8 Types of Emotional Manipulation

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Monday October 19, 2020

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Everyone engages in emotional manipulation — your 4-year-old does it when she tells you you’re the best parent ever in hopes of winning a predinner cookie. Most of the time, the behavior is benign — you know the guy on the used car lot will pull out all the stops to make you see that lemon as a juicy ripe watermelon. 

However, emotional manipulation can sometimes take a pernicious turn. If your romantic partner uses sneaky tactics to control your behavior, you can start to feel like you’re losing your mind. When it happens in the workplace, you may feel profound career dissatisfaction without knowing why. Here are eight signs to watch for to identify the insidious types of emotional manipulation.

1. Forcing Closeness

Your grocery bag rips on the way to your car, and a fellow rushes over to help you pick up the cans of Alpo rolling across the parking lot. Such behavior is admirable. Offering to follow you to your apartment and carry the dog food because “we’ve got a hungry dog to feed” is not. 

Forced closeness occurs when someone uses wit, charm or verbal adeptness to get you to do what they want. You often see this behavior in romantic relationships where one partner wants to move forward physically, and the other hesitates. If someone has psychopathic tendencies, it can turn dire — think about how Ted Bundy lured women by requesting their “help” moving objects due to a “broken” arm. 

Fortunately, the guy who offers to help you with your groceries often wants nothing more than a smile, a word of thanks and maybe an opening to request a date. However, it pays to be aware of this type of emotional manipulation. 

2. Twisting the Facts 

You frequently see this type of manipulation in the workplace, although it also occurs in romantic relationships. For example, if your boss spots an error on the budget report, they’ll justifiably ask the responsible team what happened. 

If an unscrupulous colleague knows you have vision problems, they may blame the mistake on you, when in reality, anyone could have made the oversight. The next thing you know, you’re weeping at the optometrist’s office. 

3. Insulting Your Intelligence

Some people have low self-esteem, and they might put you down to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, this realization doesn’t keep their behavior from making you feel like a garbage bag. 

Such folks may insult you in front of others, making subtle digs like, “Well, I couldn’t expect you to understand the implications.” While you may feel tempted to counterattack, try to stay neutral and reply with a calm, “why don’t you explain them?” If they persist in unfounded insults, walk away. 

4. Downplaying Your Legitimate Concerns 

Unfortunately, you see this dynamic at work a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scores of people, like essential workers, feel unsafe performing their duties but remain unable to realistically escape their obligations. 

Emotional manipulators will downplay these concerns and make you feel worse — “why are you complaining over something that’s usually no more than a cold?” Try to keep your distance from such toxicity. Instead, identify one or two people you can trust to confide your fears. 

5. Claiming They Were Joking 

Another type of emotional manipulation occurs when someone says something intentionally cruel, then claims they were only joking. This behavior can cross the line into gaslighting — more on that shortly — because it makes you doubt your response’s legitimacy. 

The best way to respond to this manipulation is with a shoulder shrug. An “I didn’t find it funny” should suffice. If they keep at it and accuse you of having no sense of humor, walk away. 

6. Refusing Accountability 

If you encounter someone with narcissistic personality disorder, they have a grandiose sense of self-importance and probably believe they can do no wrong. Therefore, if they make a mistake, they will refuse to accept accountability. 

Consider it a red flag in a romantic relationship if your partner clearly orders chicken masala, but then berates the server for not bringing beef goulash. In the workplace, keep a careful distance from those who never accept blame for their errors, lest they try to pin them on you. 

7. Dividing and Conquering 

You see this emotional manipulation type frequently in “mean girl” scenarios where a trio of friends gang up two against one. If you get caught in a narcissistic relationship, your partner might bring in your parents or in-laws to testify on their behalf and make it seem like the problem with your union is all your fault. 

This triangulating behavior gives your attacker an ally and makes you feel like you must be the “bad” one. Examine their criticism for any merit, and if you aren’t entirely to blame, don’t shoulder the guilt-burden. Instead, consider a path to exit the situation peacefully. 

8. Gaslighting 

Gaslighting may be the most pernicious type of emotional manipulation because it makes you question your very sense of reality. This form of abuse occurs when another person intentionally does or says things to make you think you’re losing your mind. 

For example, you know you left a vital work report under your keyboard, but it’s no longer there when you return to the office. The colleague who had it out for you ever since you got promoted over them mysteriously “finds” it on their desk. When you ask how it got there, they smile sweetly and say, “Don’t you remember discussing this with me yesterday,” even though you did no such thing. Still, it shakes your confidence in your recollection. 

The best way to deal with gaslighting is to document everything. This process will help convince you that your version of events is genuine — plus, it serves a legal record if matters get ugly. 

Recognize and Beware of These 8 Types of Emotional Manipulation 

People don’t always play your feelings in an attempt to do something nefarious. Often, they want nothing more than a first date or to sell you a new kitchen appliance. However, there are pernicious types of emotional manipulation, and it pays to recognize the insidious variety.

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