Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Emotional manipulation by others

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Emotional manipulation by others:
How do people attempt to manipulate the emotions of others, what are the effects, and how can this countered?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Emotional manipulation, also referred to as psychological manipulation or emotional abuse, is the act of attempting to alter the perception, emotions or behaviour of an individual using manipulative tactics (Psychology Dictionary, n.d.). Manipulation is the deliberate misleading of an individual to achieve a result desired by the manipulator. Emotional or psychological manipulation is closely related to the theory of social influence and the personality trait machiavellianism.

What is Emotional Manipulation?[edit | edit source]

Emotional or psychological manipulation is a form of social influence where a perpetrator attempts to further their own purposes or agendas using manipulative techniques and deception, in order to obtain the assistance of another. Emotional manipulation can occur in [grammar?] many aspects of everyday life including in families, relationships, friendships, in the workplace, and in businesses amongst a variety of other settings. Psychological theory underpins emotional manipulation, namely how we observe and learn from others and also how we [spelling?] learn from reward and punishment.

Certain personality traits are associated with emotional manipulation; as such there are [which?] personality traits which may increase the likelihood of an individual engaging in emotional manipulation. Several personality disorders can increase the likelihood of an individual becoming either a victim of or user of emotional manipulation and its techniques.

Social Influence[edit | edit source]

The theory of social influence is an important component in emotional manipulation[factual?]. Social influence and social learning is a social-psychological theory which states that our behaviour, emotions and cognitions are influenced by those around us (Bandura, 1971).

Social learning and influence contains four [spelling?] main components which form the process of learning and influence through this means[factual?]. The components are:

  1. Attention: An individual notices something in the environment and surroundings.
  2. Retention: The individual remembers what they have noticed.
  3. Reproduction: An individual will repeat the action that they noticed.
  4. Motivation: The environment delivers a consequence that changes the probability that the behaviour will be repeated (Huitt, 2004).

Theory[edit | edit source]

Albert Bandura first published social learning theory in 1971 stating that [what?] previous theories focused too heavily on internal drives such as needs and desires. Bandura theorised that behaviour, emotions and cognitions could be guided by observation of others and influenced directly or indirectly by other individuals.

Within 'Social Learning Theory' Bandura mentions the commonly held belief that responses are either strengthened or reduced unconsciously by their immediate consequences[factual?]. Bandura states that within the framework of social learning theory reinforcement serves informative and incentive purposes[factual?]. Bandura's social learning theory states that a large proportion of our learning and experience is derived from observation of the actions of other individuals.

Application to Emotional Manipulation[edit | edit source]

Humans are social creatures and as such learn from one another[factual?]. Social learning theory provides the framework for our understanding on how we learn from other individuals. However, social learning provides an opportunity for some individuals to use psychologically manipulative tactics in order to achieve a specific goal. For example, when an individual uses emotionally manipulative techniques in order to achieve or work towards a specific goal, [grammar?] these four steps (attention, retention, reproduction and motivation) could be employed to strengthen a desired emotion or behaviour in another individual. Particularly in emotional situations such as relationships, friendships and even in families.

Personality Traits and Disorders[edit | edit source]

Machiavellianism[edit | edit source]

Machiavellianism is a personality trait where an individual utilises a large amount of manipulative behaviour when associating with others. Individuals who score highly for the trait of machiavellianism can be observed to engage in manipulative behaviour in order to further their own needs and desires. Those who score highly for machiavellianism however [grammar?] display a high level of emotional detachment and their interactions with others are often described as cognitive rather than emotional[factual?]. Machiavellian individuals also tend to disregard individual differences when socialising with . other individuals (Austin, Farrelly, Black and Moore, 2007).

Relation to Emotional Manipulation[edit | edit source]

Persons who score highly on personality scales for the trait machiavellianism are more likely to display psychologically manipulative behaviour towards others in order to promote their own agendas[factual?]. As such those individuals who display machiavellian traits are often much more likely to engage in emotionally manipulative behaviour without regard to the consequences on those who are being manipulated[factual?].

Psychopathy[edit | edit source]

Psychopathy is another personality trait which can be closely related to the act of emotional manipulation. Psychopathy can both be defined as a personality trait and personality disorder depending on the level of the trait displayed. Psychopathy can be defined by continuous antisocial behaviour and little remorse or empathy towards others. Those who display psychopathic tendencies also tend to exhibit dis-inhibited and bold behaviour (Skeem, Polasheck, Patrick, & Lilienfeld, 2011).

Relation to Emotional Manipulation[edit | edit source]

Individuals who score highly or exhibit psychopathic tendencies are more likely to attempt to manipulate others, the lack of remorse and antisocial behaviour displayed by psychopathic individuals often leads to attempts to emotionally manipulate other people for self gain, with little regard for the consequences to those people[factual?].

Histrionic Personality Disorder[edit | edit source]

The DSM-V[explain?] provides the following information for diagnosing Histrionic Personality Disorder:

A pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
  • interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
  • displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
  • consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
  • has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  • shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
  • is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
  • considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

The DSM-5 states that those who exhibit histrionic personality disorder are very suggestible and as such may fall victim to emotional manipulation more easily than others, [grammar?] those who are diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder utilise social learning to an excessive extent and as such learn from others behaviour and actions much more readily, [grammar?] this trait increases the likelihood that an individual with histrionic personality disorder will fall victim to emotional manipulation.

Antisocial Personality Disorder[edit | edit source]

The following extract from the DSM-V provides some of the criteria for the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder in an individual.

Antagonism, characterized by:

  • a.Manipulativeness: Frequent use of subterfuge to influence or control others; use of seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one„s ends.
  • b.Deceitfulness: Dishonesty and fraudulence; misrepresentation of self; embellishment or fabrication when relating events.
  • c. Callousness: Lack of concern for feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one„s actions on others; aggression; sadism.
  • d. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults; mean, nasty, or vengeful behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

The DSM-5 points to the fact that those who show signs or have been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder are much more likely to engage in emotional manipulation with little remorse. One of the criteria for antisocial personality disorder is in fact manipulativeness and deceitfulness which [missing something?] two of the fundamental factors in emotional manipulation. Callousness and a lack of feeling and remorse is also present in those who portray antisocial personality disorder which increases the ease in which these individuals can engage in emotional manipulation[factual?].

Manipulation Tactics and Indicators[edit | edit source]

In order to minimise the effects of attempted emotional manipulation on oneself, the manipulative tactics utilised by those who enagage in emotional manipulation must be understood. Some indicators that increase the likelihood that the person in question is an emotional manipulator will assist in identifying whether one should be wary of emotional manipulation from this individual. Emotional manipulation or abuse can take many forms and it is near impossible to create an exhaustive list of all the indicators and tactics utilised by emotional abusers.

Some examples of emotional manipulation and abuse include lying, yelling and screaming, use of derogatory names, withholding important information, [what?] certain forms of eye contact, rumours, blackmail, and ridiculing someone in front of other individuals (Keashly, 1997). Emotional abuse and manipulation can be either overt or covert, as the examples of manipulative behaviour above convey. Actions such as yelling and blackmail are examples of overt psychological manipulation though lying and rumours can be considered covert emotional manipulation techniques. Overt techniques are more straightforward and thus are more easily identified.

Motives[edit | edit source]

Emotional manipulators have a generic motive that is to employ others in order to achieve a desired outcome or goal sometimes with a large disregard to the cost placed on the manipulated individual. Some other motives of those who manipulate others are to gain a feeling a power, to feel in control and even seeing hurting others as a game (Braiker, 2004).

Vulnerabilities[edit | edit source]

Several factors have been identified in addition to histrionic personality disorder that may increase an individual's vulnerability to emotional manipulation.

  • Naivete: Some people are unwilling to believe the idea that others are cunning and devious, these people like to believe the best in others, this can also be referred to as over-conscientiousness.
  • Low self-confidence: The victim can be self-doubting and lacking in confidence and assertiveness.
  • Emotional dependency: The victim can have a dependent and submissive personality, [grammar?] if a potential victim is likely to become dependent on others they are more likely to fall victim to manipulative behaviour (Simon, 1996).

Effects[edit | edit source]

Emotional manipulation, whether overt or covert, can have many detrimental effects on a victim. Different types of emotional abuse can cause varying negative effects in victims. Dominance and isolation as a form of domestic violence has been shown to predict an increase in depressive symptoms in women over time (Katz & Arias, 1999). Studies have been conducted in relation to the long term physical and psychological effects of physical, sexual and emotional abuse during childhood. One such study is notable and displays results which support the fact that emotional abuse can have long lasting effects on a victim[factual?]. Those who suffered as a result of abuse as a child reported a greater number of hospitalisations for illnesses, and more frequent and longer lasting physical and psychological detriments. Those who suffered abuse as children also rated lower on overall health (Moellar & Bachmann, 1993).

In the short term, emotional abuse, depending on the type of abuse, can cause lowered self esteem, anger, embarrassment, sadness, guilt and a feeling of worthlessness. Emotional manipulation can also cause problems in interpersonal relationships and workplace productivity depending on where the manipulation is centered. As such, any type of psychological manipulation has a negative and potentially serious effect on the victim[factual?][for example?].

Strategies[edit | edit source]

Emotional manipulation is avoidable and many strategies can be employed by an individual in order to recognise and minimise emotional abuse. Assertiveness is a key attribute that is useful in countering emotional manipulation[factual?].

Assertiveness[edit | edit source]

To assert is to declare and state clearly and insist on ones rights and opinions and also demand recognition (Oxford University Press, 2002). Assertiveness is an extremely useful strategy in countering both overt and covert manipulation. When one is assertive they[grammar?] communicate their wants and needs in a way which is stern yet neither aggressive or passive. Assertiveness communicates to an individual that ones rights are valuable and will be protected without infringing on the rights of others, often being assertive is enough to dissuade a potential emotional manipulator from attempting to advantage of a person. (Simon, 1996)

Avoidance[edit | edit source]

Avoidance of toxic individuals is another strategy which can assist persons in minimising their contact with psychological manipulation. If an individual identifies a chronic emotional manipulator and believes that he/she is detrimental to that individuals well-being, avoidance of that manipulator may have a positive outcome in reducing exposure to exploitation. Reducing exposure to exploitation minimises the negative effects which can be experienced as a result of manipulation and allows a greater sense of well being in an individual (Braiker, 2004).

Support Network[edit | edit source]

If avoidance is not possible, for example, in the workplace or in a family setting, a support network is a great tool which enables an individual to feel more empowered and less vulnerable. A support network allows an individual to realise that manipulation is not to be tolerated and to concentrate on meaningful relationships where they are not being exploited (Braiker, 2004).

Where emotional manipulation is identified, the three strategies described above can be utilised individually or in conjunction in order to reduce the amount of manipulation suffered by an individual and also to reduce the negative effects associated with manipulation and abuse. It is important to remember that where emotional and psychological abuse surpasses a certain level and is deemed vastly inappropriate and even unlawful in society that relevant authorities are notified in order to assist the victim.

Quiz[edit | edit source]


1 Which of the following is NOT a criteria of histrionic personality disorder in the DSM-V?

is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
is introverted and does not participate often in situations which require socialisation
consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances

2 Which of the following is a personality trait that increases the likelihood of an individual engaging in emotionally manipulative behaviour?


3 Narcissism is a key vulnerability in emotional abuse.


4 What is the third main component of social learning?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Psychological manipulation can also be referred to as emotional manipulation, emotional abuse or psychological abuse. This form of manipulation can be considered a negative form of social influence and is employed by certain individuals in order to achieve specific aims or goals at the expense of others. Manipulation in itself is deception or underhanded tactics to further a want or need; emotional manipulation contains an emotional or psychological component.

Certain personality traits and disorders can either predict how an individual may be more likely to engage in or suffer from emotional abuse. These include machiavellianism and histrionic personality disorder. The DSM-V provides specific criteria in the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder which relate both disorders directly to psychological manipulation.

Emotional manipulators employ an inexhaustible list of tactics in order to achieve their aims, some of these tactics are overt and others covert. In addition to achieving a goal or positive outcome for themselves, emotional manipulators also tend to enjoy gaining a feeling a power and sometimes view playing with peoples emotions as a game. Some circumstances in an individuals life can increase their vulnerability to manipulation, these include low self-confidence and emotional dependency.

Different types of emotional abuse have different negative effects on an individual some of the more common effects are depression and low self-esteem and also lower overall health. In the short term, emotional abuse can cause an increase in anger, embarrassment, sadness, guilt and a feeling of worthlessness.

Thankfully their are many strategies one can employ to attempt to reduce the amount of or effects of emotional abuse suffered. These strategies include assertiveness, avoidance and building a strong support network.

Emotional abuse is present in many areas of everyday life including in families, relationships, friendships and the workplace as such the topic of emotional abuse in an important topic to have an understanding of in order to protect ones well-being.

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5 ed.). Washington: American Psychiatric Association.

Austin, E. J., Farrelly, D., Black, C., & Moore, H. (2007). Emotional Intelligence, Machiavellianism and emotional manipulation: Does EI have a dark side? Personality and Individual Differences, 43(1), 179-189. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.11.019

Bandura, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory . New york: General Learning Press.

Braiker, H. B. (2004). Whos Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation? McGraw-Hill.

Huitt, W. (2014, 10 8). Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview . Valdosta State University .

Katz, J., & Arias, I. (1999). Psychological Abuse and Depressive Symptoms in Dating Women: Do Different Types of Abuse Have Differential Effects? Journal of Family Violence , 281-295.

Keashly, L. (1997). Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: Conceptual and Empirical Issues. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 1(1), 85-117. doi:10.1300/J135v01n01_05

Moellar, T. P., & Bachmann, G. A. (1993). The combined effects of physical, sexual and emotional abuse during childhood: Long-term health consequences for women. Child Abuse and Neglect, 17(5), 623-640. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(93)90084-I

Oxford University Press. (2002). The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary . Melbourne : Oxford University Press.

Psychology Dictionary . (n.d.). Manipulation . Retrieved from Psychology Dictionary :

Simon, G. K. (1996). In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. Parkhurst Brothers Publishers Inc.

Skeem, J., Polasheck, D. L., Patrick, C. L., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2011). Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(3), 95-162. doi:10.1177/1529100611426706