How To Tell If Your Partner Is An Emotional Manipulator

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Patty Blue Hayes

Reminder: You are the keeper of your emotions.

If you feel drained and confused after interacting with someone, and just can't determine exactly why, you might be dealing with an emotional manipulator. After all, they're all around us, waiting to get their next fix of perceived power and control.

Click through to see if they exhibit these six typical relationship behaviors that can leave you feeling like there's something wrong with you.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When you tell them, "It hurt me when you said this," instead of offering a simple genuine apology or asking you to talk about how you felt, they'll point out why you're wrong to feel that way, diminish your feelings as silly, and say you're overreacting.

Their calm demeanor, and your heightened emotion or sensitivity, may trick you into doubting yourself. You start wondering, maybe they're right? You then retreat into your own thoughts trying to process the interaction, feeling too insecure to pursue the conversation any further.

If they respond with anger, you feel stunned. You've just opened yourself up in a vulnerable way, and they've barged into that soft open space with aggression — leaving you feeling trampled upon, exposed, and unsafe. If this is their pattern, you may even start to believe you are responsible for their anger.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When you summon the courage to tell them you feel a lack of support, closeness, friendship or kindness — they'll turn it around and blame you. Instead of taking responsibility, they will point out the things you did to justify their reasons to pull away, be mean, act insensitively, or yell at you.

You're left again, wondering if they're right, and doubting the validity of your own feelings. You may suppress your desire for healthy communication because of how exhausting it is to try to communicate. This keeps the toxic cycle going, diminishing your self-assuredness even further.

How often do you hear them say things like, "You made me yell at you," "Why are you trying to start a fight?" and "If you hadn't done this, I wouldn't have done that"? These statements deny you the right to your own feelings.

Unless they have an interest in learning effective communication skills and taking responsibility for their feelings and actions, cut them loose. If your self-esteem hasn't been stellar, and your boundaries aren't firm, their tactics can leave you feeling worthless.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You become the brunt of the joke in front of your friends. The night might be going along perfectly fine, until they take the last sip of a second cocktail, and make fun of something about you so personal your smile drops into your stomach, and you're flushed with embarrassment.

Since everyone else is laughing at the "joke" or "funny story," you don't feel it's the right time to express how hurt you are, so you keep up the façade. But, when you mention your hurt feelings while taking a taxi back home, they dismiss your concerns by saying you're too sensitive, "It's just a joke. Lighten up."

If they like to throw emotional daggers, they'll add in, "Do you have PMS?" If they go as far to make a psychological diagnosis of you, get out of that taxi, and hail an Uber to drive you into your emotional freedom land.

In private, the emotional manipulator will be full of apologies when they realize you've reached your breaking point. Only then will they claim partial ownership for their behavior.

It's more common for them to still put the blame on others, whether it's coworkers, crazy drivers or their family. But, they'll do it in such a sweet authentic tone, you'll be tricked into giving them yet another chance.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"You wouldn't understand." The emotional manipulator will use this statement to make you feel you're not intelligent enough to understand them. They do this because they have no desire in having authentic, real communication with you.

They want to make you feel like you're beneath them by claiming you couldn't possibly understand. It's a futile attempt to ask them to try to explain it, too. Their frustration at your attempt at communication will eventually spin its way back to you.

The partner who doesn't communicate what they need from you also exhibits this refusal technique. They prefer to stew in their disapproval of you for not giving them what they need — even though they've never told you what that is.

This can leave you feeling helpless, just waiting for them to burst out in anger if you do something "wrong." Since they don't tell you specifics, all your actions and words are fair game. There's no way to win with this one. Walk away as fast as you can.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
This tactic instills fear, doubt, and insecurity, which makes you think everyone is in agreement and you're wrong. The manipulator uses this to say what you did was bad, stupid, spiteful or rude — and all are in cahoots.

Although, usually, you will question whether they're flat out lying, you might not listen to that small inner voice as their method has caused you to grow deep roots of self-doubt.

When you ask which specific friends, you won't get an answer. You're not likely to confront your friends out of fear they'll either agree (then you have a friend issue to deal with), or they'll lie and deny (another potential friend issue), or they'll let you know how stupid you are for being duped by such a crafty manipulator.

All three scenarios diminish your power, so you do nothing.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
With this tricky tactic, you're likely to hear, "I know why you..." While it's normal for human beings to make our own conclusions about someone's behavior, when people reach a higher level of maturity, it's common to actually ask the other person what their intentions were, or their thoughts behind an action they took that was displeasing to us.

The emotional manipulator is like a stubborn toddler, holding onto their own reasoning with clenched fists. If you dare to pry them open, a tantrum ensues. They're so tenacious with their grip onto their story that you might even start doubting yourself, since they are very convincing with their argument.

Usually, around the third time you've tried to explain yourself, they'll state, "I'm done," and walk away, going back to the dismissive mode mentioned prior.

All these tactics are part of the life cycle of the emotional manipulator. You can't get them off that hamster wheel because they're not interested in communicating — they're only interested in being right.

Next: How To Keep Your Cool When A Fight With Your SO Blows Up