Many might have heard the term gaslighting come up in conversations or in social media posts you have recently read. This term is becoming more popularly used as a way to describe emotional manipulation in a relationship. This happens especially when it goes to the extent of one person leading the other to believe that they’re unworthy of love and success or are crazy.
Many people aren’t fully cognizant of how systematically they are being manipulated until something extreme happens. Yet, this is a form of abuse. For those who are or have been in a relationship where they were targets of manipulation, the wounds it created can heal.
What Is Emotional Manipulation?
Emotional manipulation (or gaslighting) is a systematic method of psychological abuse. In many cases, the abusive party in a relationship demonstrates potential signs of Cluster B personality disorders. The most common of them are especially narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). These disorders tend to be under-diagnosed. This is because those who fit the criteria often do not believe or wish to admit that they need help.
Emotional manipulation takes many forms and can vary between people and situations. The overarching effect, however, is universal. Emotional manipulation leads to the person being manipulated questioning their own logic, beliefs, and even their sanity. For example, someone who is gaslighting their significant other might tell them on a repeated basis that they are stupid or crazy. Emotional manipulators tend to be crafty with their words and reiterate the same thing. Therefore, it is often difficult to quickly recognize when you are under emotional manipulation.
Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Manipulation
It isn’t easy to recognize exactly when someone is first being under emotional manipulation. Yet, there are some signs and symptoms to be aware of. These signs and symptoms include:
- Having the grip on reality undermined (in other words, being told something didn’t happen when it clearly did);
- Having a manipulator say one thing but do the complete opposite;
- Being constantly assigned guilt and shame, especially when it was undeserved or unprovoked;
- The other person consistently labels themselves as a victim and behaves as though we have victimized them;
- They share a lot about themselves early on in a relationship in order to make us think we are special. But they are actually attempting to get us to feel sorry for them;
- Also, they draw everyone else into their emotions. Therefore, they expect others to be able to cure them of their bad moods;
- They constantly invoke the I-have-it-worse-than-you card when we make even a minor complaint that does not relate to them;
- They appear eager to help, but seem to only care about looking like they are our savior;
- When we experience success, they try to take all of the credit;
- They will actively try to trigger our insecurities or push our buttons.
Causes of Emotional Manipulation
Why do emotional manipulators seem to enjoy gaslighting their significant others? As Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Expert Melanie Tonia Evans puts it, guilt and shame and a deeply-rooted sense of unworthiness are at the core of why people emotionally manipulate others. Oftentimes, these people are unaware of their own wounds and project their fears and sense of unworthiness onto others in attempts to fill the void.
Control is a major factor in emotional manipulation in a relationship. This seemingly stems from the manipulator fearing or experiencing anxiety over things in their life exist outside of their control. Hence the drive to control others.
Other Issues Related to Emotional Manipulation in a Relationship
Recognizing emotional manipulation is only half of the battle. The other half is responding to it. Many people are, at least initially, reluctant to leave their manipulator. What they should know is that, once a manipulator has found our weak spot, they will continuously try to guilt and shame it until we put a firm stop to it. Stopping this cycle is easier said than done.
Keep in mind that one has the right to live in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. We can learn to recognize and avoid instances of self-doubt and self-blame. This is possible by putting emotional and physical distance between ourselves and the significant other. Some situations may demand different courses of action. However, we have the right to ask probing questions, say no, and assert reasonable and non-aggressive consequences.
Emotional Manipulation Treatment Options
Regardless of whether one is currently in a manipulative relationship or if they have already left it, anyone can get help. There is no shame in seeing a counselor to help heal the wounds left by the manipulator’s words and actions. Many therapists will follow the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model. CBT engages us in:
- Catching thoughts that trigger emotions before the emotional response occurs;
- Reflect on the reality and utility of the thought;
- Change to a positive and realistic thought pattern.
Counseling could last for a matter of weeks, months, or years, depending on how the patient progresses. It can also include various medications to treat the emotional damage (such as anxiety or depression). Mindfulness techniques (such as visualization) can be useful at home, work, or wherever one happens to be.
Emotional Manipulation in Popular Media
Those who have read the book or seen the movie will recognize the pattern of emotional manipulation in The Girl on the Train. In this novel-turned-Hollywood-film, a young woman named Rachel Watson is battling alcoholism and depression. She has been led to believe that she might be guilty of a crime she did not commit. As it turns out, both she and the crime’s victim are victims of emotional manipulation in a relationship.
This book and film both seem like drastic portrayals of emotional manipulation in a relationship on the surface. However, those who have experienced emotional manipulation in a relationship will recognize some of the red flags that occur throughout the narrative.
Have you experienced emotional manipulation in a relationship? There is a plethora of support and assistance available for those who have been or are currently in relationships that drown in emotional manipulation.
If you feel that you have been the target of a manipulative significant other, you can reach out to an official counselor.