Q & A: Emotional Manipulation

Zita Fekete MASound Soul Counseling

Zita Fekete MA
Sound Soul Counseling

“I’m confused, frustrated and angry!”
“He makes me feel like crap!” 
“The more I bend backward the worse it gets!”


Q: How manipulation works?

A: The manipulator induces guilt, shame or anxiety and illustrates the behavior you should use in order to avoid it.


a.) A representative tells a story and he indicates that if you don’t give money for the poor then you are greedy. He states that your donation will transfer immediately to XY charity. He continues by emphasizing that the best way not to feel greedy is to give him your money.

b.) If you don’t spend the whole Thanksgiving at your parent’s house, you’re a thankless child. To avoid this guilt, you spend the holidays there although all of your friends are at the mountain enjoying a day of skiing.

c.) Your loved one tells a story about your third neighbor who behaves so kindly and tolerantly with her abusive, alcoholic husband. The whole scene has some phony tone in it. The arbitrary rules: “A good wife/girlfriend doesn’t complain or bitch around her abusive partner.” If you want to be assessed as a “good wife/girlfriend”, you should not stand against your abusive partner. (So he can torture you without consequences.)

Q: What are the manipulative hooks?

A: Something that is very important to you! Either some unfulfilled need for which you are willing to do anything to acquire – it can be love, appreciation, acceptance, belonging, safety, security… anything. Or some very painful feeling: guilt, shame or anxiety which you really want to avoid.

Q: What are the manipulator’s tricks?

A: Tricks can be anything that makes you feel guilty, ashamed or anxious.

Some of them:

guilt trip – “If you loved me you would…” “If you knew what I have been though…”

silent treatment – withdrawing communication or emotion

reasoning – you have to do this because…

threatening – physically or mentally

covert badgering – constant criticism

pretending to be ill

authority – using orders, directives, commands


charm – gift, favor, service – doesn’t evoke negative feelings, but can be given for certain effect

Q; How can I disarm manipulators?

A: Figure out what he wants you to do, recognize what tactic s/he uses, and resist doing it until s/he uses this tactic – maybe even after that.


1/ If someone yells at you, you can say: “I understand that you want to convince me doing the laundry by yelling but this tactic doesn’t work for me anymore: I don’t accomplish requests asked by yelling.”

2/ If someone treats you with the silent treatment: “I see you don’t want to talk to me at the moment. I will go and do my homework (housework, exercise, walk…), you can tell me when you want to talk to me again!

3/ When someone gives you the guilt trip, you don’t have to argue with him/her because you just get deeply involved in the topic. Stay calm, and say no. If you really need to reply, you can say: “I understand that you want me to go to the Sunday mass, but I am not going  this Sunday.”

Q: How to disarm a manipulator at work?

A: It might be tricky if your manipulator is your boss and your career depends on him/her. It’s not strategic simply to resist his/her requests. Your action also depends on what tactics they use.

First and foremost, you need to understand what’s going on.

Do you get constant critique just to motivate you to put more effort, work longer hours without overtime? – Then you don’t need worry about that: it’s not about your quality but it’s a tool in his/her hands to motivate you. You do what you think is right to the extent what you think is right. For example: if your work day lasts till 4 then you leave at 4 no matter how much assignment remained unfinished. You better not adjust your work hours to unrealistic expectations. Do your best; fulfill the requirements of your job description and that’s it! No more undertaking!

Do you have people who triangulate and make alliances against others? Be aware of this tactic and don’t bite onto it when you hear new gossip about your adjacent colleague. S/he is no better or worse than anyone else, only the manipulator wants to turn you against him/her. Don’t do that favor for the manipulator! You and the others all will have your turns. Look for symmetrical, cooperative connection with the ones who don’t use manipulative tactics.

Does one of your colleagues use his/her attractiveness to get what they want? – Don’t get involved.

Generally, not getting involved emotionally helps a lot. If you realize that they use those tools to make you feel a certain way, you can easier detach from the feeling. It’s not about your qualities, it’s about their wants.

Q: Does assertiveness helps against manipulators?

A: Definitely! Manipulation works through arbitrary rules: “The Good Wife”, “The Good Citizen”, “The Good Child”, “The Good Colleague” behaves this or that way. Notice! There are no universal rules for those roles! What you are supposed to do is always what the manipulator wants at the moment, but refers that as well known rules followed by millions. (S/he doesn’t take the responsibility that s/he wants you to…)

Here comes the assertiveness.

Be aware of your rights!

Establish boundaries.

Be aware that you are the only judge of your behavior.

Be clear about your wants and needs!

Represent your wants and needs in a calm assertive way.

Then you can answer for the manipulation in a calm assertive way: (No matter what a good wife, friend or citizen would do). “I don’t go to the movie tonight.” “I stay until 4 in the office today.” “I don’t contribute to this charity right now.”

Q: What is manipulative criticism?

A: Any criticism can be used with a manipulative edge. If you feel judged, belittled, inferior, it’s most likely manipulative. Lots of times the criticizing party needs to feel his/her superiority at the expense of the others.

It motivates in two ways: One; you most likely will follow the criticizer’s lead to avoid the critiques. Second; you are expected to over-compensate for your mistakes.

Q: How can I not let manipulative people affect me emotionally?

Emotional Manipulation Girl Puppet

A: It proceeds gradually and gets better and better with practice, but at first it is really a difficult task. First of all: the rightful indignation stays forever, and it is completely normal as someone violates your rights. This feeling is even necessary because from there you know that your rights are violated.

But probably you ask how you can not react with intense emotions to the guilt-shame-anxiety producing process. Be aware of what’s going on. They induce that painful feeling not because you are truly that bad, dumb, guilty, thankless, and immoral or you truly lack something, but they are using this emotion to motivate you. One of the most important steps is to realize that it has nothing to do with your true nature. It is a tool in their hand; therefore you must not take it seriously or personally.

Learn to withstand the remaining inconvenient feelings. Yes, sometimes we have doubts that we could do more, or even less. Sometimes we are not sure who is wrong or who is right. Until you sort it out, learn to live with a little bit of guilt, shame or anxiety. Feeling is feeling. Not more and not less.

Leave A Reply (21 comments so far)

  1. Norma
    5 years ago

    My sister is continually belittling me and/or anyone around her by placing herself above anyone else. For instance, I have traveled somewhat, and now I hear how many cities she has been to, how great a cook she is, how great a teacher she is, and how expensive the city she lives in. And, she is an authority on everything. She has been through everything, etc. It is constant one-ups-man-ship. By the time she is finished, I am ready to scream. How do I handle this?

    • admin
      5 years ago

    • Wow! That’s a tough one!

      Dear Norma,

      Thank you for bringing it up. As you write it, it’s truly, most probably a “One-Upmanship Game”(Read more about it in my other Blog: http://blog.soundsoulcounseling.com/manipulation-games-1-one-upmanship-expert/

      It is hard to handle, because on the contrary to other Manipulations Games the “One Upmanship Expert” rarely wants you to do something, simply collects points from others to support their weak ego. So their advantage is psychological and cannot be measured by actions, favor or money.

      Except, if they want to keep the control and tell everybody what and how to do, then it is a control question. But again: who needs that strict control? Who is insecure inside.

      I don’t know if it helps you or not: behind the big painted picture there is an uncertain, anxious person is hiding. It would be easier to empathize with her if she were simply honest about it, wouldn’t it?

      So how can you handle this? It is really hard, because normally my suggestion is to resist the manipulation at the core: Figure out what the manipulator wants you to do (or not to do) with making you feel guilty, ashamed or anxious, and simply not do it if s/he pressurize you to do so.

      In this case: what she wants you to do? When you do something together, do you have to do it in her way? – Do it in your way, anyway.

      Most probably you cannot change her – don’t even invest energy to it. But you can change your reaction: more or less your emotional reaction is under your influence. Are you willing to anger yourself on her childish showing off? Or do you consider to react like a wise adult with acceptance like: “Poor girl, she is so much not sure about herself that she needs all of this bragging for feeling good enough.”

      The main point is: Don’t get involved emotionally. Detach from the gravity of that tension.

      If you go into the fight that you traveled more, you know it better and so on, you are in the middle of a whirlpool. If you answer neutrally – with no sign of frustration and anger like: “Sure, you have plenty of experience!” – and go further to the next topic, or next activity and you might stay in good mood, or at least stay neutral, you got rid of the negative emotional influence. Far, far away screaming…

      From another side: What we want from each other is love, appreciation, acknowledgment and these kind of positive emotions. Support. Especially from family members. For some reason, it seems to me that your sister is not able to give it to you. Maybe she feels the same towards you. She wants the appreciation, but she cannot get it, or cannot get enough. When she wants to get it out from you, the two you got into a fight who is more or bigger in this or that. Simply avoid the competition – even when she begins, give her the desired approval. Perhaps she would mirror this behavior and gives you the approval as well. Perhaps not: you’ll get it from somewhere else. The main point is – although I know how annoying it could be, it is not necessary to let yourself bothered by it. It’s her. Not you.

      I hope it helps a bit!


  • Gerald
    5 years ago

    Okay, so my roommate Sally lives with me and my mother and brother, and pays foodstamps and works a part time job to support herself and help us out in return for staying here. However she constantly shirks responsibilities such as walking or feeding the dog, and I am frequently left to do everyone else’s chores in the house.
    My family constantly feuds already, with my grandfather and mother at odds with one another. the addition of my roommate makes things all the more hectic. I fear they all try and manipulate me one way or another, with my mother telling me not to trust my grandfather, my grandfather acting like every favor he does makes him a saint, and my roommate insisting that the lot of them are cruel and unfair to her.
    When I try and tell her that sometimes my family is right, and she ought to walk the dog or do the dishes more often, she insists that she does these things or is too busy doing something else productive. Yesterday for instance I got upset when she posted pictures of a dinner she made at my home to facebook, and told her she ought to have asked if I wanted any food, as I was on my way home at that time. I pointed out that when I cook I always inform the family that I am doing so, even if they are not home, so they will know there is food when they get back. She responded with sarcasm and tried to make me feel guilty for expecting her to inform me she was cooking in my house. I told her if she was going to be sarcastic then I withdraw my previous apology for coming off as rude, at which point she went into a tirade about how she may as well kill herself because nobody appreciates her then left. She often attempts to guilt trip in ways as minor as saying “I was in a good mood until you brought this up” as if her mood negates my obligation to point out her responsibilities. Is she manipulating me to evoke sympathy so she can continue to stay here, or am I expecting too much? I don’t like feeling uncertain like this, unsure whether anyone is right or wrong or how I should feel about what I have thought or said.

    • admin
      5 years ago

      Dear Gerald,

      Thank you for sharing your hardship with us. I see you have some difficult issues with more people around you. This might be truly hard to navigate among people especially when the boundaries are hazy.

      In this situation I think the biggest help would be if you clarified in yourself first then with the others what you expect from them and which of their expectation do you agree with. It’s not clear for me either: this roommate Sally is only a roommate, or a girlfriend?

      If she is a roommate, it has to be clear what amount of money she owes you, or what kind of work in how much time she owes to live there – for example: gardening every week 4 hours. Then, she has nothing to do with the family business like walking the dog or similar, because if she is a roommate, not a family member then she has nothing to do with a family pet. In this case obviously she is responsible for her cleanliness, her laundry, her shopping, her food and so on – hers only.

      However, if she is part of the family, the family has to agree what is whose chore, and who is responsible for what. Communicating straightforward who is making dinner on what day is very important, otherwise there would be days when you don’t have food on the table, and there would be days when more family member are cooking for the same dinner. If you are a family, you need to synchronize your actions taken for the family.

      Even if you are only living in one place most probably you have to adjust lots of things, and you need to be clear about it. The best if you can create a kind of balance. If always she is doing the dishes, you might want to do something similar hard and time consuming chore for her. It never will be exactly the same, but you have to agree about it.

      The same is true for your whole family: if always grandma bakes the cookie, grandpa fixes things… and so on. You need to talk with them about what you think is fair workload sharing.

      Are you manipulated or not? If you are in the present imbalance just to avoid feeling guilty, ashamed or worried, you might be.

      I think the best what you can do now is thinking about how exactly you would like to arrange your life if no one else influenced you. Then communicate it with calm and firm way. Don’t make them guilty ashamed or worried – in this case you would try to manipulate them! Just tell them how you would like your lives going (independently of their opinion is it right or wrong). Communicate clearly. Acknowledge if someone respond to it nicely. Repeat it calmly and firmly if you need to, because you did not get a result at first.
      (E.g. I glad you took out the garbage yesterday, but still your clothes are in the living room. Would you please pack them away!)

      You don’t need to evaluate who is right, who is wrong! (Judgment creates resentment.) You only need to create a life what is good for you!

      I hope it helps!


  • Hannah
    6 years ago

    I’m sorry I messed up my last question .. Are manipulator’s jealous of the people they manipulate ?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Thanks for the question Hannah,

      I don’t know. They might be. Although jealousy is not the most central emotion of manipulation. But as there is no two situations which would be the same, jealousy might be an important component.

      Would you mind sharing a bit more info about the situation you are in? I might have more appropriate answer to your question!

      Thanks for the interest!


  • Hannah
    6 years ago

    Are manipulator a jealous of the people they manipulate ?

  • nolan
    6 years ago

    The excellent answer, I congratulate

  • Sherrie
    6 years ago

    I was 15 minutes late bringing my boyfriend his cake for his 20 years clean. I didn’t do it on purpose – I was coming from a 3-day workshop and I don’t know my way around so I use a GPS to get to places and sometimes the GPS can take me around all sorts of directions to the final destination. Anyway, he called while I was on my way and I assertively advised him that please be calm, I am on my way – he hung up on me. When I finally arrived, there was no parking but I wanted to make sure he got his cake. I called him to tell him that and he said leave the cake in the car and hung up on me again. I finally drove around and found parking. I brought him his cake. I have social phobia and when I walked into the room, there were so many people and no extra chairs. I put the cake on the table and went back to the car. I have to admit I was feeling angry and disrespected. I sat in the car the entire meeting – one hour and 15 minutes. When he came to the car, we had a big argument and he accused me of being selfish, trying to hold people hostage at his cake, etc, etc. I was very upset and lashed out. He was phoning his friends and laughing on the phone, telling them the story. I phoned his friends right back and told them my version of the story. I think we are both insecure and manipulating each other. I think my boyfriend is the main manipulator though and he can say things that are really hurtful. I tend to bring things up from the past. Is this relationship salvageable? I don’t feel safe and secure anymore and I only see it getting worst and escalating. I don’t want to lose myself completely which seems to be happening and I am very scared.

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Dear Sherrie,

      Thanks for this story and this very important question!

      Although I had plenty of question left in order to see the situation clearly, for example: What kind of meeting was it? Were you responsible to deliver a cake? (Why?) Was it important to be in time – did being late withhold anything? How did he talk to you when you “assertively advised” him to be calm? Which way do you think you manipulated him? … and so on…

      However: Hanging up the phone is disrespectful. Not coming out for a present is disrespectful. Blaming you with “taking people hostage” is not OK. Telling the story to his his friend in front of you is theatrical and phony: what did he want to show you? Laughing at your reactions is extremely disrespectful. I don’t wonder if you don’t feel safe, I would not either. All of this behavior shows that he does not give you the respect, acceptance and understanding what every one of us need to feel safe in a relationship.

      You need to know that being upset and scared completely NORMAL in this situation. I would rage if someone made it to me.

      Why do you want to salvage this relationship in a first place?

      But if you want to: is it possible?

      It depends:

      If he is a severe manipulator – I mean he doesn’t take care of your needs only how he can get you to meet his needs – probably not.

      If the two of you only does not find the right way of communication and want to control each other by making the other feel guilty, ashamed or worried; you might learn better way of relating to each other.

      Figure out what is this all about: be sure, you have the right to be treated respectfully, you have the right to have your needs met, and learn communicating your needs assertively!

      Be strong and skillful!


  • larry
    6 years ago

    This is awesome!

  • Corinna
    6 years ago

    When manipulators get upset?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      A: They’ve got honestly upset when they don’t get what they want. On the other hand they might choose to be pretentiously upset to control your behavior. This is a message that sounds like: “Make my irritability go away!”

  • Breanna
    6 years ago

    How to not letting manipulative people get to you?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Dear Breanna,

      If you feel like you are susceptible for manipulation, you might have one or some from the following personality traits:
      – You might like to please people
      – Approval might be too important for you
      – You might avoid conflict and worry about anger
      – You might be unsure about exactly who you are
      – You might not be sure about your opinion about certain things of the world
      – You might think that you have minimal influence over your own life; mostly it is influenced by an outside factor.

      Manipulators might sense these personality traits and can use them against you. The best thing you can do is to revise those thoughts and beliefs behind them: Are you sure you have to put everybody’s need before yours? Are you sure you want to earn other people’s love by doing something for them? Are you sure you need EVERYBODY’s approval? Are you sure you cannot stand conflict to the extent that your interest and rights are ignored?

      Be aware of your rights! (There is a list of them in the side panel.)
      Learnt to be assertive: standing up for your rights without violating others’.
      Establish boundaries.
      Be clear about your needs and wants; communicate them in a calm and assertive way.

      If you have become hardened by these changes, you less likely would fall victim of manipulation.

      Good luck!


  • Kayla
    6 years ago

    How to not let manipulative people bother you?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Dear Kayla,
      I am sorry: I have no full answer to this question. I am dealing with manipulation for a long time because it annoys me. I find it unfair. I find it pretentious, dishonest. I hate lying. I find it exploitative and abusive. It jeopardizes the other person’s freedom and emotional well being. If freedom, fairness, emotional balance, respect, tolerance are values for you, you probably always will be bothered by manipulators.

      On the other hand, since I recognize the process and since I’ve learned to handle manipulation and I have rarely become a “victim” of manipulation, I am more relaxed around them. Sometimes I can even laugh at their failed attempt to move me around by feeling guilty, ashamed or anxious. However there are times when I am still raging about manipulative attempts especially when it comes to a real vulnerable area.

      All in all, I think the best that you can do is learn about it as much as possible, recognize the process, identify when it is applied to you, and learn to resist. Learn where you have to resist and learn how. Learn where you have to dig your heel into the ground and notice when you are in danger and you had better let go. The more competent you become by handling manipulation, the less you’ll be bothered by it.


  • Rubin
    6 years ago

    Q: How to get what you need from a manipulator?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Dear Rubin,
      Thanks for the question. I think lots of other people would like to know that!
      It’s a difficult task. If you have a choice, I would suggest not putting effort and energy into a manipulator, because they are functioning the other way around: they want to get something from you. Usually they are quite self-centered people, the world has to revolve around their needs and most of them lack empathy. But if you are deeply involved with a manipulator, or the manipulation itself is mild, there is a possibility to get what you need.

      Be very sure and clear about what you want. I know you are talking about what you need, but I mean how you want that need to be fulfilled. Maybe you need more love, or attention. What action do you want in order to feel that love or attention? Ask it straightforward and ask it like a broken record over and over again. – In a calm assertive way, state what you want and not what you don’t want with “me messages”. For instance: “I’d like you to ask me how was my day every day and I‘d like you to listen to my answer. I am listening to your stories too.”

      If you cannot get what you want by asking, you might bargain: you give something what is important for your manipulator only when s/he gives you what you want.

      It is essential that you don’t let yourself be manipulated. If s/he wants something, s/he needs to communicate it straightforward, and you maintain the right to say no without guilt.

      The hard part is that most severe manipulators have no (full) capacity for the genuine, symmetrical love, some miss the moral aspect of social life; some have no empathy whatsoever that you can rely on. If you need something that your manipulator is not able to give you, you have two choices: you either put up with your unfulfilled needs, or run away as fast as you can.

      Good luck!


  • Bella
    6 years ago

    Q: How can I be assertive against manipulative criticism of my spouse?

    • admin
      6 years ago

      Dear Bella,

      This must be hard to get criticism instead of support from your spouse! It’s even harder not to protect yourself from the “attacks”, though I suggest to try the next one:

      Don’t jump into the defense mode! Listen neutrally and give time for yourself to decide if s/he is right or wrong, do you accept that critique? If you are strong enough, you can ask even more; (This is what psychologists call: Negative Inquiry.) “What else bothers you in my behavior?” – and just listen, process. You might get into a deeper conversation about the status quo of your relationship.

      If there are truths in it, you might want to do something about it – maybe even consider making some changes.

      If you get convinced that those criticisms are nothing more than attempts to control your behavior and/or undermine your self-esteem, you might reply without sarcasm or edginess: “I am sorry that you feel that way!” “I am sorry that it bothers so much.” No anger and no compensation.
      Good luck!

  • Bill of Rights

    1. I have a right to say “no” and not to be hassled or emotionally manipulated because I said no.
    2. I have a right to have honesty from anyone I am involved with.
    3. I have a right to exit a relationship.
    4. I have a right to safety at all time.
    5. I have a right to loyalty with partners, friend, family and co-workers.
    6. I have a right to forgive, but I have a right to forgive without continuing the relationship.
    7. I have a right to make my own decisions.
    8. I have a right to feel good about myself.
    9. I have a right to eliminate people from my life who continually emotionally manipulate me.
    10. I have a right to have and believe my own opinion.
    11. I have a right to disagree with people, but still have a good relationship with them.
    12. I have a right to have as many friends as I want.
    13. I have a right to unconditional love.
    14. I have right to expect integrity and authenticity from people.
    15. I have a right to a balanced life, including a close partner, friends and family.
    16. I have a right to confront anyone who tried to emotionally manipulate me.
    17. I have a right to my own distinct and unique identity.

    After Dr Jim Fogarty