Recognizing Emotional Manipulation

July 29, 2023

A few months ago, we talked about “setting healthy boundaries.” Primarily, we discussed how to identify when boundaries are needed. For example, if you are prone to pleasing others, you may need to set boundaries to protect yourself by learning to say “No.” On the other hand, how do you know when you’re being emotionally manipulated?  

One way to discern a manipulator is to pay attention to the way they speak about others in relation to you. Empathetic people will go out of their way to make sure you know their friends and family really like you. On the other hand, manipulators will always seek to triangulate. Triangulation occurs when a person tries to bring a third person into a conflict to benefit themselves or tip the scales in their favor. You assess the people in your life by asking yourself, does this person usually provoke rivalries, using people to create chaos, or are they a peacemaker, using others to promote harmony?  

Manipulative people often use common manipulation tactics and behaviors to get what they want. Here are a few to look for.


Guilt-tripping is someone who tries to make you feel responsible or guilty for the actions and decisions you make. In other words, the person often uses something one person did for the other as “leverage’’ to get what they want. For example, “if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college. You owe me.”


People with manipulative tendencies often lie to control or coerce others, while also attempting to avoid blame or consequences for their actions. For example, a person who’s been told they are not allowed to hang out with a certain group, may lie about their whereabouts.


Although it can be difficult to tell the difference between a compliment and flattery, a compliment is given to sincerely point out something positive with no expectation of personal gain. Flattery on the other hand, is often used to gain emotional leverage, or used to get something in return.

Moving the goalpost

No matter how much you show up for a manipulative person, they will often change their expectations at the last minute to keep you constantly running toward their “goalposts.” Frustration can occur since you will rarely ever reach their goalposts, and the person who is manipulating will rarely acknowledge your efforts and success.

Believing in yourself, recognizing your own needs, and disengaging can be helpful in avoiding feelings of demoralization.


Triangulation takes place when a third person is brought into the communication, instead of keeping the issue between the two people involved. For example, a manipulator might involve your mother in a disagreement to take their side. Triangulation keeps the manipulator from taking responsibility and places them in a position of feeling as though, they’ve won.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is manipulation through excessive attention, or showering with inappropriate gifts, compliments, affection and time. Basically, the manipulator is taking advantage of your normal need, to feel desired and cherished. 

Some ways to avoid love bombing includes:

  • Spending time regularly with friends and loved ones.
  • Engaging in interests outside of this person.
  • Checking in with yourself to ensure you are aligned with your own values and standards.


Manipulation is coercive or unethical behavior driven by the goal of exploiting or controlling another person. If you need help setting healthy boundaries and overcoming manipulation? Contact us today. We’re here and ready to help!