30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: Summary & Review

30 covert emotional manipulation tactics

30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics (2015) covers the manipulation tactics that sociopaths, psychopaths, and male abusers use to control women in intimate relationships.

Bullet Summary

  • Be aware of abnormally quick escalation of intimacy
  • A loving relationship doesn’t hurt you
  • If you feel worse off and your self-esteem is disappearing, seek support


Adelyn Birch begins with an important distinction: “normal” manipulation VS pathological manipulation.

We all play the game of trying to influence each other, but there is a significant difference between pathological manipulators. Pathological manipulators have no other way to relate to others and they cannot have a healthy and loving relationship.

Who Are The Manipulators

The author says that the most skilled and dangerous manipulators are part of the dark triad, such as psychopaths, narcissists, and Machiavellian personalities.

They have no empathy and manipulate others for their own personal gain without a single care for the consequences

The Signs You’re Being Manipulated

The author lists a few key signs to look for to understand whether or not you are being manipulated.

I interpret them and combine a few here:

  • The joy of love has transformed into fear of loss
  • Your happiness is entirely dependent on your relationship
  • You go from extreme highs to extreme lows
  • You are unhappy more often than not, but still fear of losing the relationship
  • Your relationship feels very complex, hard to explain
  • You feel like you are responsible for ruining the best thing that happened to you -you’re just not sure how-
  • The relationship becomes an obsession, you over-analyze it
  • You never know where you stand with your partner, making you anxious
  • You often ask your partner if something is wrong
  • You are often on the defensive, explaining yourself
  • You developed issues with trusting, jealousy and insecurity
  • You feel like you can’t make your partner happy anymore
  • You feel barred from expressing negative thoughts and emotions
  • Overall, you feel less confident, secure, intelligent.. You’ve gotten worse
  • You feel like falling short of your partner’s expectations 
  • At times you can lash out with anger 
  • You bend over backward to make your partner happy

The caveat is if all your relationships have had a similar pattern, in which case you might want to look at yourself first.

Manipulation Tactics

Here is a shortened list of the manipulation tacticts:

  • Intermittent Reinforcement 

Positive reinforcements, attention and rewards on an intermittent basis. 
This is the same dynamic that makes people addicted to gambling.

  • Negative Reinforcement 

Punishment or withdrawal when you do something the manipulator doesn’t like.

  • Intentionally Cause a Meltdown

The manipulator will back you into an emotional corner, cause you to meltdown and then accuse you of being crazy.

  • Shifting Focus

When you bring up an issue the manipulator will try to turn the tables on you. For example, asking how you can be so mistrusting, or how you dared to go through his personal information.

The focus will often shift to your negative traits, and the manipulator will make it clear how unattractive he finds them.

  • Premature Disclosures

Faking vulnerability by revealing personal information about themselves to create a false sense of intimacy.

  • Triangulation

Placing -or making up- a third person between you and them to make you jealous.
The author also quotes Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction here.

  • Playing Victim

Skilled manipulators blame the victim and/or pretend they are the victims.

  • Indirect Insults & Abuse

They undermine your confidence with advice, suggestion, or camouflaged offenses.
If you address it or take offense, the manipulator will deny any wrongdoing and possibly blame you for always twisting things.
Also read: how to stop people from undermining you.

  • Guilt Tripping

Making you feel guilty for not wanting to do something they want you to do.

You can see a real-life example of “guilt-tripping” that a woman used with me in this text:

an example of guilt tripping

And it was working.
I was feeling guilty, and also angry at the same time for the manipulation. People who are not aware of the game will only feel bad, without knowing why. And they might either comply or allow their whole day to be ruined because of the manipulation.

  • Shame

Manipulators express disgust or make unfavorable comparisons to make you feel ashamed of yourself.

  • Lies

Manipulators lie and pretend to have feelings they don’t really have.
They tell you exactly what you want to hear and they make promises they don’t intend to keep.

Deny ever having said or done something they obviously said or did.
If you feel like you need to record your conversations, chances are that you are a victim of crazymaking.

A highly recommended focus article on gaslighting and covert manipulation:

  • Minimizing

They pretend that something they did was inconsequential. And you can rest assured they will do the same action again in the future.

  • Withdrawal as Punishment

They withdraw emotionally as a form of punishment, also called silent treatment and stonewalling (my note: albeit stonewalling is not really the same).

  • Invalidation of Feelings

Invalidation consists of rejecting, minimizing, ignoring or even criticizing and making fun of someone’s feelings.

  • Superficial Charm

Manipulators have a superficial charm and charisma that hooks people in. But it’s a superficial layer hiding an empty shell.

  • Intentional Forgetting

Pretending to forget something important or something you cared about.

  • Traumatic One-Trial Learning

They establish dominance with an act of intense anger or aggression. The idea is to train you to avoid confrontation or touching certain topics the manipulator does not want to address.

  • Belittling

Belittle the victim’s opinions, actions, or achievements with sarcasm, criticism, or jokes.

  • Put You on The Defensive

The manipulator will oftentimes seek to create social dynamics where you are defending or explaining yourself.

  • Fear

The manipulator instills fear in you, with the biggest fear of being the state or unstated threat of ending the relationship.
The author says that since the person who creates fear is also the only one who can relieve it, we end up giving all the power away.

  • Pity Play

Manipulators take advantage of the fact that people with a conscience don’t want to see others suffer.
The pity play comes in handy when they have been caught red-handed, and for example, they will tell you their wife is destroying them and they can’t believe they’re not able to love again with you.

  • Justification & Rationalization

The manipulator makes up rational-sounding excuses for their bad behavior.
When you love and trust someone, the tendency is to try to understand them and explain their behavior away.
Manipulators use rationalization to help you do that.

  • Flattery

Flattery is not always obvious and can be hidden and disguised. 
For example, they can ask your opinion, or disagree at first and then come around, or complimenting you to a third party knowing it will get back to you.
It’s especially powerful when they flatter a quality you care about which is seldom noticed or appreciated: then you feel understood.

  • Love Bombing

Rapid pace of intimate escalation, lots of texts, calls, gifts, and endless attention. 

  • Trance & Hypnosis

Trance is highly pleasing and can be induced with music, candle-lights, dance, massage or slow sex.
Psychopaths, with their intense focus and stare, can help induce trance.
Also read:

Also see:

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

Beware of Emotional Highs and Lows

Adelyn Birch says that emotional highs and lows are addictive because the highs are fueled by dopamine, which induces euphoria.

During the lows, it’s not like we want to detach ourselves, but instead, we crave going back to the high.
And that keeps us hooked.

The author says that learning theorists found out that intermittent reinforcement of rewards alternated with punishment develops the strongest emotional bond.

Says Adelyn Birch:

Relationships based on intensity are actually the same as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Interaction with your partner fosters a specific pattern of compulsive behavior and is not really an intimate relationship at all: It’s an addiction, in the true sense of the word.

Since most manipulative relationships have more lows than highs and since the manipulative person is overall harmful, this is a trauma bond.

Watch out, because some of the most amoral and high-functioning psychopaths will use this purposefully to control you.
Please read this article on psychopaths’ strategies:

Psychopaths’ Sexual Strategy: Marauders of Sex

Also Read

Real-Life Applications

Watch Out for Power Imbalances
The author cites Dutton and Painter’s paper to make the point that powerful emotional attachment develops when there are intermittent good-bad behavior and a power imbalance.

30 covert emotional manipulation tactics


I loved “30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics”, and my cons are few and limited:

Some Overlap 
Some of these 30 Covert Manipulation Tactics overlap and could have been combined. 

I Wasn’t Sure About Some Statements
Sometimes I wasn’t totally convinced about what the authors claimed. For example, she says that in intermittent reinforcement the more infrequently love is offered, the more addictive it becomes. I’m not sure based on what she says that and that’s a very generic statement that says little and doesn’t hold true.

Dangerous Personalities?
I was very surprised the author recommends Joe Navarro’s “Dangerous Personalities“, since I found that book to be low-level pop-psychology and I actually recommend you skip it (on the other hand, I loved Joe Navarro’s What Every BODY Is Saying).


  • Brief and To The Point

Some reviewers complained the book is a bit too short. I could not disagree more. 
This is the book that people in an emotionally abusive relationship can pick and get their answers from in a matter of a couple of days.

  • Deep Wisdom

Even for a guy who has been studying and reading on psychology for quite a while, I still learned something new here. 
And I love that.


I really liked “30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics” and I learned a lot reading it.

Specifically, it helped me to deepen my understanding of emotional abuse and the dynamics of power in relationships.

I also loved the Birch’s presentation of invalidation as an emotionally harmful behavior and her analysis of bonding through intensity and intermittent reinforcement.

In short:
highly recommended.
Both to those who fear to be in an abusive relationship and to those who want to better understand psychology and relationships.

Check the:

7 Types of Abusive Men: a Psychological Analysis

or get the book on Amazon

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