How to Detect Emotional Manipulation

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect, trust and security. From time to time, individuals may encounter people who are not able to establish healthy relationships. Manipulative people have the need to be in control. Though appearing self-confident, their behavior is based in deep-rooted insecurity. The emotional manipulation that they use may be deceptive and subtle. The behavior may also be obvious and demanding. Emotionally manipulative people display a number of telltale signs.

Guilt Trips

Whenever a manipulative person cannot convince someone else to participate in an action that benefits the manipulator, or when the individual cannot get their way, they use passive-aggressive behavior in the form of a guilt trip. They view this ploy especially useful when enacted on kind-hearted or sensitive people.

Twisting Situations

Manipulators resist accepting responsibility for their actions. When confronted, they find a way to turn the situation around to benefit themselves and place guilt on the other person. They might offer a half-hearted apology that is also usually accompanied by a guilt trip. However, an authentic apology is unconditional and should lead to a behavioral change.

Twisting Conversations

The individual may make a commitment or a comment. Later, they conveniently deny or forget what was originally said. The aim is to once again escape responsibility and make the victim appear forgetful, demanding or unjust. Some choose to document and date conversations with manipulators and present them with the evidence when the individual attempts to play the bait and switch game. The guilty manipulator then generally accuses the innocent party of having no faith or trust in the relationship. However, this action makes it difficult for manipulators to twist conversations in the future.

Diminish the Problems of Others

Emotional manipulators do not much care about the challenges, difficulties or problems that others endure unless they can use the situation to turn the table and one-up the other person. They consider themselves the center or their universe in which nothing good or bad experienced by anyone else can top what their life entails.

Avoid Healthy Communication

Instead of being direct, emotional manipulators tend to avoid confrontation. They may get others to relate their feelings in a situation or offer immature indications that include pouting, stomping or refusing to talk.

Energy Vampires

Manipulators often enter a room filled with other people and act in such a way that all attention veers toward them. They display verbal or non-verbal cues that suggest anger, sadness or some other negative emotion. Inevitably, others rush to their side and attempt to determine the problem and offer a solution. Anyone who recognizes the ploy for what it is merely turns and walks the other way.

Aggression and Anger Tools

An emotional manipulator often uses angry outbursts, threats or physical aggression when confronted about their behavior or in an attempt to get their way in a situation. The idea being that if they illicit fear or frustration others will give in to their demands.

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