before you know it, you are chasing them around the house, screaming at the top of your lungs, or saying the same thing over and over like a broken record. You waste your time, it is their tactic not to answer you and allows them to maintain the control.

#11 They want an answer NOW! When someone wants to manipulate you, they don’t want you to have enough time to think things through. Often when someone is emotionally manipulative, they insist you give them an answer NOW, whether you are ready to or not. In fact, what they rely on is that you aren’t ready, so you answer spontaneously, which typically means giving in out of pressure. [Read: 15 subtle signs of a controlling boyfriend]

#12 They tell you what you feel. When someone tries to manipulate you, they tell you how you feel. When in an argument, they tell you what you feel, what you think about them, and shape your thought process so you are left wondering “when did I say any of that?” A means to control you, if you say something enough times, it must be true, right?

#13 They pretend they have no idea where any of your emotions are coming from. No matter how many times you present your argument *typically the same one*, they look at you like you have a third head or ask where all of this is coming from. As if you haven’t had the same fight one hundred times.

If they admit that there is a problem and a consistent one, then they have to take responsibility, and that is not something that keeps you in line. If you aren’t to blame, then how do they get you to do what they want?  [Read: 10 signs you’re dating a self-obsessed narcissist]

#14 They play the poor me card. Knowing you are a sucker for a worthy cause, a manipulator always works hard to tell you how hard they have it. Presenting their world in the worst case possible, if they admit they don’t have it too bad, then they won’t get the outpouring of love and support it takes to use against you.

Emotional manipulators are a different breed of abusers. Sometimes conscious, sometimes completely unaware of what they are doing, if you are with one they take your sanity if you let them.

If you see the signs and say to yourself “yeah, they do that too” while reading through the list, no, you aren’t crazy. Yes, you are being controlled and manipulated, and yes, it may be time to get out and move on.

[Read: Emotional abuse signs: How to spot an emotional abuser]

Emotional manipulation is one of the worst types of abuse you can suffer. Using your own kindness, fears, and weaknesses against you to get what they want, your partner is probably never going to change. 

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life.

Julie Keating

A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined...

Follow Julie on