No relationship is perfect. There are bound to be arguments, hurt feelings, and not-so-great behavior. However, healthy relationships are ultimately built on trust, respect, and emotional intelligence, which, in turn, allow growth, humility, and accountability. In other words, when you hurt your partner’s feelings, you recognize what you did was hurtful, you apologize, and you both move forward in a more integrative way. Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, include toxic behavior and actions that might involve emotional manipulation.
What is emotional manipulation, anyway? According to Psychology Today, it “can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.” Emotional manipulation can be subtle and deceptive, or it can be overt and outwardly shame-inducing. No matter how it’s done, the point of emotional manipulation is the same: to control you and your emotions for their benefit. Wondering if you’re a victim of this behavior? Here are some signs on how to tell.
They Twist Your Words
Emotional manipulators have a habit of guilt-tripping and are great at blaming you for whatever wrongdoing or mistakes they might’ve committed. For example, maybe you called out your partner for not unloading the dishwasher when they promised they would. An excellent emotional manipulator might say back, “You know how busy I am. Why would you ask me to do something like that when I’ve been so stressed? How come you never help me out?” Or maybe they’ll say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. I should’ve done that alongside everything else I’m doing to help out our family.” Basically, they make you feel bad for expecting them to follow through on a task and skirt any sort of accountability.
They Get Upset When Things Don’t Go Their Way
Emotional manipulators are usually control freaks, which means they approach situations and people according to a certain script they have in their head. When something doesn’t go according to their script — for example, you don’t want to go away with their parents for a weekend — they become angry and upset in an attempt for you to change your mind. Essentially, an emotional manipulator wants to keep you from saying or doing something they don’t like, and will bully you into submission.
They Say Something and Deny It Later
Another tactic of emotional manipulation is gaslighting. A manipulator might agree to do something for you, and when you expect them to keep their commitment, they will deny they ever said anything in the first place. They might say things like, “Oh, you misunderstood what I meant” or “That’s not really what I said.” They might even flat out call you a liar or blame your “terrible memory.” They might even twist what you said in order to make you out to be deceptive or a manipulator yourself! The result is the same: you feel guilty and, as a result, let them off the hook.
They Embarrass You Frequently
In an effort to keep control of the relationship, a.k.a. you, an emotional manipulator will point out your flaws and weaknesses in order to undermine you either in private or publicly. They might even say embarrassing things using humor, like, “You’re so bad at driving! I can’t believe you would do that! I’m a much better driver than you. I should drive the car all the time.” While it might seem harmless at first, when these type of comments are consistent, they will eventually undermine your confidence and might cause you to defer your judgment to the emotional manipulator — which is what they wanted in the first place.