It can be hard to listen to positive talks when you are being emotionally manipulated. Most times, people who are emotionally manipulated do not even realize that they are being abused. Fortunately, nowadays, the internet is filled with stories of brave people who have decided to share their stories they had with their manipulative life partners, friends, relatives or family members. It is a real eye-opener and it can save many people because living with such people can be very toxic, and if one does not learn how not to take the behaviors of manipulative people personally, one can end up mentally exhausted and sometimes even physically ill. That is why I have selected this topic as my first blog to write about. I should mention though that I do not have any professional education about this matter, except for my first-hand experience with some of my friends as well as my excessive online readings.
So, what is emotional manipulation?
Emotional manipulation is a behavior intended to change the way another person ‘the target’ perceives a situation by using deceptive, manipulative or abusive means. Those means could be either covert means such as gaslighting, lying, twisting the facts, making people feel guilty or calling them out as crazy, silent treatment, disregarding the targets feelings/ needs/ opinions. Or they could be overt means such as constant criticism, threats (such as threats of abandonment), verbal offense, bullying, shaming, confusing conversations, playing the role of victim, etc., in order to take control over their targets and strip them from their self-esteem, confidence, authentic identity, self-worth, trust in themselves and trust in others, all in an effort to get what they want from their targets.
To some extent, everyone uses some of the above at some time in their lives, but a manipulator is someone who uses these techniques frequently and feels almost no regret or remorse when they abuse their targets that way.
What are the sings that you are being emotionally manipulated?
Some signs include:
- You question your own memory
You will start doubting yourself and your evaluation of a given situation, and you might find yourself apologizing to them while they were the ones who should have apologized to you.
- You question your own sanity
This is especially true if the manipulator uses the covert means to abuse the target. The target will feel they have no evidence of the abuse they are going through and therefore, feel helpless in their experience. If the target confronts the manipulator of their abusive behaviors, they will not validate the target’s feelings and will call them crazy for feeling that way. As a result, the target withdraws themselves and experiences severe stress and mental exhaustion, thinking that they are really going crazy.
- You do not know what is wrong
This is especially true when the target is given the silent treatment. It is really cruel because the’ target ‘ often does not even know what they did wrong to be given such treatment. So, refusal of communication sets the seeds of self-doubt in the target and will eventually cause severe damages to their psyche.
- You are made to believe that it is all your fault
The target will be made to believe that they are either deserving of this treatment or that they brought it upon themselves by choosing not to trust the manipulator’s “good intentions.”
- You feel that you are “walking on eggshells”
The target feels continuously worried about saying something wrong that will set off an unpredictable behavior of the manipulator and therefore, the target will be extremely careful about communicating anything to the manipulator.
How can we spot emotionally abusive people?
It is evident that we cannot spot them unless we have interacted with them to some extent or saw them interacting with other people and as a result, saw the signs of emotional manipulation.
However, some manipulators are not that easy to spot because of the following reasons:
- They use this kind of manipulation purposefully only after they get their targets hooked. This is a typical case with cluster B personality types such as Narcissists and Borderlines, and personality types such as Sociopaths and Psychopaths.
- The image they project to the other world (False self) is different than the one they present in their private relationships (True self).
These kinds of manipulators, although might differ in their reasons for manipulating others, will make their targets go through the same cycle which will eventually harm the target severely if they cannot get out of it.
Mostly, what these kinds of people look for is a supply/target that can polish their false self to the outside world and that can simultaneously submit themselves to their controlling and manipulative self, their true self. Due to the negative experience, they went through their lives (mostly childhood), they have developed either sadistic pleasure by torturing others to control them by an emotional manipulation such as the case of narcissistic Psychopaths. Or in other cases, they have developed some fears such as fear of abandonment which will make them go to any lengths to avoid the hurt of being abandoned and therefore, will control their targets by emotionally manipulating them or abandon them “first” such as the case with borderlines. As a result, they feel the need to suppress their true self (the manipulator) and project their false self (good person) to the outer world in order to be accepted.
The cycle they will make their targets go through, in short, goes like this:
- Love bombing
Although the manipulator and the target have just met, the manipulator will bombard the target with kindness, appreciation, compliments, and gifts during this phase. The manipulator will mirror the target to come off as appealing to the target. The target will be led to believe that they are the best thing that has ever happened to the manipulator. The target will lower their defenses and share their insecurities, fears, and weaknesses.
During this phase, the manipulator will use the insecurities, fears, and weaknesses that the target shared during the love bombing phase to humiliate, criticize and devalue the target in an effort to either test how much of abuse they can tolerate, also known as the “Doo Doo Test” or to punish the target because they failed to meet the image that the manipulator had of the target in their mind.
- The Discard
At this point, the manipulator decides to leave the target either because he has found a” better” supply (i.e., either someone who can tolerate more abuse or someone who can polish their false self by taking advantage of their money, status or power) or simply because you have/or are about to expose their true nature and leave. It is very common though that the manipulator will try to come back even after the discard took place, known as “hoovering.”
This cycle can sometimes take years to manifest. If the love-bombing were long enough to form a special bond with the manipulator, it would be very difficult for the target to get out of it because they keep hoping things will get back to the things they were at the beginning of the relationship; especially if the manipulator still love bombs the target from time to time. The manipulator does this purposefully, in order to keep their target hooked and to keep getting their narcissistic supply out of the target, who will tolerate any abuse and try everything in their power to make things work. Therefore, this cycle can repeat itself. It is important to understand though, that people with these kinds of personality disorders are difficult to change, it requires a serious commitment from the part of the manipulator with these personality disorders to go to therapy and dedicate time for self-work. In my opinion, it is better to end the relationship at once, if possible, because these kinds of relationships will erode the target at the core and change their beliefs negatively about themselves and others.
How to protect yourself from emotionally manipulative people?
It is crucial that you create healthy boundaries with the world around you. It is better to keep your insecurities, fears, hopes, and dreams to yourself. There is absolutely no need to feel compelled to share them with anyone that you should not/do not trust.
How can we recover from this negative experience?
- Go No Contact, if possible
Erase these people out of your life, change your phone number, delete them from social media and end all relations.
- Go Gray Rock, if no contact is not possible
If you must see the manipulator in your daily life, such as at the workplace or in the case you have a child with them, it is crucial to give no reaction or whatsoever to the manipulator. Be like a gray rock that blends in with any background, provide no response to the silent treatment, no response to the bullying, no reaction to the ignoring, and most importantly, no response to the love bombing. Your lack of response will deny the manipulator the supply they are looking for (negative or positive, doesn’t matter to them!). If you do not give any reaction, the manipulator will get bored and leave you in peace to search for a “better” supply.
- See a therapist
Some therapists have the exceptional experience with treating the wounds created by this type of abuse.
- Take back control!
Trust yourself that you have the willpower to get yourself through this. It is vital to put your self first, no matter how much you want to help the manipulator, especially if a loved one, it is not your duty to change them. You come first. Find some hobbies where you can gradually interact with people on a frequent basis to regain your trust in yourself and your perception of the world around you.