family manipulation

Family Manipulation: How to Spot the Signs and What To Do About It

Last Updated on September 12, 2021.

Family manipulation is a difficult thing to spot. It can be even more difficult to get out of the family dynamic and start living your own life. But it’s worth it in the end. Family members often use guilt trips, emotional blackmail, financial manipulation or other tactics on their family members for various reasons. And they probably don’t want take responsibility for themselves. In this blog post we will talk about family manipulation signs and how you can get out of being manipulated by family members!

What is family manipulation?

Family manipulation is a family dynamic where the boundaries are blurred and family members try to control one another through guilt trips, emotional blackmail or other less than ethical means. Manipulators often claim to have their family member’s best interests in mind. But they are discretely being selfish, which allows them to continue manipulating those around them.

Family manipulation can happen between any two family members. It’s common between parents and children, siblings, and between spouses (or partners).

13 strategies that manipulators use to control you

There are a number of strategies that manipulators use to control their family members. The following are some of them:

Trivializing or invalidating your feelings

Manipulators try to undermine family members’ feelings by calling them unimportant, not deserving of affection or approval. They might also convince you that your opinions aren’t valid if they are different than theirs. This is an especially common strategy among parents who want their children to be dependent on them long after childhood should have ended! 


Do you feel like you’re going crazy? Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic where manipulators try to convince family members that their memory of an event isn’t accurate. They might also make family members question the validity of what they believe or know about themselves, making them dependent on others for approval and reality checks.

Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is another manipulation tactic. They use emotional strategies to manipulate family members into doing what they want. This can be an effective way of making their family member feel insecure and need them for support!


Scapegoating refers to when one family member takes the blame for everything that’s wrong with the family. Scapegoats are often family members who take on responsibility for family problems to protect other family members from criticism. And they’re rarely the one to blame! This is especially common in families where one member has addiction issues, mental health struggles or another problem that makes them seem like “the bad guy.”

Withholding affection or approval

Family manipulators can also use withholding affection or approval as a way to get family members to do what they want. This is especially common in families where one family member doesn’t communicate their needs well and family members assume that the lack of praise, hugs, kisses or other signs of physical affection mean disapproval.

family manipulation
family manipulation


Shaming family members is a manipulation tactic where family members use sarcasm, humiliation or other public tactics to get family member’s to behave how they want. This can have the effect of making family members fear being embarrassed by their actions and become more likely to give in during conflicts!

Playing the victim or blaming others

This manipulation tactic is where one family member constantly plays the “victim” role, using it as leverage to make other family members give in during conflicts. Family members might also try to blame others for their problems or play the victim when they actually aren’t; this often happens with family manipulators who are trying to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.

Love bombing in pubic

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic family members use to make family members feel special and loved. They might do this by showering you with praise, affection or gifts in front of other family members. It’s a strategy to cover up the fact that they are actually trying to control family members behind closed doors.

Guilt Tripping

Do family members use guilt trips to get you do what they want? Guilt tripping is a manipulation tactic where family members try to convince family members that something bad will happen if they don’t give in during conflicts. This can be especially common with parents who are trying to make their children feel guilty for moving away or getting married!

Aggression and verbal abuse

Aggression and verbal abuse is a manipulation tactic where family members use aggression or harsh words to make family members feel insecure, and afraid of upsetting the manipulator. This might seem like they are trying to keep family member’s “in line,” but it can have the opposite effect on family relationships.


Family manipulators might try to isolate their family members from other family members or friends to make family member’s depend on them for companionship. This can be a way of making family members feel insecure and afraid to leave the manipulator- even when they are unhappy.

Shifting the goal post

Shifting the goal post is a manipulation tactic where family members change the rules or perspectives during family conflicts to make family members feel like they aren’t meeting expectations. This is a way for family members to get family member’s to give up and do what they want, even when it might not be the best choice.

Lying or omitting facts

Family manipulators might also use lying or omitting key facts as a way to get family members to do what they want. This can be especially common with family members who are trying to avoid their own problems by shifting the blame onto others.

What are the signs of family manipulation?

It’s not always clear or obvious that you’re being manipulated. Master manipulators are great at hiding their true intentions. However, family members might be manipulating you if you notice these signs.

How to know if you’re being manipulated:

  • You question your reality
  • You’re constantly in a highly emotional state
  • You constantly feel like something is wrong
  • You’re afraid of abandonment
  • You feel misunderstood
  • You’re constantly being compared to others
  • You feel like you’re the problem
  • You feel like you need them
  • Your friends and family support them (and not you)
  • You feel like you could never cut them off because they are “family”

Why people manipulate their family members

Family members might manipulate family members for a variety of reasons. They might have been taught family manipulation from family members or other role models. Some family manipulators might not realize that they are being manipulative, while others do it because they think family members will give in to them during conflicts. Some manipulators are down right selfish.

What’s important is to remember that, no matter why they are manipulative, it’s not your fault. Nothing you’ve done or said caused them to be selfish and manipulative towards family members.

How do you handle family manipulation?

If family members feel like they are being manipulated, it’s important to take action. Here are some coping strategies family members can use when dealing with family manipulators:

Point it out

It’s always best to directly let family members know that you think they are being manipulative. Don’t be vague or ambiguous. But make sure you talk about it in a calm and non-aggressive way if possible.

Express your feelings

You don’t have to be aggressive or angry when talking about family manipulation. Try and express your feelings towards family members without getting into a fight with them.

Walk away

If family manipulators get more and more aggressive while you deal with family manipulation, sometimes it’s best to just leave the room for awhile until they calm down enough so you can have a rational discussion.

Accept that you can only control your behavior

You can’t control family manipulators. But you can always choose how to respond to family manipulation tactics. If you feel like family members are manipulating you, remember that there’s nothing wrong with not giving in or walking away, even if family is upset by it. Don’t let family manipulators make your decisions for you!

Set boundaries

If family manipulators are causing you a lot of stress or unhappiness, it’s important for family members to set boundaries with them. This doesn’t mean family members have to cut off contact from family members completely- they can still choose what kind of relationship they want with the person who is manipulating them. However, setting limits within your relationship.

Build a Community

Build a community of supportive friends and family members who will help you deal with family manipulators. This can be a family member, friend, counselor or someone else you trust who is there to give advice and support when family manipulators are causing problems in your life. Just venting can be therapeutic.

Get Professional Support

Family manipulation can be very stressful and family members might need professional support, especially if family manipulators are causing major problems in their lives. A therapist or counselor will help family members find coping strategies for dealing with family manipulators.

The Bottom Line

There’s never a good reason to deal with family manipulation from anyone. Manipulation is harmful and family members should address the issue or cut off any family member who is being manipulative if necessary.

Don’t feel guilty about walking away from a family member or cutting them out of your life completely if they manipulate you constantly. It’s not healthy to be around family manipulators, so have the courage to do what’s best for you!

What You Should Do Next…

1. Snag Our Connected Parent Challenge

Are you ready for more activities to build a rock-solid bond with your kids? Try our Connected Parent Challenge! It’s 15 Days of 15 Minute activities that are sure to improve your connection, diminish bad behavior, and create lasting memories. Plus, I’ll deliver more amazing parenting strategies to your inbox weekly (don’t worry, unsubscribe any time!).

2. Join Our Free Online Community

Connect with like-minded moms (and dads!) in our free online community. You’ll find a plethora of resources to help you through your parenting challenges. Plus, you’ll find me there! And I’d love to connect.

3. Take a Free 60-Minute Parenting Webinar

Do you need actionable strategies right now? Register for this free 60-minute webinar titled How to Get Kids to Listen, Without Nagging, Yelling or Losing Control. You’ll walk away with parent-tested tactics to get your kids to listen starting today.

Scroll to Top