How to Cope With a Manipulator

By dfg dfgJanuary 13, 2024

How to Recognise and React to Emotional Manipulators

People who manipulate others use mental distortion and emotional exploitation in an attempt to influence and control others. Their intent is to have power and control over others to get what they want.

A manipulator knows what your weaknesses are and will use them against you. This will keep happening unless you actively and assertively put a stop to it. That said, it is not always easy.

Stopping manipulation in any type of relationship can be difficult because it might have started out subtle. Over time, manipulation can become the everyday dynamic of your relationship with that person.

What Is Manipulation?

Manipulation can be subtle or quite obvious, but both are damaging to a relationship, whether it’s a friendship, de facto relationship, sibling relationship, marriage, or other. Here's a look at how manipulation tactics compare to a healthy, direct approach.

Common Manipulation Strategies

If you recognise some, any or all of these interactions in your relationship, it can be a sign that you’re experiencing emotional manipulation.

  • Coercive behaviour.
  • Physical intimidation when confronted.
  • Being vague about wants or needs.
  • Disrespecting you when you calmly mention it.
  • Blaming.
  • Turning the story around to make it seem like you are at fault.
  • Deflecting attention and blame away from them by spinning it around to depict you as the problem (gaslighting).
  • Reluctance or refusal to communicate about problems.
  • Criticism and disapproval.
  • Making threats and ultimatums.
  • Giving the silent treatment.
  • Lying, exaggerating or twisting the truth to purport you as the problem.
  • Attempting to make you feel shameful, embarrassed, or guilty.
  • Wanting you to believe you are a perpetrator to escape personal accountability and their conscience, and to feel like a victim.
  • Showing exaggerated disappointment.
  • Twisting your words (or their meaning).
  • Choosing to depict themselves as a victim when they are the perpetrator.
  • Withdrawal, avoidance and stonewalling.
  • Withholding or threatening to withhold money or something else of value.
  • Withholding or hiding information.
  • Withholding sex (if an intimate relationship) or affection.
  • Seeking to ostracise you from others.

Why People Manipulate Others

Generally, there are people out there who manipulate others to get what they want. They may feel threatened by or insecure about another person and feel the need to punish, control, or dominate that person illegitimately and irrationally. They may be seeking pity or attention or have other selfish motives. They might also be trying to change or wear down the other person in an effort to have their own needs met. It might also happen in certain circumstances with specific insecurities that exist in only some situations where they feel threatened or inferior.

People who manipulate in adult relationships sometimes come from a dysfunctional family of origin (the family one grows up in). They might have had to manipulate in order to get basic needs met or avoid harsh punishment, or perhaps they were manipulated by their parents and learned this negative way to interact with others. Sometimes narcissistic and emotionally abusive parents can pass on these behaviours and traits to their children.

Consequences of Manipulation

Manipulation is damaging to relationships, especially those that are intimate due to the close, regular contact and shared lives. If you are being manipulated by someone you care about, you might feel:

  • A constant need to defend yourself.
  • Guilty or unjustly punished about mentioning or addressing their behaviour.
  • Victim blamed as the perpetrator when you assertively address it.
  • As though your well-intended communication has been taken down the garden path of craziness, then along nonsensical and irrelevant tracks and canals to confuse, disempower, and anger you.
  • A lack of trust in the manipulator.
  • A serious sense of self-doubt about your interpretation, personality, sanity.
  • Negative feelings such as dissatisfaction, hurt, resentment, anger, and frustration.
  • Overall doubt or discontentment with the relationship.

What to Do About Emotional Manipulation

Most people know how to be manipulative, but most choose mature and healthy ways to interact with others. Most strive to be respectful of others through direct and honest communication, particularly in a close family relationship, defacto relationship or marriage.

Manipulation and other forms of emotional abuse are never acceptable from anyone in your life. Realise and accept that manipulation is also emotional blackmail.

Here are some key points to recognise this unfair behaviour and eliminate it in your life.

  • Do not act as if the manipulation is no big deal.
  • If the manipulation continues and they won’t change, consider whether (and how) you learn to live with it or end the relationship.
  • Recognise when another person manipulates.
  • Tell the other person when you experience manipulation. Be specific in describing the manipulation and your feelings.

For some people, manipulation might seem like an easy or "natural" way to deal with a difficult issue or to get things to go the way you want them to, but it undermines and damages their relationships, other people and even themselves. Everyone deserves honest and caring communication and if they're not respecting that boundary, you have to be brave and address it otherwise you're not looking after yourself.


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© 2023 Alana Huxtable.

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