There is a big difference between psychological or emotional manipulation and simple influence. Healthy social influence appears naturally without anyone trying to force it. We may affect others’ choices, preferences and judgement without threatening their health and emotional or physical well-being.
In case of psychological manipulation, however, manipulator’s goal is to create an imbalance of power in order to exploit others’ weaknesses to serve their own interests. The roots of emotional manipulation are quite complex. Generally, the reasons why an individual may choose manipulative behavior include
- personal gain,
- desire for power and superiority,
- desire to control
- self-esteem issues,
The cycle of manipulation typically includes three stages:
- the manipulator discovers a weakness (or emotional hot buttons) of his or her victim;
- the manipulator takes advantage of this weakness;
- the cycle repeats.
Many victims have one or more of the traits below:
- unhealthy desire to please,
- love addiction (afraid to be single),
- lack of assertiveness,
- fear of confrontation,
- low self-confidence,
- blurry sense of identity,
- low self-reliance,
- external locus of control,
- emotional dependency,
These character traits often serve as emotional hot buttons that the manipulator uses to his advantage. This doesn’t mean that the victim is guilty of abuse. It only means that manipulators prey on this type of people more often. Needless to say, the victims of emotional manipulation are often young or in a situation when they are mentally exhausted and are unable to fight back.
Wondering whether you are being manipulated? Here are some of the most common red flags of psychological manipulation:
- your words are used against you;
- the manipulator poses as rescuer but their help leaves you feeling miserable;
- the manipulator makes a disturbing statement, then claims you misunderstood what they said;
- you constantly feel guilty;
- the manipulator makes you question your own sanity;
- if you don’t give them what they want, they will withdraw their love and affection;
- you are unhappy in this relationship, and yet you fear losing it;
- your relationship feels very complex;
- you always feel you are falling short of their expectations;
- you feel like you are walking on eggshells;
- they are trying to isolate you.
If you suspect you are being manipulated, you need to find a way to stand up for yourself in a safe way. Sometimes the manipulator will apologize and temporarily correct his behavior only to return to it later. Avoid isolation and nurture relationships with other people to keep a healthy perspective. Romantic relationship with a manipulator can be especially damaging and must be avoided.