15 red flags you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator

by Brendan Brown | April 22, 2024, 11:14 pm

There’s a big difference between an occasional hiccup and an everyday heartbreak. 

If you’ve been feeling off about your relationship, but can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, you’ve come to the right place. 

Let’s talk about emotional manipulation – the insidious, invisible kind of cruelty that’s as harmful as it is hard to spot. 

Now, buckle up as we unveil the 15 red flags indicating you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator.

1) Your feelings are constantly invalidated

Ever had your feelings dismissed as ‘overreacting’? 

An emotional manipulator has a knack for making you feel like your emotions aren’t valid. 

If you find your feelings continually getting brushed under the carpet, it’s time to raise an eyebrow.

2) They gaslight you

If you’re in a relationship with a person who makes you question your own memory or sanity, it’s a red flag. 

Manipulators use gaslighting to create a narrative that suits them, leaving you confused and doubting your own perception.

3) Guilt-tripping is their favorite sport

Emotional manipulators are masters of guilt-tripping. If your partner consistently makes you feel like everything is your fault, you might be dealing with an emotional manipulator. 

Remember, everyone makes mistakes; no one should have to walk on eggshells in a relationship

4) They give you the silent treatment

The silent treatment is a manipulator’s classic move. It’s used as a form of punishment when you don’t comply with their wishes. 

Healthy communication is a two-way street. You should be able to express your thoughts and feelings without fear of being iced out.

5) They play the victim

Emotional manipulators often play the victim card.

When confronted about their behavior, they flip the script, painting themselves as the victim and you as the villain. 

If you constantly find yourself apologizing when you shouldn’t, beware.

6) There’s always a ‘but’ in their apologies

Do their apologies often come with a ‘but’, followed by a justification for their behavior? That’s not an apology; it’s a disguised blame game

An authentic apology acknowledges the mistake and takes responsibility, no strings attached.

7) Their words don’t match their actions

They might say all the right things, but if their actions don’t align with their words, you’re likely dealing with an emotional manipulator. 

Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

8) They use emotional blackmail

If they use your feelings and insecurities against you, that’s emotional blackmail. 

Emotional manipulators often exploit your vulnerabilities to manipulate and control you. 

Love isn’t about power dynamics; it’s about mutual respect and understanding.

8) They make you feel ‘less than’

An emotional manipulator may subtly belittle you and undermine your self-confidence, leading you to believe you’re less deserving or capable. 

If you’re often left feeling ‘less than’, it’s a clear red flag.

10) They are quick to point out your flaws but hypersensitive about their own

Constructive criticism is one thing, but if your partner is quick to highlight your mistakes and flaws but can’t handle any feedback themselves, you’re in manipulative territory

A healthy relationship involves mutual growth, not one-sided critique.

11) They control the narrative

A common tactic of emotional manipulators is controlling how others see you and the relationship.

By setting the narrative, they can present themselves in a favorable light and isolate you from friends and family who might help you see the truth.

12) Their love is conditional

Emotional manipulators often use love as a bargaining chip, offering affection and attention only when it suits them or when they want something. 

In a healthy relationship, love isn’t conditional or used as a tool for manipulation.

13) They frequently gaslight you

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where someone makes you question your own reality and sanity. 

If your partner dismisses your feelings, tells you you’re ‘overreacting,’ or insists you’re misremembering situations, they’re gaslighting you.

14) They use silent treatment as a weapon

Everyone needs some quiet time, but using the silent treatment to ‘punish’ you or make you feel guilty is manipulative

It’s a power play designed to make you scramble to make things right.

15) Their mood dictates the relationship’s climate

If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, always trying to predict and placate your partner’s moods to avoid conflict, that’s a significant red flag

You’re in a relationship, not a weather station tracking storms.

Why people put up with emotional manipulation

1) They don’t recognize it as manipulation

Many people grew up in environments where emotional manipulation was the norm, so they don’t immediately recognize it in their relationships. 

They may mistake controlling behavior for concern, or gaslighting for normal disagreements.

2) They’re invested in the relationship

When you’ve spent a significant amount of time, effort, and emotion on a relationship, it’s hard to just walk away. 

The thought of starting anew can be scarier than staying in a manipulative relationship.

3) They fear being alone

The fear of being alone or single can often keep people stuck in unhealthy relationships. 

The manipulator often capitalizes on this fear, convincing their partner that no one else would want them or they won’t be able to manage on their own.

4) Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem often believe they deserve the mistreatment. 

Manipulators are adept at preying on insecurities, making their partners feel as though the poor treatment is justified.

5) Manipulative apologies and promises of change

After every argument or emotional outburst, the manipulator often offers a seemingly heartfelt apology and promises to change. 

This manipulative cycle gives the victim hope that things will get better, making it even harder for them to leave.

6) They’re financially dependent

Financial dependency is a very tangible and often overlooked reason people stay in manipulative relationships

If your partner controls the finances or you’re not financially stable on your own, it can feel impossible to leave.

Notable people who got out of emotionally manipulative relationships

No matter who you are or what your circumstances might be, no one deserves to be in an emotionally manipulative relationship

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. 

If these notable individuals can escape these toxic relationships and thrive, so can you:


Global pop star Rihanna faced an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with fellow artist Chris Brown. 

Despite the public scrutiny and pressure, Rihanna found the courage to leave and has since used her platform to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Halle Berry

Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry was involved in several emotionally manipulative relationships. 

She has spoken openly about her experiences, hoping to break the silence surrounding domestic violence and inspire others to seek help.

Tina Turner

The queen of rock ‘n’ roll, Tina Turner, was in a notoriously abusive marriage with Ike Turner. 

After years of physical, emotional, and financial abuse, Tina found the courage to leave. Her story is a powerful reminder that it’s never too late to start over.

Melissa Moore

Melissa Moore, the daughter of infamous serial killer Keith Jesperson, was subjected to emotional manipulation and abuse throughout her childhood. 

She has since become a successful author, writing about her experiences to help others in similar situations.

Marilyn Monroe

Iconic actress and model Marilyn Monroe was subjected to physical and emotional abuse in several of her relationships. 

She once said, “I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

How to fight back against an emotional manipulator

Understanding the manipulation

The first step to fighting back against an emotional manipulator is understanding that you’re being manipulated in the first place. 

Emotional manipulators are crafty, often disguising their manipulation as concern, love, or just plain old good advice. 

They make you question your reality, also known as gaslighting, or overstate your flaws while downplaying their own. 

It’s a tricky game they play, but once you see it for what it is, you’ve won half the battle.

Setting boundaries

Now that you’ve identified the manipulation, the next step is to set healthy boundaries. Emotional manipulators thrive on violation of personal boundaries. 

They’ll make you feel guilty for saying ‘no’, or for having needs or desires that don’t align with theirs. 

But remember, it’s not selfish to prioritize your needs and your mental health. Start by setting small boundaries and gradually move on to larger ones. 

The key is to stand firm. It won’t be easy, and they might try to undermine you, but remember, this is your life, not theirs.

Seeking support

Lastly, remember you don’t have to do this alone. Reach out to people you trust, those who’ve had your back in the past. 

If you’re comfortable, share your experiences with them. 

Sometimes, it can be enlightening to hear an outside perspective. If talking to friends or family isn’t an option, consider seeking professional help. 

Therapists are trained to handle situations like these and can offer valuable tools and advice. 

There are also numerous hotlines and online resources available if you need immediate assistance.

Final words

Fighting back against an emotional manipulator isn’t just about ending the relationship or distancing yourself. 

It’s about reclaiming your own identity, regaining your confidence, and reminding yourself that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. 

No one else has the right to belittle your emotions or control your life. 

You’re stronger than you think, and you have the power to fight back.

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