Emotional manipulation can be an extremely tricky thing to pin down. Though there are times when it is obvious and blatant, something you can call someone out on right away and make sure they know that they're not being slick, there are also times when it's extremely subtle. It could be happening to you, and you still wouldn't notice.
Though neither instance is good, it's the latter form that's especially dangerous, as it can happen right under our noses. There are even specific emotional abuse tactics that seem inconsequential at first, meaning the victim doesn't know they're a victim until they're already in its clutches.
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You don't need to have been in an emotionally abusive relationship yourself to know how vicious the tactics involved are. Emotional manipulators are masters at twisting their victims' feelings, making them feel crazy or like they're overreacting. Outsiders often wonder how someone could end up in a situation like this, how anyone could put up with such disrespect in the first place.
The truth is, emotional manipulators wait to reveal their true selves. They spend ages behaving normally, even kindly, before slowly introducing their methods of abuse to their victim, making them feel safe before ripping it out from under them.
Just Slow Enough
As such, the victim can brush off early, small signs of abuse as it seems 'so unlike' the manipulator. They haven't behaved like this before, why are they now? Something must be wrong.
It's akin to a frog in a pot of water. Turn the heat up slowly, and they won't jump out, even when it's boiling.
The abusers can get away with this by using tactics in the relationship that appear to be innocent or small at first, tactics like the ones listed here.
1. Isolation and Control
Abusers frequently employ tactics aimed at exerting control over their victim, and one common strategy involves isolating that victim from their other connections, be they close friends or otherwise. At first glance, their intentions might seem innocent. They'll claim they just want to spend more time with the victim, or that they're showing concern for their victim's welfare, saying certain friends are actually toxic for them. These are both lies, though. This is just a mean of getting the victim to drift away from those who truly care about them.
The continuous surveillance of their partner's actions, the unrelenting need for constant communication, and the imposition of limits on personal freedom form a toxic pattern of emotional abuse.
Losing Their Personhood
It also whittles away at their sense of autonomy, leaving them feeling more dependent on the abuser for any sense of stability. They'll begin to feel fear or shame if they try to reach out to the friends they were forced to leave behind, leaving them with no one to turn to and nowhere to go when things get rough.
Remember, a healthy partnership is built on trust, mutual respect, and the freedom to maintain your own identity. By acknowledging dangerous signs and encouraging open conversations, we can break free from the cycle of control and rediscover the strength that comes from self-reliance.
2. Withholding Affection
Another tactic an emotional abuser will slowly introduce is the strategic withholding of affection, intimacy, or emotional support. By purposefully denying physical and emotional closeness, or by engineering a deliberate emotional detachment, these abusers play on the strings of manipulation, pulling at their partner's vulnerabilities.
They may even go so far as to use the silent treatment, as it is a potent tool that helps them exert dominance, controlling the narrative by pressuring their victim into apologizing for nothing. This subtle yet insidious approach plants seeds of doubt within the victim's psyche, causing them to grapple with their own sense of self-worth and question whether they actually did anything wrong (hint: they didn't).
The emotional absence inflicted by the abuser creates feelings of inadequacy, slowly shaping a belief in the victim that they are undeserving of love due to whatever non-existent sins the abuser makes them feel like they committed. The victim, already willing to trust the person doing this to them, now becomes desperate for some sort of forgiveness, attention, or reassurance that they're not actually a bad person. Once again, they have not actually done anything wrong, they're just made to believe so due to the abuser's overreaction.
This toxic dynamic can erode the victim's confidence, leaving them in a state of emotional fragility. This makes them even easier for an emotional manipulator to take advantage of.
3. Belittling Your Thoughts
Emotional manipulators will often belittle or disregard the victim's thoughts, emotions, or capabilities. They'll mask their hurtful intent by presenting derogatory remarks as jests, consistently brushing aside their feelings as illogical. Since the victim already trusts them at this point, they'll just believe that these judgements are true.
When combined with gaslighting, a method of abuse designed to instill doubt within the victim about their own perceptions and mental stability, these actions combine to create a whirlwind of confusion, invalidation, and self-doubt.
Losing Their Mind
This toxic duo of belittling and gaslighting corrodes the victim's confidence, leaving them grappling with a pervasive sense of uncertainty about themselves, their sanity, and their worth. The manipulator slowly unravels the victim's sense of self, letting the threads unspool and fray so the only anchor that remains for them is their manipulator.
Recognizing these tactics and acknowledging their destructive impact is pivotal in breaking free from their grasp. Holding your worth as something to be valued, cherished, protected, and strong is key to being immune to the method of manipulation.
4. Making You Feel Guilty
By guilt tripping their victims for things they didn't truly do, shifting the blame their way, emotional abusers always have an upper hand. Blaming their victims for their own negative emotions, saying it's their fault they feel this way, allows these individuals to evade accountability for their deeds, dropping the weight of burden onto the victim's shoulders.
The effects of this manipulation are far-reaching. It eats away at the victim's sense of value and worth. If they're constantly being told they are to blame for everything, they'll start believing it. As if caught in a whirlpool, the victim remains ensnared within this cycle of toxic thought patterns instilled by the abuser.
Think of this manipulation tactic like a magic trick, where the abuser's words are like a sleight of hand, expertly diverting attention from their own misdeeds. The victim, deceived by these psychological tricks, finds themselves carrying a weight that isn't theirs to bear. This weight can keep them under the abuser's thumb as they'll lack the energy or awareness to combat the other forms of manipulation being used on them.
The weight is intentional, by the way. The manipulator knows that if they can put burden after burden on the victim without them knowing, then remove only one of them, that victim will see them as a savior despite being the source of the issues at hand.
5. Undermining Your Every Move
Emotional abusers very frequently criticize their victims, fixating on their imperfections, errors, or perceived shortcomings. They conceal their malicious intent behind the mask of constructive feedback, steadily chipping away at the victim's self-worth and confidence. The result is a constant feeling of being watched, observed, and judged on the victim's part, trapped in a perpetual state of evaluation and found wanting.
The abuser uses their critiques as a weapon, molding it into a tool to purposely erode the victim's self-esteem. The victim now feels this urge to do anything to live up to the abuser's expectations.
Little By Little
Each cutting remark, each undeserved jab, they all build up over time and slowly chip away at the victim's sense of self. They have no idea what the right thing to do anymore is, convinced that every move could be something that upsets their abuser or will be worthy of criticism. The abuser's words become a lens through which the victim sees themselves, distorted and fractured. This distortion breeds a toxic dependency on the abuser for validation, perpetuating this twisted cycle.
Rebuilding self-confidence and cultivating a healthy self-image requires nurturing from within, untangling the tendrils of the abuser's influence and reclaiming one's own narrative.
Return To Your Strength
All of these tactics are pervasive, subtle to start, and just plain evil. No victim should ever feel bad that they were ensnared by one or more of these. It's by design that you don't register them until it's too late, and emotional abusers do a slow introduction of these methods on purpose. It's meant to trick you, it's meant to make you feel out of sorts. You're not weak for having fallen succumb to them.
All that matters now is freeing yourself not only from these grasps, but the scars they leave behind, too. No manipulator of any kind deserves any space in your brain, your heart, your soul, or your body. Do whatever it takes to release their presence from your being and strive to live freely.
In order to heal, it's worth making sure that you know where that trauma is rooted, especially if you know it began in childhood. Trying to unravel that web can be daunting, though, but there are tools out there wanting to help guide you through it.