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Eight Ways to Spot Teen Emotional Manipulation

by Dore Frances, IEC,MA, founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
1. A teen emotional manipulator is the picture of a willing helper. When you ask them to do something they will almost always agree - that is IF they didn't volunteer to do it first.

Then when you say, "ok thanks" - they make a bunch of heavy sighs, or other non verbal signs that let you know they don't really want to do whatever said thing happens to be. When you tell them it doesn't seem like they want to do whatever - they will turn it around and try to make it seem like OF COURSE they wanted to and how unreasonable you are. This is a form of crazy making - which is something emotional manipulators are very good at. When an emotional manipulator said YES - make them accountable for it.

Do NOT buy into the sighs - when they don't want to do it - make them tell you it up front - or just put on the headphones and run a bath and leave them to their drama.

2. Guilt. Teen Emotional manipulators are excellent guilt mongers. They can make you feel guilty for speaking up or not speaking up, for being emotional or not being emotional enough, for being caring and giving, or for not being caring and giving enough. Any thing is fair game and open to guilt with an emotional manipulator. Emotional manipulators seldom express their needs or desires openly - they get what they want through emotional manipulation. Guilt is not the only form of this but it is a potent one. Most of us parents are pretty conditioned to do whatever is necessary to reduce our feelings of guilt.

Another powerful emotion that is used is sympathy.

An emotional manipulator is a great victim. They inspire a profound sense of needing to support, care for and nurture.

Emotional Manipulators seldom fight their own fights or do their own dirty work.

The crazy thing is that when you do it for them (which they will never ask directly for), they may just turn around and say they certainly didn't want or expect you to do anything!

Try to make a point of not fighting your teen's battles, or doing their dirty work for them. A great line is "I have every confidence in your ability to work this out on your own" - check out the response and note the bull**** meter once again.

3. Crazy making - saying one thing and later assuring you they did not say it.

When you find yourself in a relationship with your teen where you figure you need to start keeping a log of what's been said because you are beginning to question your own sanity --You are experiencing emotional manipulation. An emotional manipulator is an expert in turning things around, rationalizing, justifying and explaining things away. They can lie so smoothly that you can sit looking at black and they'll call it white - and argue so persuasively that you begin to doubt your very senses. Over a period of time this is so insidious and eroding it can literally alter your sense of reality. WARNING: Emotional Manipulation is VERY Dangerous!

It is very disconcerting for an emotional manipulator when you begin carrying a pad of paper and a pen and making notations during conversations. Feel free to let them know you just are feeling so "forgetful" these days that you want to record their words for posterity's sake.

4. Teen Emotional manipulators fight dirty. They don't deal with things directly. They will talk around behind your back and eventually put others in the position of telling you what they would not say themselves. They are passive aggressive, meaning they find subtle ways of letting you know they are not happy little campers. They'll tell you what they think you want to hear and then undermine it.

5. Teen Emotional manipulators have no sense of accountability. They take no responsibility for themselves or their own behavior - it is always about what everyone else has "done to them".

6. There is no use in trying to be honest with an emotional manipulator. You make a statement and it will be turned around. Do not care take - do not accept an apology that feels unreal. When it feels like unreal - it probably is. When dealing with an emotional blackmailer TRUST your gut. TRUST your senses. Once an emotional manipulator finds a successful maneuver - it's added to their hit list ... you know .... those all telling magical buttons that all parents wear.

7. When you have a headache an emotional manipulator will have a brain tumor!

No matter what your situation is the emotional manipulator has probably been there or is there now - but only ten times worse.

It's hard after a period of time to feel emotionally connected to your teen when they are an emotional manipulator because they have a way of de-railing conversations and putting the spotlight back on themselves. When you call them on this behavior they will likely become deeply wounded and call you selfish - or claim that it is you who are always in the spotlight. The thing is that even though you know this is not the case you are left with the impossible task of proving it. Don't bother - TRUST your gut, walk away and count to ten, fifteen, twenty!

8. Teen Emotional manipulators somehow have the ability to impact the emotional climate of those around them. When an emotional manipulator is angry or sad the very room is dense in feeling with it all - it brings a deep instinctual response to find someway to equalize the emotional climate and the quickest route is by making the emotional manipulator feel better - fixing whatever is broken for them. Stick with this type of behavior in your family for too long and you will be so enmeshed and co-dependent you will forget you even have needs - let alone that you have just as much right to have your needs met.

Dore Frances, IEC, MA, is an educcational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email
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Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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