How To Detect & Deal With Emotional Manipulation

Most healthy relationships are based on intimacy, trust, and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, some individuals exploit these aspects of a healthy relationship in order to exert power and control over their partner

Emotional manipulation comes in many forms, many of which are subtle and difficult to identify. If you fear that you may be stuck in a manipulative relationship, know that you are not alone and that there is a way out. Visiting a codependent relationship retreat can give you the tools you need to break the bubble and gain relational freedom. 

Keep on reading to learn how to recognize emotional manipulation and recover from its effects.

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What Is Emotional Manipulation In A Relationship?

What Does Emotional Manipulation Look Like?

The vast majority of people seek emotional intimacy in their relationships. This means feeling free to show the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to our partner, without fear. Unfortunately, this is exactly what emotional manipulators seek to exploit. You show them your triggers and weaknesses and they will use them against you, often damaging your self-esteem, undermining your confidence, and even making you doubt your own sanity. 

It is clear why emotional manipulation is so destructive, especially when it is done by your partner, the person you feel closest to. That is exactly why you should know how to detect emotional manipulation tactics, however subtle they may be, if you want to protect your emotional core and avoid falling into the manipulator’s traps. 

What Does Emotional Manipulation Look Like?

Emotional manipulation is typically deliberate, with the intent to make the victim feel confused, powerless, and lost. Still, many individuals manipulate without being aware of it. In fact, it could be said that we all manipulate from time to time, although the end goal of our manipulation may appear perfectly innocent. 

But when does emotional manipulation become narcissistic abuse? How do you determine when manipulative behavior has crossed the line? Here are several forms of emotional manipulation you may encounter in your relationships: 

Signs Of Emotional Manipulation 

Look out for the following behaviors if you wish to try and spot an emotional manipulator: 

  • They get intimate way too fast: manipulators tend to portray sensitivity and emotional vulnerability at the very start of the relationship. They want you to feel special, like you’re the only one who could get so close to them. They do all this to lure you in and make you feel dependent on their feelings. 
  • They tell you what you want to hear but don’t follow up: rest assured that an emotional manipulator will know exactly what to say to make you feel good or appreciated. But when the time comes to act, they back off and pretend like your wishes are dumb or unreasonable. 
  • They make you doubt your own sanity: many emotional manipulation tactics are designed to make you question your reality. For instance, they may lie about an event you both participated in, pretending that it never happened at all. 
  • They play the victim: emotional manipulators rarely take accountability. Even if you know perfectly well that they are to blame for a certain action or event, they will most likely claim that it is somebody else’s fault or your own. 
  • They love playing the martyr: they may appear very eager to help you, but then become reluctant and act like what you both agreed on is too much of a burden. If you confront them about it, they may make you feel paranoid, confused, and, most of all, indebted. 
  • They use your weaknesses against you: an emotional manipulator will go to great lengths to discover your triggers and weak spots and later use them to hurt you. Whether it’s your physical appearance or intelligence, they will use your insecurities to manipulate you. 

What Tactics Do Manipulators Use?

Emotional manipulators are known for using covert manipulation tactics to undermine your self-esteem and sanity. Some of these are: 

Guilt Tripping 

Has your partner ever told you that you simply do not care about them even though you rarely do anything but give? This intimidation tactic is known as guilt tripping and is used to place you in a submissive position and make you feel bad about yourself and your actions. They may tell you you are selfish, ignorant, or cold, no matter how far from the truth that may be. 


Gaslighting is a tactic which attempts to make you question your own memory by using misinformation, denial, contradiction, and misdirection. The manipulator will plant a seed of doubt, often damaging your self-esteem and evoking cognitive dissonance. Gaslighting is a powerful form of emotional manipulation that can be extremely subtle but highly effective. 


If an emotional manipulator does something questionable or controversial, they may use logic and reason to explain and justify their behaviors, no matter how much they hurt you. This is a defense mechanism which uses seemingly logical and reasonable excuses but actually avoids providing an actual explanation.  

How Do You Recover From Emotional Manipulation?

The effects of emotional manipulation can be extremely damaging and may last for years after the abuse happened. If you are trying to find your feet after a manipulative relationship, here are some tips: 

  • Be aware of the common manipulation tactics. Know what the manipulator wants to achieve and keep an eye out for red flags next time around. 
  • Stay in tune with your own feelings. Try to determine your own triggers and see which insecurities the manipulator may use against you. Writing down your feelings may help. 
  • Don’t put too much trust in words. Instead, focus on their actions, no matter how sweet their words may sound. 
  • Remember that this isn’t your fault. You are not weak or worthless for falling into the manipulator’s trap. They wanted to hurt you and they did so because of their own issues. 
  • Focus on your own life. Learn a new skill, travel, or spend more time with your friends and family to distract yourself from the manipulator and what they did to you. 
  • Seek help from professionals. Speaking with a relationship expert may give you a new perspective and awareness of the situation, which will make it easier for you to overcome the effects of the manipulation. 

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What Tactics Do Manipulators Use?

At PIVOT, we strive to help individuals and couples overcome their emotional wounds and find the strength to start over and build healthy, lasting relationships. Whether you are struggling with a deep-set fear of abandonment or can’t handle being ignored in your relationships, we are here to help. 

We offer a wide range of intensive workshops for codependents, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions that will help you gain relational freedom. Contact PIVOT today! 

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