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8 Ways to Spot Emotional Manipulation.. and Free Ourselves From It

Freeing Ourselves from Emotional Manipulation

By Paul Lenda

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

We as human beings have a very strong self-centered aspect (even if it may not be truly ‘real’) of our beings called the ego, and many problems arise when this aspect of the human experience goes uncontrolled. Manipulation has always been a favored tool of the ego in order to get what it wants.

This manipulation can come in either a physical form or it can be seen to work on the emotional level in order to break the psyche into meeting the manipulator’s desires. Properly identifying the ways in which people emotionally manipulate others can save us much suffering in the future when identified early enough.

By protecting ourselves from being manipulated on the emotional level, we are able to free ourselves once and for all from the violation of our universal right of free will. Just as we can shift our consciousness from the state of fear which is often imposed on us by emotional manipulators, we can shift away from any debilitating mind state. The following will be a detailed list of signs to look for in people that are trying to emotionally manipulate others and how to defend against these sinister tactics.

Identifying Emotional Manipulation

You make a statement that is turned around to be used against you in a negative way.

The person will speak with an air of honesty that is in fact a cover for their true intentions. An example would be that you would tell this person something like, “I am really angry that you forgot my birthday.” Their response would be that “it makes me feel sad that you would think I would forget your birthday, I should have told you of the great personal stress I am facing at the moment, but you see I didn’t want to trouble you. You are right I should have put all this pain (by this point, persuasive tears may begin to appear in order to give more credence to this manipulation tactic being used) aside and focused on your birthday. Sorry.”

Your intuition may sense that this elaborate apology is not genuine. However, since they said the magic words, you are essentially left with nothing more to say or you will find yourself trying to control their fake anger. When this scenario plays out, do not accept an apology that is as real as their true intentions. If you do accept the apology, you have just been emotionally manipulated! If it does not feel genuine, it probably is not. Do not allow yourself to me emotionally blackmailed because if you do that one time, the emotional manipulator will see that it can be used as a successful method of getting what he or she desires.

The person presents his or herself as a willing helper.

A person that acts as an emotional manipulator plays the part of someone who is willing to help out with any given task. If you ask for their help with something, he or she will be more than willing to agree. If you did not ask for their help, he or she will volunteer to help with any given task. Seeing an offer for help looks like a wonderful thing, but in the mind of an emotional manipulator, this is merely a tactical move in order to fulfill a selfish desire he or she has. If you accept their offer to help, he or she will express their unwillingness to help by letting out several sighs that are loud enough for you to notice, or some other non-verbal signs that let you know they actually do not want to help you with whatever it was they offered to help with.

You will notice this and tell them that it does not seem as if they actually want to help, and this is when he or she begin their main manipulation efforts. He or she will show their great will to help you and that you are being unreasonable. In order to bypass this manipulation, ignore the fake sighs and subtle cues that he or she is unwilling to help. You can also confront the individual directly and deliver an ultimatum (albeit in a civil manner).

They say something but later assure you that they did not say it at all.

This is one tactic that you can see being used in many aspects of society, perhaps the political sphere being the greatest user of this. If you constantly feel like there may be something wrong with your memory recall because you remember one thing and the emotional manipulator “remembers” another, then be cautious. Those who have mastered the “art” of emotional manipulation are experts in justifying their actions, turning things around against you, and rationalizing situations.

It is as if they have graduated The University of Lying and are incredibly skilled in passing off even the most ridiculous lie without giving any hints that he or she is being deceitful. They can be expert persuaders to the point that you begin to question your own memories and sanity. To combat this technique by the emotional manipulator, keeping a log of what he or she says is a good start to having definitive proof that he or she is lying right in your face. It does not matter how you go about doing this. It can be in the form of having another person with you when the manipulator is saying whatever it is they are saying, writing it down, recording it, etc.

They put you in a guilt trip.

Emotional manipulators are experts in the craft of guilt-tripping. They have the ability to make you feel guilty either for not speaking up, for speaking up, for not showing enough emotion, for showing too much emotion, for not giving and/or caring enough, and for giving and/or caring too much. There are no lines that the emotional manipulator will not cross in order to put you in a guilt trip. This person will very rarely exhibit any real needs or desires he or she has. Instead, emotional manipulation is the game they play in order to get these needs and desires satisfied. Combined with guilt, sympathy is a very powerful tool to manipulate your emotions.

The emotional manipulator is excellent at playing the victim. They stir up your will to support, care, and nurture them. These individuals very rarely do their own dirty work, so to speak. They are able to make you do it for them and when you do (through indirect means) they will say that they never expected or wanted you to do anything at all. Do not worry, you are not losing your sanity! Make it abundantly clear to them that you are not going to do their dirty work, which can be said by saying “I am fully confident in your ability to work this out on your own.”

They are indirect.

By taking the passive-aggressive route, emotional manipulators are able to deal with things indirectly. Actions in this category include talking behind your back, getting others to say to you what they would not say themselves, and finding subtle ways of letting you know they are unhappy. They will tell you things that you want to hear, but then do something to undermine that. An example of this would be if the manipulator says that “of course I want you to go back to school baby and you know I will always support you.” Fast forward to a night where you are either studying for an exam or perhaps finishing a project for work and your children (if you have some, that is) are throwing temper tantrums, the television’s volume is set really high, and your pets need taking care of – all the while “honey” is sitting on the couch looking at you blankly.

If you were to call them out on this, they will likely say something like “well you can’t expect life to just stop because you have an exam or have to finish a project for work can you dear?” This is a difficult one to deal with, and if an emotional manipulator pulls this one, the choices for response are very limited…even as much that I do not have an adequate method to combat this besides getting this person out of your life.

They always seem to have it worse than you.

This tactic is pretty straight-forward. No matter what problems you may have in your life, the emotional manipulator always has problems worse than you. They shift focus from your problems to their supposed problems (which almost never exist in the way they claim they do).

If you sense that they are not being genuine and are just trying to shift the focus of the conversation on themselves in order to satisfy an egoistic desire, they will display feelings of being deeply hurt and will call you selfish. Yes, they will call you selfish, when in reality it is they who are selfish. Every day is Opposite Day for this emotional manipulator. It is difficult to combat this, because it is difficult to prove that you are not trying to be in the spotlight, so to speak. However, a clear and effective solution is to simply trust your intuition on their genuineness and walk away.

They are able to lower the positive energy of others around them.

Given the interconnected nature of human consciousness, everyone affects everyone else. This reality is able to both benefit and hurt us. If an emotional manipulator is in a room with others who are feeling fairly content and positive, the manipulators’ low level of consciousness will negatively impact all the others around his or herself. If they are angry or sad, others will begin to feel these emotions creep up into their consciousness and bring them down.

The instinctual result of this is that others will try to bring the energy level back up by trying to make the emotional manipulator feel better. By staying around such a person for a long period of time, you will find yourself exhausted with always trying to bring them back up to the positive end of the emotional spectrum and become burnt out.

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  • Jamie

    I have a daughter like this…selfish, narcissistic. I have cut myself off from her before because of every reason above. Only recently started letting her back in my life and (within a few short months) we are back at the same point where I want her to leave me alone… She recently told me that she would not abandon me…I said, God, please, someone shoot me now! As it stands she is not allowed back at my house without her boyfriend. It’s so sad.

  • Nichole

    I have a Mother in law who expresses and uses all of the above!! Long story short we haven’t talked to her in 3 years, is that the right thing to do? Should we be trying to get her help? I mean she has already had “help”.. Our life was instantly better when we cut her out ….but should we just turn our backs like that?

    • Nicole #2 from USA

      Your comment is interesting and like my situation. I had to step back and realize I was part of the problem in order for it to get better. Communication and love is the key. If you are truly ready to cut her our or limit her being around the first thing you need to do is say so. AND more importantly WHY YOU DON’T WANT HER AROUND. Most people do “get it” until they are told what is the dysfunction. Direct communication is the key. My situation is 80% better. We stopped taking her money and gifts and we stopped using her for a last minute sitter. I have to admit she came out in all kinds of nasty weather at all times of the day and night and never said no but, she told me it made her feel used. She stopped telling me how to raise my kids, interfere with the way we do things and has stopped the use curse words in front of the kids. We talked we are trying.

      • Onwardsandupwards

        There is no love and communication with a Narcissist…you must understand that. Emotional manipulation is too polite a description…this is a narcissist in the beginning; This is only the start of something much darker! All you can do is educate yourself on the subject and get out!!

  • Deuce2

    I have a sister who I think is an emotional manipulator, however she thinks I am the manipulator. I think most people display one or more of the traits you suggest are indicative of the manipulator, and frankly you would have to be pretty perfect not to. I think this subject is far more complex and can allude to mental illness. The article above is far too simplistic and suggests that emotional manipulators are in a tiny minority and should be deserted to fester in their own juices. Not easy if the EM is a loved one or a family member, and a harsh conclusion indeed to simply desert a person who has ‘issues’ which may go beyond contrived manipulative behaviour. IMHO. This article is too simplistic by half, even a little irresponsible.

    • lena

      My god, I read this article and almost had a panic attack. I scrolled down to the comments, desperate for someone to identify with, thinking, “Oh my god, this is me…I do some of this stuff…how do I stop…”

      So thank you for your comment, “Deuce2,” especially for typing: “I think most people display one or more of the traits you suggest are indicative of the manipulator, and frankly you would have to be pretty perfect not to.” and “This article is too simplistic by half, even a little irresponsible.”

      My chest still aches from my heart pounding and my hands are still sweaty, but at least I feel a little bit less like I’m irredeemably evil, and more like I’m not perfect, just human, and that I can grow, and that’s okay.

  • carlotta

    Sounds very much like “passive aggressive behaviour” – there’s much literature on this topic on the Net.
    To people who act in this way it might be helpful to get in touch with their real needs and core deficiencies .
    But chances are, that the person cannot engage in an adequate way to change these psychological structures underlying the unwillingness to engage in healthy relationships. So it might be sometimes the only option to end a relationship as you have suggested.

  • Janet

    Some of the commenters may want to look up narcissistic behavior. In my experience, emotional manipulation may be used by anyone, but the way narcissists use it is totally incorrigible, and there’s no way you’ll be able to “fix” them or relationships with them. “Gaslighting” is another term for the behavior in #3, where the manipulator deliberately makes you question your memory or worse, your sanity. These are dirty tricks I’m even tempted to call evil. Don’t try to be a savior. Just get out, and stop feeling guilty about it.

  • Brenda

    I’m on the verge of getting a divorce from a man I thought I would be with for the rest of my life. My heart is breaking …. this article helps me see I’m not going crazy or losing my mind… which is what he wants me to think. He’s so emotionally and verbally abusive, I go to a “very dark place” when he does this. It’s hard leaving, not sure I have the strength to leave.

    • Sasser

      You can do it! Don’t stay for the abuse. You deserve better. People that act like this are sociapaths. I have learned a lot from reading the stories on lovefraud dot com. Most people are just too nice when dealing with these types of people. Goodluck!

  • JanetS

    Is the following considered emotional manipulation or emotional abuse? My fiance refers to his ex-wife as his wife when he brings her up. Today I asked him if she is his wife or his ex-wife. He instantly got extremely angry and said she is his ex wife and that I ought to know what he means. He asked angrily, “why would I get married to you if I was already married?” He said that was me being insecure asking him that and to get off his phone. He then hung up on me. He won’t call or text me. He refuses my calls and won’t reply to any of my texts. He knows how much it bothers me when he won’t talk to me or text me when he gets angry with me. I really need to confirm what I think about this. I think he’s emotional manipulating/abusive but I need to know if I’m right or wrong. Please someone respond. Thank you greatly.

    • Sasser

      Yes sounds like a real ass. Why would you want to spend your life with someone like that? How will larger issues get handled? Have you ever heard of a site called lovefraud dot com? There are a lot of stories of sociopaths on there and your “fiancee” sounds like he may be next. Run don’t walk away. You can find a good man that will cherish you and understand his “flubs” scar your soul when referring to his ex as his wife. Then he should go to her.

  • BigHeartDaddy

    – Is ignorance = bliss, a true statement? Is there is a higher purpose that this is posted on WOW instead of psychology today.. Let me ask you, does this lady have a spiritual inclination or deep love for the earth and other people? Does she have the ability to discern feelings and emotions from those around her? Would you say that she is “awake” with the connection between her mind body and spirit? If so, keep reading…

    I have a 1 year old daughter. I was in the kitchen this morning and she came out of the bedroom, screaming, waa, waa, daddy!, waa. She immediately latched onto my leg, paralyzing me from getting to the hot stove to make breakfast. So, do I kick her off my leg, yell at her “yo, if you keep bothering me and scream and cry my name and grab my pants, I’m putting you up for adoption, so stop that.” Or from her perspective, she had a wet diaper and doesn’t know any words yet to say so, she just knows that there’s a problem, and I can help her. It’s a metaphor for this post. Women have a skill set which includes conversational skills, being sensitive, expressive, taking in lots of perspectives and communicating; men can be single-minded, unwavering, forceful, logical and direct (non-gentle). Together they are stronger as a unit than working individually, because of the diverse skills each brings to the other.

    More seriously, this story is a reflection on our society and its common use of disposable items. If your car seat has torn fabric or the turn signal makes an annoying click, we trade it in for a different car. If the vacuum cleaner jams, we throw it out and get a new one instead of having someone unclog it, or heaven forbid we get a screwdriver and replace a broken belt ourselves –after watching a diy on youtube.

    So I ask, why did Paul post this on WOW? In my opinion you’ve completely misunderstood the messages and signals your significant other has been trying to communicate to you. For 10 years, my wife has used her feminine skills in ways similar to what you’ve described above, she’s cried falsely, nagged, twisted the truth, made up events, forgot what was said, etc. But like the crying infant, do you think that everything happens for a reason, and there’s a higher purpose the universe has sent her to relay a message to you about what you’re doing, via her? I think it’s time that men start to “wake up” to the spiritual ways of women.

    Here’s my logical proof that it’s not an attack against you, and she does NOT have ill intentions to you by the actions she takes in communication. My wife does the things you mention above, and her first cousin, does exactly the same things with her husband. We talk about our wives and our dealings with them in amazement, “wow, your wife does that to you too?” So, since they both do the same thing, and neither has anything but good intentions in the actions they are taking, then the purpose for receiving the messages must be like the child pulling at your pants. There is a message beyond what seems “logical” in the moment, if you were to take pause, stop and listen, you might be able to go into waking meditation and ask, what changes or growth is being pointed out to you that you were seeking. The universe works in strange ways. You may not want to hear or grow, as ego wants to stay put, but you may also be seeking something that the feminine energy does not know any other way of communicating to you than the “tricks” or “bashing” or “belittlement” you may see on the surface. Be sure, that her words are truly from a deeper place, a higher place, and look past the surface reaction you may have, be grateful that the universe sees you as someone who might be able to decipher her cryptic messages and know that they do come from a place of love.

    Let me be more concrete. When she nags or casts insults, it usually means she’s scared and needs a hug. When she points out your weaknesses or taunts you by dis-remembering the past, she’s probably in touch with a spiritual entity who is seeing something in you that can be improved; if she’s rude or insulting it may be nothing other than trying to get your attention because she wants you to hear some message, but she’s not sure what the message is. It could be asking you to be kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, or simply asking you to stop and get in touch with your spirit, who may have a email from the universe and your significant other just heard the “you’ve got mail” sound and you should go and see what it is. Remember, do not take her actions on the surface for what they appear. Just as you are posting this in a awakened forum, the universe has a higher reason for her actions towards you, unbeknownst to the messenger.

    Now, I myself am not without my flaws, and if anything upsets more, its having my flaws pointed out, “hey, did you notice you really messed up here” and other inadequacies and items which I know I am deficient at, yet those same ones that I quietly asked at one point to work on improving. My first reaction is of my ego which is of course to fight/flight, and mostly both occur. So, to transcend the ego and come from a place of love of myself and others, takes a great deal of strength.

    Are you a believer in the law of attraction, and anything that shows up in your reality, you attracted and anything that happens, even which may seem unfortunate or uncomfortable in the moment, has a greater good for you? Based on these two beliefs, try to look for the loving reasons behind her behaviors toward you, as it seems that the things that she points out, are those same truths that you tend to bury, ignore and turn a blind eye to, as you do not wish to see those flaws in yourself. But to her and others, it is more apparent. Dig deep into yourself, aren’t those “harsh words” actually seeded in some truth that you do not wish to acknowledge. Facing these takes great strength, and that my friends, is why we are here, to discover ourselves, to be faced with difficult situations and to face them with openness and love and courage not turn and run.

    What if the tables were turned, and you were spiritually waking up, receiving feelings and insights into things you didn’t understand. Tried to communicate them to your spouse and were bashed, ridiculed, rejected and cast out. Understand that we are all one, and come from a source of love toward all others and know that there are no bad encounters.

    Include the thought that she is earth-bonded spiritually, and as mother earth is being polluted, pillaged, spilled upon, pesticided, oceans dumped in air pumped full of chemicals, burn-off, coal, oil, jet fuel, etc, that her feelings absorbed through this gets fed into her, and as she has little outlet to cause cure or remedy in these damages, it festers, and she ends up in anger. Anger is simply an emotion to cause attention to something which one wants to change. Now if you dig deep, you may find that you also have feelings toward healing mother earth, and through her, mother earth is trying to motivate you to take actions to heal and grow.

  • Onwardsandupwards

    Sums it up nicely!