Six Emotional Manipulation Techniques And How To Recognize And Stop Them

Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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When you love someone, you may tend to view them through an ideological lens that may cause you to overlook potentially negative traits or relationship red flags. These may consist of manipulation and other forms of control. Your partner may be fully aware of their efforts to control you, or it may be unintentional if they learned such patterns early on in life and haven’t yet recognized and worked through them. Either way, manipulation from someone you love can seriously chip away at your mental and emotional health.

In this article, we’ll focus on how to spot emotional manipulation from a romantic partner and give you advice as to what to do about it.

Who uses emotional manipulation techniques

Want to learn more about emotional manipulation?

Psychological and emotional manipulation techniques may often be used by people with certain personality disorders, like sociopaths and narcissists. However, people without mental health disorders may also use emotional manipulation techniques. It could be a friend, family, coworker, or neighbor. Even some business owners, politicians, and celebrities may use various emotional manipulation to gain control and social status.

Regardless of what motivates them, emotionally manipulative partners can have a devastating effect on their loved ones’ sense of stability, confidence, and self-reliance. There are many different signs of manipulation in a relationship.

Signs your partner might be emotionally manipulating you

The longer you’ve been with an emotional manipulator, the more of a profound effect it may have had on your behavior and thought patterns. Emotional manipulation signs to watch for in a relationship include:

  • You begin frequently second-guessing yourself.
  • You never feel like your concerns are heard or validated.
  • You often feel guilty, not only for your actions but your partner’s.
  • You’re always apologizing.
  • You feel responsible for your partner’s negative feelings yet disregard your own.

Emotional manipulation techniques and what to do about them

Gaslighting

What It Is: Gaslighting is a psychological technique used to make you doubt your perception of reality. The manipulator questions the validity of your memory and emotions to gain the upper hand. Eventually, you may begin to question yourself, too. As a result, you may have difficulty trusting your judgment and may even begin to question your reality and whether things happened or not.

How to Stop It: If you sense that your partner is emotionally manipulating and gaslighting you, take a step back from the situation and try to look at things from a broader perspective. Seeking the advice of your family, friend, or someone outside of the partnership you trust can help you gain objective insight into the truth.

Gaslighting can be either intentional or unintentional. It’s crucial to determine whether your partner has been trying to make you doubt your perception of purpose. Without confronting your partner, it may be helpful to attempt to have an honest conversation about your concerns. If you strongly suspect their gaslighting is intentional, this may be a sign of deeper emotional abuse.

Minimizing and magnifying

What It Is: In this type of emotional manipulation, the manipulator may minimize their shortcomings while at the same time magnifying yours. It can be something as small as forgetting an item at the grocery store, but your partner harangues you in a way that makes you feel like a failure.

How To Stop It: This is another situation in which outsiders’ perspectives may be able to help you determine the truth. Record anything that feels relevant, no matter how minor. Again, a therapist or trusted friend can help you go through the record and gain perspective.

Humiliation and bullying/devaluation

What It Is: Closely tied with minimizing and magnifying, a partner who humiliates and bullies you, even if it’s under the guise of joking or teasing, is most likely doing so to make you feel small. An emotionally manipulative partner is close enough to you that they know your weaknesses and insecurities and can use them as weapons against you.

A partner who bullies you is possibly dealing with insecurities about themself. People like this often target people who are the closest to them, particularly if they were raised in an environment that modeled these behaviors. They may go from occasionally pointing out something you did wrong to being constantly critical of your actions.

How To Stop It: If you feel like your partner is bullying you, you don’t have to accept it. Bullying can be a telltale sign of emotional manipulation that has escalated into abuse. Instead, contact a therapist or the National Domestic Violence Hotline to speak with a professional. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached online or by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233). If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, seek help right away.

Playing the victim

What It Is: People who play the victim typically don’t take responsibility for their negative actions. If every argument ends with you apologizing profusely while your partner rarely says they’re sorry, that may be a red flag.

It’s important to mention that people who appear to constantly beat themselves up or display insecurity and seek your approval may be struggling with mental health issues, such as depression or social anxiety. These are never an excuse to be manipulative, but these mental health concerns may be an explanation. In these cases, the person may not have any intention to manipulate you. However, it is not up to you to solve their mental health struggles; instead, you may support their efforts at recovery.

However, suppose someone never takes accountability for their actions or words, tells others in their life about how they were the victim, and always spins situations to look like the aggrieved party. In that case, they may be using manipulation to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

How To Stop It: It may be helpful to stop yourself each time you feel the urge to apologize to your partner. Insert a moment of reflection instead of automatically saying you’re sorry. Is it your fault? Does it merit an apology? If not, you may want to think twice before giving one. Instead, calmly state the facts. If your partner tries to double down and get you to apologize anyway, it may be helpful to end the conversation.

Love bombing

What It Is: The beginning of a romance is usually an exciting time, especially if your love interest sweeps you off your feet. Love bombing can be a particularly insidious form of emotional manipulation because it initially seems positive and romantic, unlike the other entries on this list. Many people would probably enjoy being the recipient of an outpouring of compliments, gifts, and affection.

Love bombing refers to someone showing an excessive amount of adoration. The person may show up at your work with lunch every day or send many romantic, poetic texts. Love bombing can also be a way for the manipulator to butter you up so that you won’t protest when they manipulate you in other ways. Love bombing often occurs after a period of abuse when an abuser attempts to “atone” for their behavior.

How To Stop It: It may be hard to question someone who appears to have so much love for you, especially if you feel the same. But if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of adoration you’re receiving from your new partner, or if you’ve noticed a pattern of love bombing followed by devaluation or other forms of abuse or manipulation, it may be time to have a frank talk.

Angry outbursts

What It Is: If your partner plays it cool most of the time, treating you like you’re overly emotional, only to explode with anger when you try to get them to open up, it may be a form of emotional manipulation. These people may use their anger to shut down the conversation and regain control when they perceive it is slipping out of their hands.

Some of these people may have anger management issues. If your partner is one of them, it’s their responsibility to manage and control their anger. No matter how much they may blame you for “pushing them over the edge,” we are all in control of our own emotions and behaviors, not those of others.

How To Stop It: Someone else’s anger shouldn’t be your fault or your responsibility, no matter how heated your arguments get. If your partner shouts at you, calls you names, or displays aggressive behavior toward you, it may be helpful to keep your calm and don’t reciprocate. Instead, stand up for yourself in an assertive manner. If your partner continues to rage, it may be best to end the conversation immediately, even if it means distancing yourself from them physically.

If you’re worried about your safety at any time, don’t hesitate to call 911 for assistance.

Why people manipulate others

"Am I manipulative? Or am I manipulated?" People may use manipulative tactics on others because they want to feel better about themselves. It’s not uncommon for abusive people to use emotional blackmail to avoid looking at their own feelings. They may not feel guilty right away when they manipulate others or, potentially, at all. Emotional manipulators may feel responsible for hurting people and their loved ones around them, or they may go on as if nothing matters to them. 

People with personality disorders such as antisocial personality disorder don’t have remorse for manipulating people. However, people who have borderline personality disorder, for example, will manipulate people’s emotions but later may feel guilty about what they’ve done. If you are the victim of manipulation, you could be questioning your sanity. This is abusive behavior, and the emotional manipulators want you to question your feelings. A person manipulating you may make you feel special, but this may also make it difficult to set boundaries. In this way, they often have excessive power and control in the relationship. The effects of emotional abuse are detrimental to a person’s mental health. Emotional manipulators may or may not think about what they are doing to others. Sometimes, manipulators hurt other individuals because they have weak spots that they are trying to conceal, and it may make them feel better about themselves to hurt other people rather than work through their own difficulties. They could participate in intellectual bullying or psychological abuse. They could gaslight you and make you feel like your reality is a figment of your imagination. They may act like a martyr and play mind games with you, making it difficult to discern what’s real and what isn’t. Abusive behavior is not okay, and it is not your fault if you find yourself being abused in any way.

Remember who you are

Want to learn more about emotional manipulation?

An emotional manipulator is often skilled at what they do. They may make you question what is or isn’t real. It may be hard to get back to who you are when emotional manipulators have control over you. A manipulative person can make you feel vulnerable and lose trust in yourself. Emotional manipulators may want you to feel this way. If you feel you are being emotionally manipulated, it may be helpful to see a therapist. Emotional manipulators are not likely going to take responsibility for their actions. The effects of emotional abuse can cause lasting damage to your mental health. 

However, you can seek help and support and take control of your mental health. The emotional effects of emotional abuse can be severe. That’s why if you experience mistreatment, it’s important to seek help and support. Additionally, try to engage in activities and hobbies that you enjoy and that help you feel connected with yourself. Spend time with supportive, genuinely caring loved ones. Do things for you and only you. These can all help you to remember who you are, an potentially invaluable tool when recovering from manipulation and emotional abuse.

Therapy can help you identify and stand up to emotional manipulation

Being the target of an emotional manipulator can severely impact a person’s sense of identity. As a result, you may no longer feel like you can trust yourself or anyone else. Working with a therapist is a proven way to rebuild that sense of trust and get control over your own life. Whether you feel that the relationship can be saved and want to pursue couple’s counseling or that it’s time to move on and you want to speak to a therapist individually, Regain is here for you. Click here to get connected with a therapist.

Additionally, a review of dozens of studies found online therapy to be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating a variety of conditions and concerns, including trauma and abuse, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and more.

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