Five Ways to Protect Yourself from Emotional Manipulators

by | Sep 10, 2013

For the last few weeks I\’ve been talking about emotional manipulators and the tactics they use to control you. The devastation these emotional predators can cause in your life is insidious and serious. These people can wear you down until you are a depressed, defeated shadow of the person you once were. That\’s why it\’s important to recognize the tactics they use to dominate you and to set strict boundaries to protect yourself from them.

Remember, you cannot change the emotional manipulator (EM). But you can change the way you respond to them. Once you identify the tactics they use, you can be prepared to change your behavior to protect yourself from their abuse.

1) Stand up for yourself. When an EM puts you down and makes you feel confused or helpless, fight back. Don\’t let them get away with it. Here\’s an example of an emotional manipulator trying to make you feel bad. The EM is doing a task—say, cleaning the cat litter. Here\’s the conversation:

You:  Let me help you with that.

EM: No, I\’ve got it.

You: Okay.

EM: (cleaning cat box) Sigh.

You don\’t say a word. You offered; the EM refused your help. Now the EM is heaving great sighs and making sounds of distress, as you knew she would do. She finally finishes the job.

EM: It would have been nice to have had some help.

You: I offered, but you refused.

EM: You don\’t know how to clean a cat box properly.

You: Of course I do. You know that as well as I do.

The key is to stand up for yourself and refuse to accept the EM\’s gambit. Once an emotional manipulator finds a tactic that works on you, you\’re sunk. They\’ll use it against you again and again.

2) Set clear boundaries. This is sometimes difficult since an emotional manipulator can be so devious you don\’t even comprehend all their maneuvers. Begin by having a conversation with the EM about what you will absolutely not accept any more. Acknowledge that you have put up with the EM\’s behavior in the past, but that you will no longer enable the abuse. Tell the EM that you expect them to stop name-calling, using sarcasm to put you down, raising their voice to yell at you, cursing a blue streak, attacking your character or any other behavior you find disconcerting.

3) Establish firm consequences. When an EM violates the boundaries you have set—and they surely will—they should know there will be consequences. Tell them you will no longer engage with them. You will leave the room. Then do it. Go somewhere else and listen to music. Have a bath. Wear headphones so you can\’t hear the EM. Whatever it takes. Be prepared to do this over and over until the EM changes behavior. You will have to stand your ground and not give in—ever. And do not bluff. Establish only those consequences you are prepared to carry out.

4) Trust your instinct. When an EM attempts to get you to do their dirty work, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to yourself. If you don\’t want to do it, even though they seem helpless to do it themselves, refuse politely. You may even say something like, “I have every confidence you can work this out yourself.” Make decisions that feel right to you, not the EM. Many EM\’s have the ability to suck the energy from a room and from you. Resist that. Seek out positive emotions and what feels good to you.

5) Know when to call it quits. Sometimes relationships just can\’t be saved. EM\’s are emotionally weak and need to torment and control you in order to feel emotionally secure and fulfilled. EM\’s definitely need help, but they seldom recognize this fact. If you\’re in a relationship with an EM, you can attempt to get them help, but don\’t be surprised if they refuse. You could probably benefit from counseling, too. But ultimately you may have to severe the relationship.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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