7 Subtle Tactics People Use to Control, Manipulate and Emotionally Abuse

Hello, climb into my sketchy white van.

Manipulation isn’t always in your face. Manipulative people aren’t “bad”. In fact, you’re probably highly skilled in manipulation. Empaths, codependents and love addicts manipulate. 

I’m good at manipulation. As an empath, I’m sensitive to what people want and I’ve use that to please them in order to keep myself safe. 

Robin Norwood in her book, Women Who Love Too Much, brought me to this sobering reality. This allowed me to become aware and take responsibility for this defense mechanism.

Some manipulation is done innocently while others are deliberate. Some manipulators flat out don’t care and want to hurt, use, and control you.

Their tactics aren’t blatant but subtle. They leave you second guessing yourself.

It’s important to recognize because it can prevent you from getting caught up with the wrong people and bearing your soul to those who wish you harm. It’s okay to take your time, to step more cautiously. It will also help you recognize the areas where you might doing the same.

Anytime someone says anything that makes you shrink a little inside, stop dead in your tracks. 

Ask yourself if they’re exhibiting any of these behaviours.

1. Giving you no or little time to decide.

Manipulators invoke a false sense of urgency. They’ll make it seem like you have to decide, ‘right now’ when there’s no emergency. They’re trying to force you into a decision- usually their decision.

This is how I got duped into my second car. The pressure was heavy to decide now, get the deal right away, and hurry before it’s gone. It was urgent- but no emergency, (eye roll).

2. Being intimidating.

A manipulator knows how to make you feel uncomfortable. You might picture intimidation as someone dominating over you, but this can be more subtle. It can look like standing too close, taking up physical space, raising their voice or constantly questioning your opinions.

If you’ve ever had anyone invade your personal space you know how creepy this is. Stand back Frank, I know what you‘ve had for lunch.

3. Giving compliments and praise.

The ‘butter me up’ is a classic. Be weary of compliments and praise that are over the top, or come right before a request.

Another way manipulators use compliments is by comparing you with someone else. “Wow, you’re amazing, my ex girlfriend couldn’t even cook.” While it may seem innocent it can be a way to lull you into passivity. 

I’ve been hooked by this one. “You’re so happy and easy going, so many girls are mean and bitchy”. Be cautious here. 

4. Frequently saying they’re “just joking” after a rude comment.

People mask what they truly want to say behind humour all the time. Laugh out loud (lol) is the quickest way to soften a blow. People will also use just joking after they’ve dissed you and your mamma to hell and back. “You dress atrociously all the time- just jokingggg.

To make matters worse they’ll say you can’t take a joke or you’re too sensitive. Don’t let them fool you into feeling inferior. 

5. They refuse to take accountability. 

Manipulators and emotional abusers don’t take responsibility for their behaviour.

They’ll try every possible way to make it about you, not them. They’ll guilt trip you, make you feel insane, and diminish your feelings. The next thing you know you’re apologizing when they’re the ones who’re wrong. 

“If you didn’t want me to be late you should have reminded me.” (The nerve right?)

6. They’re inconsistent. 

They may come on strong at first, listening to you, taking you out, texting and calling you. Then they drop off the face of the planet. When you address your concerns they say they’re just busy, or accuse you of being needy. They may even go into a monologue about how nobody understanding them or the things they go through. Here, hold my green smoothie and watch me fiddle. 

7. They use the “you’ve changed” line. 


People will use your growth against you. They’re happy to see you in a place of stagnation. They might even get upset when you try to improve yourself. They don’t want to be left behind, lose a friend, or be forced to look at their issues.

They use, “you’ve changed” to guilt trip you or refuse to accept the person you’ve become.

How to defend yourself against manipulators and abusers.

When you’re in a situation that has you questioning whether or not you’re being manipulated you’re not going to remember a list of points.

I’d like to leave you with one thought, how do you feel? If you feel like shit that’s a enough of a sign. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt something wasn’t right or that someone wasn’t treating me with respect and I let it happen anyway. Even in the midst of poor boundaries and being timid I still felt like something was wrong. 

You might be sensitive, but I’m not taking about feeling wounded because your feelings were hurt, this is more of a danger signal. 

To defend yourself against manipulators, controllers and emotional abusers pay attention to any discomfort you feel. Your first step is to identify the tactics so you can address them.

Train yourself to feel those feelings, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t act on them. I’m 34 and I’ve been working at this since I was 20. Don’t take that as discouragement but be encouraged because I’m learning and getting better. You will too. 

Has this been true for you? Let me know. Until next time luvs,

~Arlene~

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