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7 Common Signs of Manipulative Parents

Manipulation is the act of influencing someone to do something that they would otherwise not do. Or not to do something that they would do. This is for the benefit of the manipulator. When parents are manipulative, they influence their children to act as they wish. Because of this, it can be compared to control, but it would be a higher level of unfair control over someone. There are various signs of manipulative parents and some are ignored. This is not because of ignorance, but the fact that at times it is impossible to differentiate between manipulation and control.

Difference between manipulation and control: With manipulation, someone is in charge of all decisions in a dishonest way while with control, there is some level of autonomy. Understanding this difference gives someone a better view of when he or she is being manipulated or controlled.

Signs of Manipulative Parents 

Most parents argue that they don’t manipulate their children, rather they control them. This is not entirely true as long as the following signs are portrayed. Emotional and financial manipulation are the two common forms of manipulation by parents. Under emotional manipulation, parents exploit the bond they have with their children while under financial manipulation, they use finances (rewards) to manipulate.

1. Being Pushed to Do Things 

Manipulative parents tend to push children to do things that they might feel they don’t want to do. This is not because they disrespect their parents, but because they lack interest in such things and won’t benefit from them at all.

Since they are acting out of dishonesty, they push their children to do what they want. While doing this, they don’t put their feelings into consideration. At times, it becomes impossible for a child to say “No” and they end up doing what they are being told.

2. Silent Treatment 

This is the most unfair form of treatment a child can get from a parent. There is nothing more painful for a child than feeling invisible. This slowly drains a child and can even result in depression.

Manipulative parents using silent treatment make their children feel invisible and act like they don’t care at all about them. This kind of behavior or acting prompts children to act as their parents’ desire. Children love it when they feel visible to their parents and are cared for. A child gets this once what their parents want is accomplished. This kind of treatment is preferred by a great percentage of parents since it “works magic” according to them.

Signs of Manipulative Parents

3. Gaslighting 

At times, parents want their children to doubt their judgment or memory so that they can benefit from that. This plays well for them especially when the child is not confident in herself. Since a child is unable to make a firm decision on whether to or not do something, the parent takes control. By taking control, they manipulate them.

Manipulation also takes place when a child feels guilty after making a certain decision. At first, it might have seemed like the best decision but after alerting parents, it suddenly feels not right. If this does happen, then be alarmed by the possibility of manipulation.

4. Invalidation 

Children are subjected to emotional breakdowns when their feeling are dismissed by their parents. This shows them that their emotional experience is insignificant to them and they shouldn’t be bothered. To a child, this is a moment that can lead to feelings of loneliness, confusion, and emotional distancing among other consequences of invalidation.

Parents are aware that they are invalidating their children’s feelings. This is why even after being assertive and letting them know how you feel after realizing you are being invalidated, it doesn’t turn out as expected. The constant dismissal of your feelings and emotions should be an indication of manipulative parents.

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5. Emotional Blackmail

Yes, parents too can take this path when they are willing to go the extra mile to get what they want. Parents are aware of the fears and insecurities of their children. Especially if they are close to them. This gives them an opportunity to emotionally blackmail a child.

A parent being manipulative should not be a shock to anyone. The shocking part should be the use of their child’s insecurities against them. The use of these anxieties and worries against a child is at times very effective. Since there are things that children cannot believe, their parents would do to them, it becomes really easy for them to fall into their clutches.

Signs of Manipulative Parents

6. Negative Self-Perception 

Parents can be really good at what they do. If they want you to feel good, you will. If they want you to feel sorry for yourself, you will surely do. Among the signs of manipulative parents is being made to feel like you deserve the bad things that happen in your life.

Parents can take this away but for manipulative ones, they will even make it more intense. Their agenda is to make you act to their advantage and doing this makes it possible. So, be on the lookout for parents making you feel like you deserve the bad things happening in your life. As parents, they are supposed to hold your hands and be with you during your hard times. If they want you to do something for them so that they can hold your hand, then they are manipulative.

7. Being Co-Dependent 

Children are supposed to depend on their parents up to a certain age, preferably till they reach the age of majority. After this age, they are supposed to be independent and depend on their parents only when it’s necessary.

When parents raise a child to be co-dependent, their main intent would be to manipulate that child. Bing co-dependent on a parent means a child has an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on the parents. This makes it possible for their parents to act unfairly or dishonestly since they know their child cannot say “No” to them.

Signs of Emotional Manipulation from Parents

Guilt-Tripping and Shame

A pivotal indicator of emotional manipulation from parents is the use of guilt-tripping and shame as tactics. Manipulative parents often employ strategies that place the burden of their own happiness or well-being onto their children. Phrases like “Your love for me would show if you did this” or “Considering everything I’ve done for you, is it too much to ask for this one thing?” are designed to trigger guilt, coercing children into disregarding their own needs and desires.

Furthermore, parents with manipulative tendencies might resort to shame as a means of control. This could involve belittling or embarrassing their children, purposefully fostering an environment where the child’s self-worth is questioned. Regrettably, these actions can significantly erode a child’s self-esteem, stunting their emotional growth and development.


Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where parents distort a child’s reality to make them doubt their perceptions. Manipulative parents might deny their actions or downplay events, causing the child to question their own memory and judgment. Phrases like “That never happened” or “You’re just imagining things” can leave children feeling confused and insecure.

Gaslighting can have a profound impact on a child’s mental health, leading to feelings of self-doubt and confusion. It’s crucial to recognize and address this behavior to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.

Conditional Love and Affection

Emotionally manipulative parents might use love and affection as tools for control. They may withhold affection or approval until a child complies with their demands. This conditional love teaches children that their worth is dependent on meeting their parents’ expectations. Consequently, children might struggle with feelings of inadequacy and an inability to assert themselves.

Unconditional love is the foundation of healthy family relationships. When love is used as a bargaining chip, it erodes trust and damages the child’s emotional well-being.

Playing the Victim

Manipulative parents may play the victim card to elicit sympathy or guilt from their children. They might exaggerate their own distress or portray themselves as helpless, making their children feel obligated to provide support or comply with their wishes. This manipulation can distort the power dynamic within the relationship and lead to a sense of emotional obligation.

Recognizing genuine distress from manipulative behavior is crucial. While it’s important to be supportive, it’s equally important to maintain boundaries and not be swayed by emotional manipulation.

Control and Isolation

Manipulative parents often seek to maintain control by isolating their children from external support systems. They may discourage friendships, discourage independent decision-making, or even create dependency to ensure their children remain under their influence. This isolation can hinder a child’s social development and autonomy.

Maintaining healthy boundaries and encouraging independence are essential for a child’s emotional growth. Recognizing these manipulative tactics can empower children to assert themselves and maintain a sense of personal agency.

signs of manipulative parents

How to Deal with Manipulative Parents

After noting the signs of manipulative parents, it is important to know how to deal with such parents.

To effectively navigate the tumultuous waters of manipulative parenting, it’s essential to delve deeper into the motivations that underlie such behavior. By understanding these motives, you can approach the situation with empathy and discernment.

Some of the Common motive of a parent to be manipulative are:

Insecurity or Low Self-Esteem: Many manipulative parents grapple with low self-esteem, which prompts them to exert control over their children to validate their own self-worth. Their manipulative tactics serve as a shield to mask their feelings of inadequacy.

Fear of Losing Control: A manipulative parent’s desire to maintain control over their child’s actions and decisions can propel them into using manipulative tactics. This fear of relinquishing control often stems from anxiety about potential outcomes or the unknown.

Unresolved Personal Issues: Some manipulative parents carry their unresolved emotional baggage into their parenting roles. They might project their past traumas onto their children, seeking validation or resolution through their children’s actions and reactions.

Understanding these motivations can foster empathy and provide insight into the root causes of manipulative behavior. Armed with this understanding, you can approach the situation with a more compassionate and measured perspective.

Setting Boundaries

When contending with manipulative parents, establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries becomes a crucial aspect of self-preservation. Boundaries act as a protective barrier, shielding you from manipulative tactics that can have a detrimental impact on your mental health.

Be Clear and Specific: Effective boundary setting requires clarity and specificity. Ambiguity can be exploited by manipulative parents to test the limits and find loopholes.

Use “I” Statements: Craft your boundaries using “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without sounding accusatory. For instance, say, “I feel uncomfortable when…” instead of “You always make me feel…”

Stick to Your Boundaries: Consistently enforce your established boundaries. Manipulative parents might initially push back, but your unwavering commitment to maintaining these boundaries will eventually garner respect.

By setting and upholding these boundaries, you are safeguarding your emotional well-being while establishing a framework for healthier interactions.

Developing Effective Communication Strategies

When dealing with manipulative parents, effective communication serves as the cornerstone of healthier interactions. Employing communication strategies that promote understanding and open dialogue can transform potentially volatile conversations into opportunities for growth.

Active Listening: Approach conversations with an intent to listen actively. By giving your parent the space to express themselves, you are displaying respect and fostering an environment of openness.

Avoiding Blame and Accusation: Frame your concerns without resorting to blame or accusation. Utilize non-confrontational language to prevent conversations from devolving into arguments.

Using Empathy to Defuse Tension: Strive to understand your parent’s perspective and validate their feelings, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. This empathetic approach can defuse potential conflicts and foster a more understanding atmosphere.

Effective communication is a learned skill that can greatly enhance your ability to navigate the complex landscape of manipulative parenting.

Building Emotional Resilience

Dealing with manipulative parents can undoubtedly take an emotional toll. To withstand the strain, it’s vital to actively cultivate emotional resilience.

Seek Support: Reach out to friends, mentors, or therapists who can provide a safe space to discuss your feelings and experiences. The act of sharing can offer validation and help you feel less isolated.

Practice Self-Care: Engage in activities that nurture your emotional well-being. Regular exercise, engaging hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones can help you recharge and build emotional strength.

Develop a Support Network: Surround yourself with individuals who uplift and support you. The positive energy and perspectives from your support network can serve as a counterbalance to the negative impact of manipulative behaviors.

By embracing these strategies, you are proactively nurturing your emotional well-being and fortifying yourself against the challenges presented by manipulative parenting.

Seeking Professional Help if Necessary

Recognize that there are instances where dealing with manipulative parents might necessitate professional intervention. Therapists or counselors well-versed in family dynamics can offer invaluable insights and equip you with tailored strategies to manage the situation effectively. Such situations include when such manipulation results to alienation, boundary violations, parental denial and isolation.

Detaching with Love

Detaching emotionally from manipulative parents doesn’t equate to severing ties or harboring negative feelings. Instead, it involves recognizing the need to prioritize your emotional health while maintaining a compassionate outlook.

Final Thoughts 

It’s heartbreaking to see a child being manipulated by a parent. When one notices these signs, it’s good to speak up. This saves a child from such acts and the associated long-term effects. The above-discussed signs of manipulative parents are the common ones, and they can easily be noticed after understanding what to look for in a parent-child relationship.

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