Ask An Adult: How Do I Know If I'm Being Emotionally Manipulated?
The Debrief: When your relationship becomes more about their happiness than yours, it’s time to get out
Being in love is one of the best feelings ever, alongside waking up on a Saturday with cold pizza in the kitchen and a day of Netflix ahead of you. But what happens when being in love stops you from doing the things, and the people, you love?
Over the course of two and a half years, I cut off contact with all my guy friends (those I did hang with I had to pretend were gay so my then-boyfriend would let me see them), left nights out early because he said I needed to come home, and lied to my friends and family – all signs that I was dating an emotional manipulator.
But worryingly, I’m not alone. According to Women’s Aid, ‘Most domestic violence includes emotional abuse, which can include such tactics as destructive criticism, name calling, sulking pressure tactics and lying to you, or to your friends and family about you.’ Shockingly 4.6 million women in England and Wales have experienced this.
The problem with emotional manipulation, though, is that it’s hard to identify, especially when you’re so involved in the relationship. So how can you tell if you’re a victim?
How to spot an emotional manipulator
Author, heartbreak-recovery life coach and speaker Patty Blue Hayes defines emotional manipulation as ‘a projection of one person’s agenda onto another person by using tactics of control, by saying things that are demeaning, hurtful, criticising and blaming’. A lack of affection and empathy and avoidance of direct questioning are also factors. Sound familiar?
Experiencing this once or twice is bad enough, but over time being on the receiving end of such comments and actions erode self-esteem. It’s been nearly five years since I left the guy who manipulated me, but I still retain some elements – I apologise too quickly and blaming myself comes naturally – which figures when the source of this kind of abuse is power.
Are you actually doing what you want to do?
We don’t always get to do what we want – that’s life – but there’s a difference between compromise and sacrificing your happiness. ‘If you feel that you are on a roller-coaster ride with the person you are involved with, you need to get off immediately,’ says American psychotherapist and author Beatty Cohan.
‘If you find that you’re typically saying yes when you mean no, and are often second guessing yourself, you may very well be with a skilled emotional manipulator. They can be very charming, sexy, attractive and convincing. They are also dangerous to your emotional and even your physical well-being,’ she adds.
This behaviour isnt restricted to romantic relationships, though – your friends and colleagues can be just as guilty, so beware.
What to do when your friend’s a victim
We’re more likely to spot emotional abuse when it’s happening to someone else, so what can you do when you fear a friend is acting less and less like herself and her relationship is to blame?
‘It’s always a risk to inject our concerns into someone else’s relationship, but making small steps toward communicating with your friend or family member and letting them know your concern may be helpful to bring clarity to the person being manipulated,’ says Patty.
She also advises having factual evidence and specific examples of situations which you can use to back up your concerns; just be aware that they may be full of excuses.
If, on the other hand, someone confides in you, Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, advises what your next steps should be.
‘Domestic abuse – be that physical or emotional – can be incredibly difficult to disclose. If a victim chooses to disclose domestic abuse to, your role is crucial: you must listen to her, and you must believe her. It’s vital that you understand that the victim understands the risks her perpetrator poses to her better than anyone else – and so she must be taken seriously.’
Get help and get out
Knowing you’re being manipulated and doing something about it can be difficult, as Patty explains. ‘The emotional manipulator will occasionally dole out kindness and apologies that feed the low self-worth of the one being manipulated just enough to stick around for the next cycle. This continuous cycle will erode any sense of esteem, worth and value of the person being manipulated.’
Basically, the longer you stay, the less likely you are to leave, but you really must; you don’t need to waste any more time with someone who doesn’t appreciate you and the sooner the leave, the sooner you can start to rebuild your confidence, self-esteem and begin to love yourself again.
‘If you’re a victim of abuse and feeling frightened of your partner, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge). For further help and advice, go to the Women’s Aid website,’ advises Polly Neate.
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