Red Flags Alert: 17 Warning Signs That You’re Being Controlled by a Manipulator

Whether you’re in the early stages of dating or deep into a long-term relationship, it’s vital to be vigilant for signs of emotional manipulation. If you’re concerned, be aware of these 17 signs of emotional manipulation.

They’re Gaslighting You

Gaslighting
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Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where someone makes you question your own reality. They may deny the truth, twist facts, or accuse you of misremembering events, leaving you feeling disoriented and doubting your own experiences.

“Gaslighting is usually performed over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts,” verywellmind says.

They’re Playing the Victim

Playing the Victim
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Many emotional manipulators will play the victim so they can make you feel guilty or responsible for their problems. By doing so, they gain sympathy and control, while deflecting responsibility for their actions.

They Constantly Criticise You

Constant Criticism
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Criticism is not only hurtful but a tool your partner may use to manipulate you. By consistently pointing out your flaws, they can undermine your self-esteem and make you feel more vulnerable – or dependent on their approval.

Emotional Blackmail

Emotional Blackmail
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Emotional blackmail is a tactic where one uses guilt, fear, or obligation to pressure you into doing something. In the worst situations, your partner may threaten to end the relationship, harm themselves, or reveal your secrets if you don’t comply.

Selective Memory

Selective Memory
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It can be a huge red flag if your partner conveniently “forgets” details or events that don’t align with their narrative. In these moments, they may be using selective memory to control the situation and avoid accountability.

Diverting Blame to You

Diverting Blame
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If your partner often diverts blame onto others instead of taking responsibility for their actions, it’s important to call them out on it. But watch out. If you do flag this behavior, they may accuse you of being too sensitive or overreacting, in order to shift the focus away from their own behavior.

Give You the Silent Treatment

Silent Treatment
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The silent treatment is a manipulative tactic where the person refuses to communicate or engage with you. This can create an emotional void and leave you feeling desperate for a resolution. In this situation, you’re much more likely to give in to their demands.

Chettiar Counseling explains that, “The silent treatment, or stonewalling, is a passive-aggressive form of manipulation and can be considered emotional abuse. It is a way to control another person by withholding communication, refusing to talk, or ignoring the person.”

Projecting

Projecting
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When your partner is ‘projecting,’ they’re attributing their own negative qualities (or actions) onto someone else. At worst, they may even accuse you of committing the very behavior they’re engaging in to further deflect attention off themselves.

Belittling Your Feelings

Belittling Your Feelings
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An emotional manipulator may dismiss or belittle your feelings to make you doubt the validity of your emotions. This may make you feel isolated or even believe your emotions are not important.

Keeping Score

Keeping Score
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The worst partners often keep score of past mistakes. In turn, they may use these examples as ammunition to control or guilt-trip you. They may even remind you of your past errors to make you feel indebted to them.

Isolation

Isolation
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If your partner tries to isolate you from friends and family, they may be trying to create an environment where you’re more dependent on them. This can be a serious red flag, as it often makes it easier for them to control you.

Bait and Switch

Bait and Switch
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The ‘bait and switch tactic’ refers to a situation where your partner promises one thing but delivers another. They may use this to keep you off balance and maintain control of the relationship.

That said, know that you’re not alone. Marriage.com explains that “When you’re in the middle of a bait and switch relationship, it’s not unusual to realize that your spouse is entirely different from when you were dating.”

Shifting the Goalposts

Shifting the Goalposts
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By constantly changing their expectations, an immature partner will keep you on your toes and never allow you to feel secure or successful. This tactic is designed to keep you striving for their approval and control.

Exaggeration

Exaggeration
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If someone exaggerates situations (or their feelings), they may be trying to manipulate your response. In the worst situations, they may even blow things totally out of proportion to make you feel responsible for their exaggerated emotions.

Feigned Helplessness

Feigned Helplessness
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Some people may pretend to be helpless or incompetent to avoid responsibility, or to get you to do things for them. Beware of their feigned ‘helplessness,’ as they may be using it to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

False Flattery

False Flattery
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False flattery is a tactic where one uses insincere compliments to gain your trust or favor. If someone showers you with praise, they may be planning to use that goodwill as leverage when they need something.

Always One-Up

Always One-Up
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An emotional manipulator may try to one-up your experiences or emotions. If you’re feeling down, they may claim to feel worse, effectively hijacking the conversation and making it about them. This ensures they remain the center of attention and diverts empathy away from you.

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