About Covert Emotional Manipulation

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Red riding hood being fooled by covert emotional manipulation

Illustration by Roodkapje

Covert emotional manipulation occurs when a person who wants to gain power and control over you uses deceptive and underhanded methods to change your thinking, behavior and perceptions. Emotional manipulation operates under the level of your conscious awareness. Emotional manipulation and abuse lures you in and holds you psychologically captive. Victims usually don’t realize what’s going on while it’s happening.

A skilled emotional manipulator gets you to put your sense of self-worth and emotional well-being into his hands. Once you make that grave mistake, he methodically and continually chips away at your identity and self-esteem until there’s little left.

To learn more signs, read the blog post “How to Tell if You’re Being Manipulated.” There’s no need to know any specific tactics being used; you need only recognize the signs  of manipulation in yourself.

This website is concerned with the most dangerous manipulators — psychopaths – who see themselves as superior and see others as nothing more than prey to be hunted to fulfill their needs. They have no ability to love, no empathy, no guilt or remorse, and no conscience. To the psychopath, life is a “game” of taking power and control and getting what they want, such as sex, money or influence, and attempting to destroy the victim emotionally, psychologically, spiritually or physically in the process. This is nothing more than entertainment to them. When they’re bored and filled with contempt for you (e.g. when they’ve “won the game”) they move on to the next victim.

These highly skilled covert manipulators set out from day one with a detailed plan. They are adept at reading you and quickly learn your weaknesses, your strengths, your fears, your dreams and your desires. They won’t hesitate to use all of these against you with an arsenal of effective manipulation tactics carefully chosen and personalized just for you. Manipulators hunger for power and control and they will stop at nothing to get them, even if this means harming you.

If you feel less strong, less confident, less secure, less intelligent, less sane, or in any other way “less than” anything you were before you met him (or her), you are being covertly emotionally manipulated. 

Just when you believe the magical excitement of a loving relationship has made a welcome and long-awaited appearance in your life, something very different and sinister might actually be in the works. Psychopaths are highly skilled at hiding their real personalities and their real plans. Their goal is to trick you into believing they love you – and they do everything they can to make you believe that during a non-stop phase of romantic magic. This intense bonding stage is created for one reason — to hook you and make you vulnerable to the manipulation and abuse that will follow.

The purpose of your relationship will change from loving you to demeaning, degrading and exploiting you, confusing you, and diminishing your self-respect, self-worth, and self-esteem while making you question reality. The psychopath will make just enough  appearances as the wonderful, loving guy (or gal) you fell in love with to keep you hooked, to keep you blaming yourself for losing the best thing you ever had and to keep you willing to do anything to save the relationship.

You’ll accept mere crumbs if that will prove your love. You’ll stop wasting time discussing your needs, emotions and fears, which he doesn’t care about and considers unacceptable weaknesses. You’ll blame yourself for things going wrong, analyzing every word and every mood, going over every conversation, and becoming very confused about what’s really going on. Your life, your job, your relationships with others, and your physical and mental health will suffer from his emotional manipulation, which is exactly what he wants. Destroying you is nothing more than entertainment. 

He keeps you around until you’re the desperate mess he manipulated you into becoming. When that happens, he will announce — with feigned or real vitriol, disdain and seething contempt — that you bore him and he’s “done with you.” You’ll be left an emotional wreck wondering how things went so terribly wrong…wondering how your soul-mate relationship went from heaven-on-earth straight into the bowels of hell.

Victims of this underhanded and deceptive manipulation struggle with feelings of confusion, powerlessness and deep hurt, and many experience more serious after-effects such as obsessive thoughts, lost self-esteem, insomnia, rage, anxiety, fear, the inability to love or trust, use of alcohol or drugs, lack of support, physical illness, and irrational and extreme behavior such as total isolation and withdrawal or even suicide.

The hard truth is that the psychopath never wanted love. You were targeted by a predator for the purpose of victimization, and the plan for your harm was there when he targeted you and found you receptive to his advances. After all is said and done and you’re lying alone in the rubble, you realize something was horribly wrong.

When someone starts a relationship pretending to love you but really wants to hurt you, you have been the victim of emotional rape, a heinous crime. You will not find help in information and support designed for getting over a normal relationship.

How did the most loving and beautiful relationship of your life turn into the worst relationship of your life? The answer is contained in three words: covert emotional manipulation.

 How can you tell if you’re being manipulated? Here are some big red flags:

  • You fall quickly in love with someone who seems to be the perfect man or woman for you, and even think he’s your soul-mate;
  • He starts turning distant and giving you less attention while denying anything’s wrong or blaming your “character flaws”;
  • Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to desperation, anxiety and sadness;
  • You’re obsessing about the relationship, what went wrong, and how to get it back;
  • You feel off-balance;
  • You hold two different and conflicting beliefs about him at the same time — one is that he loves you and the other is that he’s a predator or an abuser, and you vacillate between the two, not sure which is correct, and continue the relationship;
  • If you feel less strong, less confident, less secure, less attractive, or in any other way “less than” something you were before you met him, you are being manipulated.

Covert emotional manipulation methodically wears down your sense of self-worth, self-confidence, self-concept and trust in your own perceptions. At its worse, victims lose all sense of self and their personal values.

Learn some of the underhanded tactics of covert emotional manipulation, and read  In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George Simon, PhD.

I also recommend Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation  and by H.B. Braiker.  This book “will help you end a current destructive relationship, understand how it occurred – and prevent you from ever getting involved in a manipulative relationship again.”

Did you find this post valuable? If so, please support my efforts and help me to defray the costs of maintaining this website by purchasing a book. Many thanks.


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15 thoughts on “About Covert Emotional Manipulation

  1. Married to a P for over 30 years. 6 children with him. I came close to a nervous breakdown. It is hard to leave when you are physically and emotionally worn out. The P will blame you for everything in presence of your children. Soon your children will all be emotionally kidnapped by the P. Get out early and trust that others are seeing the picture more clearly than you!

  2. I have been married to a P for 30 years. I have 6 children with him. He has been chaotic at best every day of our marriage. It is exhausting. The loss of self that takes place under the manipulation of a P is amazing. Also a P will demean you in the presence of the children. Your children will be kidnapped from right under your nose. You won’t believe the destruction the P can do. Suddenly you find yourself without friends and even your family
    will be hesitant to visit. Leave as soon as possible. The P will drain you of all energy. It is as though you are caught in a web and cannot escape. Listen to others who can see more clearly than you. Get out and know you have done the right thing! Move away. Do not give the P your phone. Tell everyone you do not want the P to have any info about you. Expect a chaotic divorce. Get out and make new friends. Know that you fell in love with a facade. Stay close to your children. They will need your support for you and they have truly been through hell on earth!

  3. Hello,
    Thank you for this great article. I’ll tell you my story in some words. I was worried and have thoughts pretty much every day and i didn’t know why, so i started to look for it on the internet. I did a good research to answer my questions, then i realised that those worries i had was about certain people. I thought that i had the problem but the truth is that is theirs. Two good friends of mine are manipulators and lately i’ve stoped any communication with them (only few times we get along together, also i noticed that you can hang out with them only for a short period of time). I talked to them about my situation and they seemed to understand, but the reality is they cannot change. So i’m ok with that, i found my inner self and i feel happiness most of the time. But here comes my biggest problem, i have a manipulator coworker (woman) and she really plays a psychological war on me, i’m her victim. Sometimes i’m ok but other times i’m really confused and stuck with worries and thoughts! I cannot concetrate at my work, she just keeps pushing me. Its very hard to deal with her. Today i had a fight with her about her attitude towards to me but she doesn’t understand and always says that i am too emotional and these kind of bull***. The truth is i want to walk away from this job but i need money to survive (like all of us). When i don’t meet these kind of people i feel so chill and happy with myself, i feel inner peace, a beautiful state of mind and body. It’s so stupid that these kind of people doing that war against us just to feed their sick sick needs. I hope the best for all of you and have faith to yourself. Thank you! :)

    • There are lots of manipulators out there…but when you have to deal with one full-time, at your job, it is miserable! Psychological war it is. Keep notes of all of it. I realize it can be so subtle that notes may seem impossible. Read the book “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” by Dr. Harriet Braiker. The last few chapters teach how to deal with manipulators. It could help. In the meantime, you may want to try the Gray Rock method: http://www.lovefraud.com/2012/02/10/the-gray-rock-method-of-dealing-with-psychopaths/ You may also want to start looking for a new job, and I don’t say this lightly. If you can leave, that is option #1.

      Please read the post “How to tell if you’re being manipulated.”

      “When I don’t meet these kind of people i feel so chill and happy with myself, I feel inner peace, a beautiful state of mind and body.” Beautiful, yes. Go with this whenever you can; don’t let manipulators destroy your peace. Get them out of your life, just as you did.

      Best wishes to you.

  4. Thank you for your article
    I ran into a woman who is just for herself, met me, used me, borrowed money, moved into my house, stole my money , when I asked her to leave, she moved out and went to police and charged me with mischief and assault . I am 58 years old and may end up in jail because I fell in tove, felt sorry for her not having any place or anyone to help he

  5. I’m a young lady who fell for these exact things, he took me from an independent women with my own place and everything. Promised me the world knew I wanted a family and happiness. Then once he got me pregnant with a baby he left me, tore me down, put me down and left me vulnerable. I’m slowly gaining my self worth back and he doesn’t want me to gain that back because every chance he gets he leaves me messages trying to pretend to be the man I fell Inlove with because he wants to control me in every form he can. Reading this made me realize how much I am a victim of this.

    • I’m sorry for what you have been through, Faith. Don’t let him stop you from gaining your self-worth back. Stay strong. Best wishes to you and your child.

  6. I’m in this now and do NOT know how to get away! I feel so worthless and confused. I feel like everything I do, say and think is wrong. I used to be an independent woman, single mother taking care of 3 children. Two bad divorces. First marriage was an emotional abuser, but after about 3-4 years I got over it. Gained myself respect and confidence back. When I met the man I’m with now, I was in a desperate situation. Losing my home, my job and struggling with an addiction. He came into my life saying he was there for me. Would help me with all of it and promised to help get me back on track. I felt SO loved and supported. I fell in love with him hard and fast. Now, almost 3 years later, my life is nothing but complete despair. And I don’t even know how it happened. It feels like I blinked and I don’t even know who I am, what I think, or what to do. I feel hopeless and empty. NOTHING I DO is right with him. He is full of negativity and hate. Everytime I want to discuss a problem out that he makes me feel bad by doing something, it gets turned around on me. I feel like I’m losing my mind…literally! I spend most of my time going over every conversation, argument, ANY time we talk. Trying to figure out if I AM the cause. It’s exhausting and I’ve tried to explain that he’s driving me crazy. I don’t want to get out of bedn, go somewhere, I enjoy nothing. At the point of not understanding the point of my life

    • Hi Glenda. I’m sorry to hear about what you’re going through. The bright spot right now is that you see it for what it is. But at the same time, you’ve been mentally worn down to the point where you’re questioning the meaning of your life. The only answer is to get out of this toxic relationship. When you’re out of that mental pressure cooker, your spirit will come back to life again (as it did in the past). Please get in touch with your local center for victims of domestic abuse, at once. They can help you leave this relationship and provide counseling and support groups for you and your children. I wish you all the best.

  7. This has happened to me. I am a mess…have been for years. To be honest I don’t think I could bare to fall in love again. I am too scared that I might choose another man like this. I’m 29 years old and I just can’t do it. That’s it for me.

    • I know how scary it is to think of falling for another one, but personally, I REFUSE to let that creep scare me into living a half a life. There’s a lot of joy to be had in the world and in life, and love is a part of that. If I never had a relationship again because of him, I’d consider myself as still being victimized by him. Think about it.

      Also, give yourself credit for your experience and wisdom.

      I look at it this way — If someone starts turning psychopath-ish on me, I’ll walk away. I’m very different now, and I don’t put up with too much s***. My favorite word now is “Next!” I’ve used it three times already, without looking back. You should try it.

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