Emotional Manipulation: Recognizing and Avoiding It

Many of us know love as an exchange of affection and desire, a balance between what's given and what's taken. If we're always the one giving, we feel empty and manipulated without the self-esteem necessary to find everyday happiness.
Emotional Manipulation: Recognizing and Avoiding It
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Emotions are what makes us human. They’re wonderful sensations that range from overflowing happiness to devastating sadness. We’re often more vulnerable when we’re in love and it’s in relationships where we most frequently encounter emotional manipulation.

How do I know if I’m being emotionally manipulated?

You’d be surprised to know that emotional manipulation isn’t always easy to recognize. How can that be? Well, because we’re talking about the complex and intense dimension of the human psyche otherwise known as love.

Many people, for example, confuse love with possession. “My partner is jealous because they love me” is, without a doubt, a commonly heard phrase that signifies long-term problems. Let’s delve a little deeper into this.

1.  Loving is not owning

There are couples that love to do everything together. This is very positive, and even healthy, but not if the reason for doing everything together is to maintain “control”. There are people, for example, who can’t stand it when their partner leaves the house alone, has their own friends, or even their own professional life.

We have to be very careful. Love isn’t controlling the other person or forbidding them from doing things.

In this sense, phrases like “Are you really going out dressed like that?”, “Why go out with that friend when you have me?”, or “If you do that you’ll be showing me that you really don’t love me. I give you everything and you don’t appreciate it at all” aren’t healthy.

2.  You need to care for your own self-esteem

Emotional manipulation directly attacks your self-esteem. In relationships, we give everything to the other person, love them more than anything, and would do anything for them. This isn’t bad, but we need to know how to protect ourselves.

If your partner puts their own needs before yours and acts selfishly, you’ll begin to suffer from the effects and you’ll feel a little worse every day. Most of us see love as an exchange of affection and desire, where a balance exists between what’s given and taken.

However, if we find we’re the ones always giving, we’re going to feel empty and manipulated and our self-esteem will be too low to find everyday happiness.

3.  Losing your identity little by little

Sometimes we fall in love with someone we shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s a love that we can’t control and we fall further into a carousel of intense emotions. There are people who aren’t mature enough to maintain a healthy relationship and erode away your identity little by little.

They don’t allow you to have friends and their interests come first. They belittle you, tell you that you’re stupid and don’t do certain things well. They demean you so that you’re nothing like the person you were before: happy and full of dreams.

How to avoid emotional manipulation

A sad woman.
In order to avoid being emotionally manipulated, you need to clearly define your limits in a relationship. What’s your limit? When you realize that you’re no longer happy.

It’s easy enough to say, but many people don’t leave relationships, even if they’re unhappy and know it. How can that be? Basically, for the following reasons:

  • Despite their unhappiness, they still love their partner. Breaking up is always complicated and painful.
  • Fear of loneliness.
  • They’re afraid. They fear their partner will take the breakup badly.

You have to be consistent and courageous. You need to ask yourself if you’re willing to spend a lifetime with someone who suffocates and manipulates you for their own benefit and doesn’t respect you.

You may not want to leave the relationship even though you know it’s toxic. However, you need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits.

Get support. Seek help from your family and friends. They can give you strength when you need it. Ending a relationship is never easy and is always painful for both parties. But remember: we all have the right to be happy. And you’ll always deserve the best.

You deserve to start each day at peace and full of dreams. We guarantee that there’s someone out there who will make you happy and appreciate all that you’re worth.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Austin, E. J., Farrelly, D., Black, C., & Moore, H. (2007). Emotional intelligence, Machiavellianism and emotional manipulation: Does EI have a dark side? Personality and Individual Differences. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.11.019
  • Grieve, R., & Mahar, D. (2010). The emotional manipulation-psychopathy nexus: Relationships with emotional intelligence, alexithymia and ethical position. Personality and Individual Differences. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.028
  • Grieve, R. (2011). Mirror Mirror: The role of self-monitoring and sincerity in emotional manipulation. Personality and Individual Differences. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.08.004

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.