“Remember the time you were dating that guy who I absolutely hated?” asks Emily.
“Yes, I remember him, that dude!!!, I could tell you from a mile away that he was manipulative and conniving,” says Danielle.
“Haha, funny! We have all been that road, I am not the only one who dated a narcissist and suffered different types of emotional manipulation,” says Dina.
These anecdotes passed around between three best friends might freshen up your memory of knowing at least one person who has been on the rollercoaster ride of different types of emotional manipulation. Or worse, you might have experienced similar emotional and psychological manipulation first-hand without being able to spot the red flags in time.
The unpleasant truth is that it is very easy to spot emotional manipulation in relationships when it happens to someone else. However, when we are in the thick of it, our emotional investment can result in us developing blind spots for even the most obvious emotional manipulation techniques.
Often the inability to spot the red flags or denial of troublesome relationship patterns stems from a lack of understanding of what’s emotional manipulation and how it works. So, let’s remedy that with the help of insights from counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades.
Understanding Emotional Manipulation
Table of Contents
Emotional manipulation in relationships means using emotions as weapons to control a partner/spouse in a deceptive or harmful way. The manipulative partner uses psychological manipulation which involves pressure to change your beliefs or behavior by applying covert emotional manipulation tactics.
Kavita explains, “Psychological manipulation is an attempt to make a person think like you, behave like you and do things to your liking. You want to make them act in a specific way or feel a certain thing. So basically you call the shots, you want them to be submissive in a connection.
“Such love manipulation techniques result in a dominant-submissive connection, where one partner is dominant and the other is submissive. The manipulator calls the shots and wants their partner to be submissive at all times, to do things according to their wishes. It’s a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to relationships.”
Linda, a 21-year-old student, shares her experience of a brush with manipulation in a relationship, “A few months into the relationship, I went to a club with my friends without my boyfriend, John, which should have been acceptable.
“But John kept texting me the whole time saying that I was a horrible person and I was cheating on him. I went out without him so I could sleep with other guys. He texted me all night even when I stopped replying. It was psychological manipulation which drained my energy and I couldn’t even have a good time with my friends, so I left and went straight to my house.”
Related Reading: Romantic Manipulation – 15 Things Disguised As Love
What Are 6 Different Types Of Emotional Manipulation?
At the beginning of a relationship or a marriage, when love is blooming, we tend to ignore the negative traits of our partners. These negative traits consist of darker sides of their personality, rooted in their past traumas, which can manifest into emotional manipulation in a relationship or marriage or even other forms of control. So, now the question arises, how do you recognize if you are going through emotional manipulation in a relationship or a marriage?
Kavita says, “So emotional manipulation in a marriage or romantic relationship is when you feel powerless, confused and frustrated because you are not able to break this pattern and you’re playing along with the person who is pulling the strings. You find it difficult to say no, you can take a no but you can’t say no. It indicates you’re codependent on your partner and would like to keep them at all costs. If you can’t let go of people, you are the perfect person to be manipulated.”
Manipulative partners deliberately use covert emotional manipulation techniques to trigger intense emotional reactions hence destabilizing the other’s emotional well-being and draining their energy. The list of emotional manipulation tactics can be complex and exhaustive, and the victim can be subject to one or more forms of psychological manipulation.
In this article, we are focusing on 6 different types of emotional manipulation – gaslighting, playing the victim, divide and conquer, downplaying your legitimate concerns, humiliation and bullying and love bombing. These are the most common emotional manipulation techniques in any abuser’s playbook.
To help you protect yourself, let’s look at the list of what different types of emotional manipulation mean and how to recognize them:
Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For Warns Therapist
1. Gaslighting is among the most common types of emotional manipulation
Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique used to make a person doubt their own reality. An emotionally abusive or narcissistic partner questions your emotions and memory just so they could have an upper hand or control over you. They do it repeatedly until you begin to question yourself. Hence making it difficult for you to trust your own decisions and judgments.
“Gaslighting in relationships tops the list of emotional manipulation tactics an abusive partner may resort to. Using the tactic of gaslighting, the manipulator denies, and therefore, invalidates your reality. Invalidating reality distorts or undermines the victim’s perceptions of their world and can even lead them to question their own sanity. “I don’t know where you got that idea.” “It’s all in your head”,” writes author Adelyn Birch.
How to recognize:
To recognize that your partner is this emotional manipulation technique on you, one must practice mindfulness. Kavita says, “Mindfulness is important. If you practice mindfulness, you will be able to understand which part of it is true and which is not true. Mindfulness is being alert, aware of the present moment and current happenings. When you’re not multitasking mentally, your recall and retention of your surroundings, thoughts, speech behavior and action are better. This can help you recognize when you’re being gaslit and protect yourself.”
2. Playing the victim is a classic love manipulation technique
If your partner isn’t taking responsibility for their negative actions, then you must know that he/she is playing the victim card. This tops the list of emotional manipulation tactics. Usually, a manipulator uses this covert emotional manipulation tactic to make the other person apologize. If every argument ends with you apologizing, then you must see it for the relationship red flag it is.
When someone plays the victim card, they never take responsibility for their actions but always tell others about their wrongdoings. They might also always spin the situation to look like the aggrieved party. This could also be because of their depression or social anxiety, but then that doesn’t mean you are responsible for their actions. Instead, you could help them seek help and support them throughout their recovery.
How to recognize:
Kavita says, “You need to segregate facts from the imaginary things that are happening. Ask for facts, ask for evidence, find out more about them, see who their friends, family, and relatives are. Try to network and get more information, then you will know if they really are victims or playing the victims.” This technique from the list of emotional manipulation tactics can be recognized through facts and figures, so get your detective glasses on.
3. Divide and conquer
Emotional manipulation in a relationship may also manifest in the form of your partner roping in your friends and family to help resolve your fights. In a marriage, your spouse might get your parents and in-laws involved and portray you as a bad one in a relationship. This kind of emotional manipulation in a marriage gives your spouse an ally as they often get friends and family to testify on their behalf, using psychological manipulation to make you feel like you’re the problem in the relationship.
How to recognize:
Kavita says, “If you find that your family and friends are leaving you and going away, they are talking more about that person than you and they are on the other person’s side, understand it is strictly psychological manipulation. Get rid of the person as soon as possible.”
Related Reading: 8 Signs Of Covert Narcissist Hoovering And How You Should Respond
4. Downplaying your legitimate concerns
When you tell your partner that you’re feeling low or dealing with anxiety issues, they will discard it by telling you that you’re overthinking or complaining unnecessarily. If your partner dismisses your troubles rather than being concerned, there is little doubt that you’re dealing with emotional manipulation in a marriage or relationship. When such covert emotional manipulation tactics are imposed on you, then you must stand for yourself!
How to recognize:
Kavita says, “If you’re not having sex, they are taking away all your money, they are making sure that you don’t go out socially, they haven’t announced to people that you both are exclusive, still keeping you in dark, holding secrets from you, it is the time to find out more.
“If they are using every ploy on the list of emotional manipulation tactics, then give an ultimatum, discuss, and then decide and walk out. All these things are primary needs, you need to make sure that you’re not starving and deprived of having your basic needs met in a relationship.”
5. Humiliation/bullying counts as one of the emotional manipulation techniques
This type of psychological manipulation is when your manipulative partner uses your weakness and insecurities as weapons against you. They either tend to do it under the guise of joking or teasing. You may notice that whenever your partner says something that you find disrespectful or rude and you confront them, they always reply “I was just joking.”
Always remember that the one who bullies is dealing with insecurities over their own abilities and self-worth. Such bullies always target people they know intimately because they know their target’s secrets and can use them as covert emotional manipulation tactics to bring them down emotionally.
How to recognize:
Kavita says “Understand devaluing and how it is different from constructive criticism. Using covert emotional manipulation tactics such as humiliation and bullying is no way to take any relationship forward. So if you’re not discussing and you’re fighting that you have been humiliated and bullied into doing what you don’t want to do, then that is something you need to strictly say no to at the beginning of your connection itself.”
Related Reading: 12 Signs You Are Walking On Eggshells In Your Relationship
6. Love bombing amounts to psychological manipulation
Love bombing is among the classic love manipulation techniques which refer to someone who shows excessive adoration at the beginning of a relationship, as a cover-up for their consequent manipulative acts. It is a way for a manipulative partner to butter you up so that you don’t protest when they manipulate you in other ways. They use such covert emotional manipulation tactics to maintain control over their partner.
The best way to explain this is an episode from FRIENDS where Ross shows up at Rachel’s office with dinner and then sends flowers, gifts and a few guys to perform and sing for her, just to remind her how much he loves her. Remember? Well, in reality, Ross was employing a list of emotional manipulation tactics to keep Rachel under his control.
Kavita explains “Love bombing is when you know when your relationship is moving too fast. You meet somebody, and the next day, they say your thoughts kept them up all night, on the third day, they say they love you, and two weeks down the line, they propose marriage, within the next three weeks, you’re married, and then, you see a totally different person. They change immediately after they know they have you. That is when the love bombing stops.”
How to recognize:
Kavita says, “If you see a connection is progressing very fast, put the brakes on, wait for it to unfold, don’t get bullied into saying you love them. Don’t get into this kind of emotional manipulation in a marriage or a relationship just to make your partner happy. You should be mindful enough to know what you want, see the red flags, evaluate, decide what you want to do. So take it very slowly, one step at a time. Be mindful, aware and alert.”
Being the victim of emotional manipulation in a relationship or marriage or having gone through such episodes might severely affect your sense of identity. This might result in having trust issues with yourself or anyone around you. We would suggest you take some time off to reflect and evaluate, therapy will help rebuild a sense of trust in yourself and give you the courage to trust others too.
Once you get control of your life, nobody will be able to use love manipulation techniques to emotionally manipulate you in a relationship or marriage. Licensed and experienced therapists on Bonobology’s panel can help you take your first step toward healing.