10 Ways to Spot Emotional Manipulation and How to Deal with It

Emotional manipulation is when someone tries to change a person’s behavior or perception through deceptive or dishonest tactics.

Unlike the innocence of influencing a pizza craving in your companion so that you can order in for dinner, emotional manipulation aims to change a person’s behavior, or even personality, to benefit the manipulator.

Sometimes the manipulator is unaware of what they are doing, and just know that this is how they have managed to get their way in the past.

They don’t do it with conscious intent to harm, but that is still the outcome of their actions.

Other emotional manipulators have learned, practiced, and honed their skills to expertly get what they desire from people.

Spotting manipulation can be incredibly difficult from a friend or loved one.

We like to believe that these people would never try to manipulate us, but they do and it causes us pain.

Here are 10 ways you can spot emotional manipulation:

Rationalization:

when the manipulator will offer excuses and try to rationalize their inappropriate actions in order to change your negative perception of that action.

This is an attempt to avoid responsibility, and make it seem like the inappropriate thing they did was okay or even positive.


For example: “I was going to be late getting the car back to you, so I had to speed.”

Minimization:

when the manipulator tries to minimize the impact or effects of an inappropriate behavior.

For example: “It was just a little fender-bender, you shouldn’t be so upset.”

Diversion:

when the manipulator avoids giving a direct answer to a question or to a conversation and they try to steer the conversation in a new direction to divert the line of questioning or talk completely.

For example: “The car could have gotten dented anywhere.

Did you see that new movie trailer?”

Gilt Trip:

when the manipulator tries to make you feel bad for reacting to the situation or their behavior the way that you do.

This often comes with suggestions that you don’t care about the manipulator, or that you are selfish, or simply that you don’t understand.

It is to make you feel guilty, anxious, and self-doubting.

For example: “You’re more worried about the car, you don’t even care that I got in an accident.

I guess the car matters more to you than I do.”

Shaming:

when the manipulator uses put-downs, sarcasm, and insults to deflect and keep you feeling self-doubt, anxious, and powerless.

This can be subtle sarcasm or it can be actual insults that make you feel bad about yourself.

For example: “Oh yeah, it’s all my fault the car got dented because we know that you’re a perfect driver and never make any mistakes.”

or “You’re such an idiot for lending your car out.

You should have known better.”

Making You the Bad Guy:

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when the manipulator twists the conversation around to make it seem like you are the one who has acted or is acting inappropriately.

This can usually look like they are making you the aggressor when you are calling them out. 

For example: “You get angered so easily! I didn’t tell you about the fender-bender because I knew you’d blow up like this.”

Playing the Victim:

when the manipulator makes themselves the victim.

This twists the power dynamic so that you now have to care for them and stop standing up for yourself.

For example: “I was speeding to get the car back to you and the other car just pulled out in front of me.

I was so scared and I slammed on my breaks.

I’ve never been in an accident before.”

Scapegoating:

when the manipulator places blame for their actions on someone else.

For example: “They should have seen me coming and waited for me to pass before turning.

It’s their fault I hit them and dented your car.”

Lie of Omission:

when the manipulator doesn’t lie outright, they simply leave important details out so that you don’t have a complete picture.

For example: “I was driving to get back to you and the other car pulled out of nowhere so I hit them.”

Omitting the fact that they were speeding.

Lying:

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when they change the story completely or don’t tell you at all.

This one is hard to spot, but usually the facts don’t all line up and you can sense that something is wrong.

For example: “I came out of the store and it looked like someone pulled forward too far and hit the front of your car.”

It can be difficult to spot these manipulations,

especially when we care about the person doing it.

The best ways to deal with emotional manipulation are to:

1. Remind yourself that your feelings are valid.

If you are upset or don’t like something, it is acceptable for you to feel that way.

2. Remain calm and rational.

If you are acting with respect and logic, then there is no reason for someone to respond to you with any of the tactics written above.

This can be difficult, especially in an emotional situation.

Take time to process, listen, and think things through.

If someone is emotionally manipulating you, you can try two paths:

– To communicate and find a resolution in order to maintain the friendship or relationship (which is reasonable if you don’t think they know they are being a manipulator.)

This will require awareness, admittance, and compromise on the parts of the manipulator and yourself.

– Or to end the relationship or friendship and remove yourself permanently from their manipulations.

This is best if they are aware of their manipulations and are consciously trying to change you, your behaviors, and perception.

If you try the first approach but they deny or won’t listen to you when you tell them you’ve noticed they do these behaviors, you might need to consider the second approach as the best option.

If the manipulator is not ready to be aware or take responsibility of their actions, then there is nothing you can do to change that or make them.

Protect yourself from emotional manipulation and identify it when it happens, even from the people closest to you.