Psychological and Emotional Manipulation

9 Signs of Psychological and Emotional Manipulation

How to spot a manipulator in your relationship?

Psychological manipulation 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.

It is important to distinguish healthy social influence from psychological manipulation. Healthy social influence occurs between most people, and is part of the give and take of constructive relationships. In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power and exploits the victim to serve his or her agenda.

Below is a list of nine manipulative tricks people often use to coerce others into a position of disadvantage. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a compilation of subtle as well as strident examples of coercion. Not everyone who acts in the following manners may be deliberately trying to manipulate you. Some people simply have very poor habits. Regardless, it’s important to recognize these behaviours in situations where your rights, interests and safety are at stake.


1. Let You Speak First to Establish Your Baseline and Look for Weaknesses


Many salespeople do this when they prospect you. By asking you general and probing questions, they establish a baseline about your thinking and behaviour, from which they can then evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. This type of questioning with a hidden agenda can also occur in personal relationships or your workplace.


2. Home Court Advantage

A manipulative individual may insist on your meeting and interacting in a physical space where he or she can exercise more dominance and control.
This can be the manipulator’s office, home, car, or other spaces where he feels ownership and familiarity (and where you lack them).


3. Giving You Little or No Time to Decide

This is a common sales and negotiation tactic, where the manipulator puts pressure on you to make a decision before you’re ready. By applying tension and control onto you, it is hoped that you will “crack” and give in to the aggressor’s demands.


4. Manipulation of Facts

Examples of manipulation of facts include:

  • Lying.
  • Excuse making.
  • Two-faced.
  • Blaming the victim for causing their own victimization.
  • Deformation of the truth.
  • Strategic disclosure or withholding of key information.
  • Exaggeration.
  • Understatement.
  • The one-sided bias of issue.


5. Negative Humour Designed to Poke at Your Weaknesses and Disempower You

Some manipulators like to make critical remarks, often disguised as humour or sarcasm, to make you seem inferior and less secure.
Examples of this can include any variety of comments ranging from your appearance to your older model smartphone, to your background and credentials, to the fact that you walked in two minutes late and out of breath.
By making you look bad, and getting you to feel bad, the aggressor hopes to impose psychological superiority over you.


6. The Silent Treatment

By deliberately not responding to your reasonable calls, text messages, emails, or other inquiries, the manipulator presumes power by making you wait, and intends to place doubt and uncertainty in your mind. The silent treatment is a head game where silence is used as a form of leverage.


7. Guilt-Baiting

Examples include:

  • Unreasonable blaming.
  • Targeting the recipient’s soft spot.
  • Holding another responsible for the manipulator’s happiness and success, or unhappiness and failures.

By targeting the recipient’s emotional weaknesses and vulnerability, the manipulator coerces the recipient into ceding unreasonable requests and demands.


8. Victimhood

Examples include:

  • Exaggerated or imagined personal issues.
  • Exaggerated or imagined health issues.
  • Dependency.
  • Co-dependency.
  • Deliberate frailty to elicit sympathy and favour.
  • Playing weak, powerless, or martyr.

The purpose of manipulative victimhood is often to exploit the recipient’s goodwill, guilty conscience, sense of duty and obligation, or protective and nurturing instinct, in order to extract unreasonable benefits and concessions.

9. Overwhelm You with Procedures and Red Tape

Certain people use bureaucracy – paperwork, procedures, laws and by-laws, committees, and other roadblocks to maintain their position and power while making your life more difficult.
This technique can also be used to delay fact-finding and truth-seeking, hide flaws and weaknesses, and evade scrutiny.

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