Is there someone in your life who uses guilt to try to get you to do what they want you to do? Or have you ever been on the receiving end of flattery where someone says all these amazing things about you, but then expects something from you?

These are both examples of emotional manipulation tactics. 

In this episode, I’m talking about the most commonly used manipulation tactics to help you recognize them + understand why you might be falling victim to this kind of dysfunctional behavior.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

Let’s be clear- we can all be a little manipulative at times. It’s part of the human condition. But ongoing or chronic emotional manipulation is a defining factor of dysfunctional and abusive relationships, so raising your awareness of what the most common tactics look like in practice is important for your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Emotional manipulation is when someone seeks to get their needs met through coercive, deceptive, and unethical behaviors. A manipulator’s goal is to gain control and power over another in order to get their way, no matter the cost.

Being able to spot the red flags can help you protect yourself! Here are the most common manipulation tactics:

1. Love Bombing

Have you ever had an experience with someone new in your life where you thought to yourself, “This is too good to be true?”

I recently read love bombing described as “unearned closeness” and I loved that because that is exactly what it is. When someone love bombs you, it’s almost like they are trying to accelerate the timeline of intimacy with you. Example: they want to hear your entire life story on the first or second date. It’s too much too soon and that is not how true intimacy is built.

Though it can feel amazing at first, being lavished with attention, compliments, gifts, you name it, once a love bomber knows you’re snared in their web, everything changes. Love bombing is just Step One in a cycle of abuse. That “love” turns to disdain and then often total rejection. It can be very difficult to get out of because as the former object of desire and attention, we can unconsciously continue to seek the high of love bombing, wanting it to go back to the way it was.

2. Straight-Up Lying

Some manipulators have no qualms about bold-faced lying to get what they want from you. Gaslighting falls into this category.

As defined by The National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting is a “form of emotional abuse in which a partner causes the victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity”.

This can look like you confronting someone about their behavior and them saying “I never said that,” or, “That’s not what happened.” Another emotional manipulation tactic is fake concern- so the gaslighter will say something like, “I’m really worried about you. You really seem like you’re losing it, are you ok?”

“You are the problem” is the underlying message. Emotional manipulators can be very convincing. You begin to distrust your sense of reality in the world. You might even begin to think you are losing it. Keep in mind all of this is in service of their goal to get you to do what they want.

3. Guilt-tripping

A manipulator will try to make you feel bad about yourself and your actions to get you to bend to their will.

They will use what they have done for you in the past as a level of control. For example: “If it weren’t for me doing xyz, you wouldn’t be/have xyz.” They are experts at positioning themselves as the hero and you as the person who owes them and is in their debt.

Be aware of the guilt, shame, and blame trifecta!

4. Flattery (or Blowing Sunshine Up Your Butt)

It can be difficult to discern between someone giving you an authentic compliment and someone flattering you with an ulterior motive.

The difference is a real compliment comes with no strings attached. Manipulative flattery comes with an expectation of some sort of exchange for the manipulator’s benefit. 

Pay attention when it feels like someone is trying to butter you up before asking you for something.They say flattery will get you everywhere, but this one really makes me angry. For me, flattery will get you nowhere

5. Projection

Neurotic projection is a process the ego uses to attribute unwanted emotions onto someone else rather than admitting they exist within yourself. It can include blame-shifting and falsely accusing others. 

Projection can be a tool in a manipulator’s belt, so be aware of what is on your side of the street and what is on theirs. 

Be mindful of your own positive projection or complementary projection. Sometimes we can assign positive attributes to others that we ourselves possess. Complementary projection can make us second guess our gut instincts about a manipulator’s intentions or behaviors because we would never do something like that to them. 

Before we decide if someone is decent or worth our time, we need to gather evidence to make sure we aren’t giving other people more credit than they deserve or ignoring their bad behavior. 

Being aware of these red flags when it comes to emotional manipulation is a great first step so you can begin to call it out and set limits. This is where boundary skills come in!

And listen, not everyone who uses emotional manipulation is an abuser. So much of this can be learned behavior, and when you can get clear on your boundaries and communicate them effectively, they might accept it, apologize, and do their best to course correct. 

Inside this week’s guide, I’m giving you some clarifying questions to help you uncover your manipulation blueprint plus some language to help you be more assertive with your boundaries. You can download it here now

Bottom line? In unhealthy relationships, emotional manipulation is often present. If you are going through this in any relationship in your life, please, don’t keep it a secret. Don’t let shame or guilt keep you silent. 

If it is safe to do so, talk about it with the other person. Talk about it with people you can trust who are emotionally safe. You don’t deserve to silently suffer. 

I hope this added value to your life, and as always take care of you.

*If you feel trapped and afraid of what your partner might do if you end things, please watch this video on “How to Safely Leave An Abusive Relationship.”

¹https://www.thehotline.org/resources/what-is-gaslighting/

²https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/projection/

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  1. Thank you for another informative video. I needed to hear and learn from this. You always dive right into my issues.

    Thank you – you are amazing!

  2. Terri – you constantly enlighten me. THIS TIME – on POSITIVE projecting. I realize I do this a lot. The result is that people can under-function around me. I "let them off the hook" – and ignore their poor choices (until I can't). I now see that I also don't "see" their behavior or poor choices because I can't conceive of making those choices myself. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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