100+ Tactics Used to Control, Manipulate, and Verbally Abuse

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As humans, we all have a need for some level of control. I see this everyday with my 4-year-old son. He wants to choose where he sits at the dinner table, what he eats, and even which parts of the meal he helps prepare. I also see this in myself as a parent, wanting some control over when naptime is, whether toys get cleaned up, and where my kids play with water.

Out of Control

This desire for some level of control is completely natural and normal. It can become an issue, however, when our need for control gets out of control (see what I did there...). When this happens, we may start using control tactics to manipulate the people around us, even the people we love most. 

The crazy thing is that the person being controlling usually doesn’t know they are being manipulative and the person being manipulated usually doesn’t know they are being controlled. Manipulation is extremely common, so I think it is important for every person to be able to recognize control tactics so that they can avoid using them and avoid being controlled by them.

I searched high and low to put together this comprehensive list of control tactics, and doing so was extremely helpful for me. I’m getting better at catching myself when I might use one of these tactics on my spouse, my toddlers, or even myself (through self-talk). I’m also getting better at noticing when people use them on me, helping me avoid being controlled by them. 

How to Use This List

If you look through this list and notice that you or someone you love occasionally uses some of these tactics, don’t be alarmed. It would be wise to make a conscious effort to avoid using them from now on, but everyone uses them every now and then. Remember, everyone has a need for control, and sometimes we resort to unhealthy methods to obtain it (See "How Nonviolent Communication Completely Transformed My Relationships").

However, if you notice that you use them all the time and you have a hard time avoiding them, you may want to seek help from a therapist. They will be able to help you heal from past trauma that may have increased your need for control above a healthy level. 

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And lastly, if you notice someone you love uses these tactics often and they seem unwilling to get help, you may need to set some boundaries between yourself and that person. No one has the right to manipulate you, no matter what their relationship is to you (spouse, parent, child, best friend, etc). Protecting your mental health and sanity is more important than anything.

Watch Out for the FOG

Control tactics work by creating Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG). And once you are in the fog, Confusion sets in. I’m confident that if you can see control tactics for what they are and put a name to them when they are being used on you, you can cut through the fog and find your way out. For this reason, I went to work creating this comprehensive list of control tactics, organized into four categories:

  1. Fear
  2. Obligation
  3. Guilt
  4. Confusion 



Sarcasm is when someone says the opposite of what they actually mean in an effort to criticize or poke fun.


  • Someone notices you taking a break at work, and remarks, “Somebody’s workin’ hard.”
  • Your spouse notices that your socks are on the floor again, “Oh wow, your socks are on the floor again. What a surprise!”
  • Someone disagrees with your idea and says, “Great idea, Einstein!”

Gossiping/Smear Campaigns/Character Assassination

Gossiping is when someone shares negative and/or personal information with anyone who also has a personal relationship with you.


  • Your parent talks to your siblings about how she disapproves of your personal life decisions.
  • Your partner tells one of your mutual friends about mistakes you’ve made.
  • Your grandparent tells your parents about your personal life decisions that she disapproves of.


Public Sharing is when someone shares your personal information in a public setting.


  • Your parent posts pictures of you on social media without your permission.
  • You send your friend a private message and they share a screenshot of it in a separate group chat.
  • Your parent tells an embarrassing story about you at a family gathering.


Triangulation is when someone seeks to control the communication between two parties, making themselves an intermediary, creating a triangle. This triangle can also be created when someone seeks to communicate with you through a third party.


  • Your parents say negative things about you to one of your siblings. Your sibling relays what they said back to you, and when you share negative things about your parents with them, they relay that information back to your parents. Now, your sibling is in control of the flow of information between you and your parents.
  • Your parents are divorced and one parent wants you to relay sensitive information to your other parent.
  • Your parents tell you what they’d like your spouse to do differently. They expect you to relay this information to your spouse.

Crossing Boundaries

Crossing Boundaries is when someone disrespects personal boundaries that are either implied or made explicitly clear.


  • Your employer asks you about your sex life.
  • You’ve asked your parents not to visit your home without giving you advanced notice, and they come over unannounced.
  • You’ve asked your friend not to talk about a sensitive topic with you, and they bring it up again.

Physical Abuse

Physical Abuse is an example of Crossing Boundaries in which someone disrespects physical boundaries. This may include violence, restraint, non-consensual touching, or non-consensual sexual acts.


  • Your partner tickles you even after you’ve asked them to stop.
  • Your partner locks you in the bathroom.
  • Your employer puts their hand on your shoulder.

Physical Intimidation

Physical Intimidation is when someone physically threatens you.


  • Your partner stands up and towers over you during an argument.
  • Someone makes a fist, implying that they will hurt you if you make a wrong move.
  • Your partner’s parent polishes their gun every time you visit their home.
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Privacy Invasion

Privacy Invasion is when someone crosses your boundaries and invades your personal space or things. 


  • Someone looks through your phone, reading your text messages.
  • Someone reads your personal journal.
  • Someone enters your room without knocking.

Non-Consensual Recording

Non-Consensual Recording is a form of Privacy Invasion in which someone captures, records, or takes pictures of you or your personal things without your permission.


  • Someone takes pictures of you or your children without your permission.
  • Someone records a private video call between you and them without your permission.
  • Someone takes pictures of your property without your permission.

Petty Theft

Petty Theft is a less-obvious form of stealing in which someone takes or borrows your personal belongings without asking.


  • Your spouse uses your tools without asking and doesn't put them away after.
  • You are storing some of your things at your parents' house and they donate some of them.
  • You are out to dinner with your spouse and they take a bite out of your dessert without asking.


Interrogating is a form of privacy invasion in which someone asks you personal questions in an attempt to gain personal information, which they could later use against you. Asking questions can also be used to distract you or put you on the defensive.


  • “What were you doing yesterday? Who were you with? What time did you get back?”
  • “How are things going with your husband? Is he treating you well?”
  • “How were you able to afford that car? Did you have to take out a loan?”


Stalking is when someone follows or spies on you.


  • After going on a first date with someone, they show up during your lunch break at work with chocolates even though you never told them where you work.
  • After breaking up with someone, they leave flowers on your car windshield. You feel scared that they know how to find you.
  • Even after blocking someone on Facebook, they leave comments on your public Facebook posts. 


Monitoring is when someone monitors your activity, location, or behavior.


  • Your partner pressures you into allowing them to track the location of your phone so they know where you are at all times.
  • Your partner installs security cameras in areas of the house that seem unnecessary for preventing intruders.
  • Your parent calls and texts you all the time to see what you’re up to.


Overprotection is when someone dissuades you from doing something under the guise of trying to keep you safe.


  • Your partner refuses to let you leave the apartment by yourself. They say, “What if you get raped?!”
  • Your partner dissuades you from playing a sport or doing a certain physical activity because they say it is too dangerous.
  • Your parent can’t get a hold of you while you are out with your friends, so she freaks out and starts contacting your friends in an effort to get a hold of you to “make sure you’re okay.”


Abusive Anger is when someone emotionally goes off on you or says something hurtful in a very angry-sounding way. It may or may not include yelling. What they say is emotionally charged and attacking you as a person.


Fast Talking is when someone overwhelms you with a rapid-fire series of questions, accusations, and/or assertions without giving you a chance to respond or even process it all.


  • “How dare you question me? I’ve given you everything you have. Do you think you could have survived without my help? I’ve accomplished more in the last week than you have in a year. Who would you be without me? You think your friends would lift a finger if you really needed it? You’re often so wrong you don’t even realize it. I’m surprised you’ve managed to survive this long...”1


Dehumanizing is when someone treats you or those who disagree with them like they are inferior, crazy, or otherwise messed up.


  • “Maybe you need to go to the hospital. You might be losing your mind.”
  • “Those [insert your favorite politician here] supporters are all crazy. They’re just a bunch of selfish brats who only care about themselves.”
  • “I’ll never understand you. It’s like you are from another planet or something.”

Home Court

Home Court is when someone insists on meeting in a location more conducive to their exercising control over you. 


  • You ask your parent if they’d be willing to chat about a sensitive issue, and they will only agree if the chat happens at their house while no one else is around.
  • Your boss invites you into their office to chat after the workday is over and everyone else has gone home.

Time Dominance

Time Dominance is when someone controls the length of a meeting to their advantage, making it too long to tire you out or too short so that you don’t have enough time to say your share.


  • You set aside time to talk with your parent, and when the time comes they let you know that they only have a few minutes so you’ll need to make it quick.
  • Your partner brings up a sensitive issue with you, and after talking about it for a while, you ask if you can have a few days to think about it. Your partner refuses to leave the conversation without reaching a resolution no matter how long it takes.

Making You Wait

Making You Wait is when someone makes you wait for them, implying that your time isn’t as important as theirs.

Putting You on the Spot

Putting You On the Spot is when someone puts you on the spot, either by forcing you into a hard conversation without giving you time to prepare or by asking you a question in front of a group of people.


Catastrophizing is when someone makes a catastrophe out of something minor. 


  • You ask your partner politely to put their socks in the hamper instead of leaving them on the floor. They respond with, “What are you? My mother? Why do you have to boss me around all the time!?”
  • Your husband accidentally burns dinner, and he says, “I’m such a terrible husband. I can’t do anything right. Why don’t you just leave me for someone else. I’m so useless.”


Punishment is when someone purposefully causes you suffering to make you pay for a previous mistake.


Making threats is when someone threatens to withhold something from you or do something that would cause you harm. When someone threatens to share sensitive information about you, it is known as blackmail.


  • “If you do that, don’t expect us to help pay for your plane ticket.”
  • “If that’s the way you feel, then I guess you won’t mind me taking my television back.”
  • “If you do that, don’t expect me to help you out ever again.”

Negative Predictions

Negative Predictions is when someone predicts a bad outcome for you as a kind of warning against the behavior they currently don't like.


  • "Someday you will realize I'm the only one who truly cared about you."
  • "If you keep this up, you'll regret it someday. Mark my words."
  • "Don't come running to me when you end up all alone and afraid."


The Slippery Slope is when someone invokes fear by suggesting that a small problem will lead to a monumental one.


  • “If I do this for you, you will think you can get whatever you want from me. I’ll become your slave and have no life.”2
  • “If you have your own personal Facebook account, you’ll start chatting with someone, and then you’ll have an affair!”
  • “If you study history in college, you’ll end up in a dead-end job, and then you’ll end up as a homeless drug addict!”


Bribery is when someone offers you something you want if you’ll comply with their wishes.


  • Your parent promises to pay off your student loans if you enroll in the major they want you to have.
  • Your friend offers you $1,000 if you won’t tell anyone about their illegal activities.
  • Your parent offers you a new car if you’ll break up with your current partner.


Undermining is when someone secretly works to sabotage your goals/hopes.


  • In an effort to discourage you from starting a new business, your partner sets up a dinner with some friends whose business is failing.
  • Your parent doesn’t want you to marry your current love interest, so they start telling your love interest negative things about you behind your back.
  • In the movie Tangled, Rapunzel’s Mom hires two henchmen to paint Rapunzel’s love interest as a bad guy.
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Spiritual Legalism

Spiritual Legalism is when someone states or implies that you must behave in a certain way in order to be clean before God.


  • “God is not happy with you right now.”
  • “If you don’t stop drinking coffee, you won’t be able to go to heaven with me.”
  • “Want to go to hell? Go ahead then!”



Entitlement is when someone implicitly or explicitly expresses the belief that they have a right to something from you.


  • “If you loved me, you would…”
  • “I deserve to...”
  • “You need to let me…”

Abuse of Power

Abuse of Power is when someone uses their position of authority to their advantage, putting pressure on you to comply with their wishes.


  • Your therapist uses the emotional connection with you to their advantage, eventually asking you for sexual favors.
  • Your supervisor at work asks you for a personal favor.
  • A local church leader asks you for sexaul favors.

Title Intimidation

Title intimidation is an example of Abuse of Power in which someone uses their title to intimidate you into compliance.


  • Your husband asks you to make dinner. When you say you are too tired and need a break, he says something like, “I am the man of this house. You need to start giving me the respect I deserve.”
  • You ask your supervisor at work if you can share your opinion on the direction your current project is going, and he replies with something like, “Look, I’m in charge here. Just shut up and do as you’re told and maybe someday you’ll be a supervisor like me.”
  • Your mom asks you to do something, and when you ask why, she simply says, “Because I AM YOUR MOTHER!”
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Condescension is when someone acts superior to you. This may include talking about you in third-person as if you are not in the room, offering unsolicited advice, not being open to hearing how their actions affected you, talking over you, etc. It may also be non-verbal, such as eye rolling, smirking, glaring, or any other condescending facial expression.


  • “Ugh, when will you just grow up?”
  • “Seriously? Why would anyone in their right mind do something like that?”

Conversation Domination

Conversation Domination is a form of Condescension in which someone interrupts, speaks over, or speaks for you.


  • You are having a discussion with your friends and while you are sharing your point of view, one of your friends interrupts what you are saying with their opinion.
  • When your family gets together, your mom does all the talking, making it difficult for anyone else to talk. She talks in a way that their is no pause for other people to get a word in.
  • You and your spouse are having a conversation with another couple. When they ask you a question, your spouse jumps in and answers for you.

Unsolicited Advice

Unsolicited Advice is a form of Condescension in which someone gives you advice that you did not ask for or give permission for them to offer.

Sneaky Advice

Sneaky Advice is a form of Unsolicited Advice in which someone gives you advice that you did not ask for in an indirect way.


  • Your parent is talking about something someone else did, making comments about how what they did was right/wrong. Even though they are talking about someone else, their purpose in mentioning it is to affect your behavior.
  • Your friend heard from another friend that you've been feeling depressed lately. During a conversation they try to naturally sneak in tips about what makes them feel happy.
  • Your partner notices that you are gaining weight. They randomly send you an email sharing an article with you about eating healthy, saying, "Interesting article. I thought you might like it."


Pity is an example of Condescension in which someone consoles you in a demeaning way.


  • "Ohhhh... You poor thing..."
  • "Wow. It must be so hard being you."
  • "Oh... Look at you... You're such a mess..."

Ordering (aka Making Demands)

Ordering is when someone asks or strongly encourages you to do something and expects you to do it. To the person making the demand, no excuse is valid for not doing what was asked.


  • “Go get me some sugar.”
  • “Come sit over here… C’mon, sit over here...”
  • “Grab me a soda… Where’s my soda?!”

Wearing Down

Wearing Down is when someone tires you out until you give into their demand out of exhaustion.


  • Your partner brings up a sensitive topic with you right before bed. They won't stop the conversation until you've agreed to their point of view on the subject.
  • Every week your parent visits your house and rearranges the furniture the way they like it. You've told them several times not to do it, but they do it anyways. Eventually, you just give in to avoid the conflict.
  • In Dr. Seuss's children's book "Green Eggs and Ham," Sam-I-Am asks the narrator over and over again if he will eat green eggs and ham. The narrator eventually gives in on the condition that Sam-I-Am will leave him alone afterwards.
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Excessive Gifting

Excessive Gifting is when someone helps you out with your finances or showers you in gifts. They may do this so that they can hold it over your head later, or their gifts may be a method of controlling your personal decisions.


  • Your parents pay for your college education, and then make strict behavioral stipulations about where you go to college, the type of degree you can get, how you spend your free time, etc.
  • Your partner buys you a new car, and later when you bring up an issue in the relationship, he/she says something like, “Are you kidding me? How can you be unhappy? I bought you a car for heaven’s sake!”
  • Your parent buys you clothes on every special occasion, making you feel obligated to wear only the clothes that they want you to wear.

Love Bombing

Love Bombing is when someone goes over the top with affection in the early stages of a relationship in order to win you over. 


  • Your love interest of just two weeks buys you a new car.
  • A new love interest is constantly buying you flowers, sending you romantic texts, and taking you to fancy dinners. 
  • Your new friend invites you on an expensive vacation out of the blue.


Hoovering is when someone goes over the top with affection when they realize the relationship is falling apart.


  • Your partner can tell that you are about to break up with them, so they book an expensive vacation to Hawaii.
  • You go “no-contact” with someone, and they invite you to spend the day with them, offering to do whatever you want the entire day.
  • You are about to file for divorce and then your previously-abusive spouse promises to change and starts going out of their way to please you and act extra nice.


Exploitation is when someone uses you for their own gain without any consideration for your needs.


  • Someone invites you to their high school reunion so that they can flaunt you in front of their ex.
  • Your mom makes you change your clothes for the family photo because she wants it to be perfect for her Facebook post.
  • Someone tells you a sob story while asking you for money that they have no intentions of paying back.


Isolation is when you prevent someone from having outside relationships or support systems. It may also include isolating someone from outside information or financial resources.


  • Your spouse trash talks your friends and tells you that they don’t want you hanging out with them.
  • Your spouse refuses to let you meet with a therapist.
  • Your parent intervenes in your love relationships, scaring away your potential boyfriends/girlfriends.

Inappropriate Restriction

Inappropriate Restriction is when someone refuses to let you do something that shouldn’t be forbidden.


  • Your partner refuses to let you go to a party because she knows that someone who has a crush on you is going to be there.
  • Your parent puts restrictions on you even though you are a grown adult no longer living in their home.
  • Your partner refuses to let you attend a church of a different faith than their own.
  • Your partner refuses to let you get a job. 

Toxic Delegation

Toxic Delegation is when someone asks for your help with something and then criticizes how you performed the task.


  • Your parent asks you to help cut tomatoes for a salad. Afterwards, they yell at you for cutting them lengthwise instead of into quarters.
  • You partner asks you to help put stamps on envelopes. They get angry at you for putting some of the stamps on a little crooked.

Making Public Requests (aka Using the Cover of Other People)

Making Public Requests is when someone asks you to do something that you’d normally say no to, but you feel pressured to say yes since they asked you in front of other people.


  • A cashier asks you outloud in the checkout line if you are willing to make a donation.
  • Your teacher asks you in front of the other students if you will stay after class.
  • Someone asks you to sign their petition while you are walking down the street with your friends.

Pre-Consensual Decision Making

Pre-Consensual Decision Making is when someone starts moving forward with their choice before getting consent from everyone involved in a decision. This puts pressure on everyone to go along with it since an investment has already been made in that choice.


  • Your parent buys a plane ticket for you to come home for Christmas before discussing it with you. Now you feel obligated to use the plane ticket so your parent doesn't lose money on it.
  • Your partner spends several hours researching a new television. You don't really want to spend money on a new television, but you feel pressure to do so now that your partner already spent so much of their time looking into it.
  • Your family has plans to go out to eat. One of your siblings makes a reservation at their favorite restaurant before discussing it with the rest of the family. Now everyone feels pressured into going there since your sibling already spent their time reserving it.

Just Enough

Just Enough is when someone finally does a small part of what you asked them to do just before you were going to enforce a consequence.


  • You are about to evict an unpaying tenant, and at the last minute they pay half of what is due.
  • You asked your spouse to stop seeing an extramarital love interest, and just before you go file for divorce, they agree to stop sleeping with them, but they continue to flirt with them.



Name-calling/labelling is when someone calls you negative names (i.e. “loser”) or adjectives (i.e. “annoying”, “rude”, “lazy”, “disrespectful”, “uncaring”, “sensitive”).


  • “How did I end up married to such a loser?”
  • “You are such a rude daughter sometimes.”
  • “You’re too sensitive.”

Blaming (aka Accusing)

Blaming is when someone accuses you of doing something or telling you that it is all your fault for an issue/concern that exists.


  • “You did this to me!”
  • “This is all your fault.”
  • “You made me do it.”

Shifting the Blame

Shifting the blame is when someone puts the blame on you or someone else when you confront them about an issue.


  • “I wouldn’t have been late if you would have sent me a reminder text.”
  • “I wouldn’t feel the need to do things like that if your father would just act more responsibly.”
  • “If you weren’t making me mad all the time, I wouldn’t need to yell at you.”

You Too-ing (aka Tu Quoque)

You Too-ing is when someone suggests that you are just as guilty as they are.


  • “How dare you accuse me of being selfish. You’re just trying to make yourself look good by making me look bad. It doesn’t get any more selfish than that.”3


Projecting is an example of blaming in which someone projects their mistakes, behaviors, faults, or feelings onto you.


  • Your spouse makes most of the important family decisions. When you express your opinion about an upcoming decision, he/she says something like, “you are always trying to control important family decisions!”
  • You ask your parent to stop yelling at you, and they say, “you really hate me, don’t you?”
  • Your spouse has really low self-esteem. You generally give them compliments, but when you give them one piece of constructive feedback, they say something like, “you think I’m worthless, don’t you?”
  • This video provides a funny example of projecting. The old lady keeps telling everyone else to calm down when she's the one who needs to calm down.

Abusive Jokes or Gifts

Abusive jokes are said and abusive gifts are given in an attempt to cause you emotional harm. They are especially painful when done in front of other people since they are disguised to be innocent to the third-party observer. You do not find them funny at all, and when you call out the person responsible, they may say something like “You just don’t have a sense of humor!,” “You just can’t take a joke!,” "You are too sensitive," or "You are looking too far into it."


  • “She can’t find her way to the grocery store without a GPS.”
  • “He can’t remember anything; he has sticky notes everywhere.”
  • Your partner gives you a book on the topic of household organization, something they’ve criticized you about in the past.


Judging is when someone explicitly or implicitly expresses that they do not accept you as you are. Judging is often seen when someone expresses disapproval of a decision you made or are planning to make. You may also sense that you are being judged when someone is trying to give you advice or diagnose you with something. In essence, they are acting as if there is something wrong with you.


  • “You are going to wear that?”
  • “Why would you put that picture on that wall?”
  • “You actually believe that? Wow.”

Playing the Victim

Playing the Victim is when someone displays a "poor-me" attitude, suggesting that they are the victim in order to play on your sympathies to get what they want.


  • “You make me feel like a terrible human being.”
  • “I never do anything right.”
  • “You’ve ruined my life.”

Public Humiliation (aka Public Shaming)

Public Shaming is when someone shares embarrassing, shameful, revealing, or personal information/stories about you in front of other people.


  • Someone shares a story with everyone about how your pants fell down.
  • Someone reprimands or criticizes you in front of other people.
  • Someone brings up your mental illness in front of people who never even knew about it.

Passive Aggression

Passive aggression is when someone seeks to emotionally hurt you in a roundabout way.


  • Someone casually brings up a story about how people who leave the church become worse when they know you don’t go to church anymore.
  • Someone casually inserts an emotionally sensitive topic into a conversation to get a reaction out of you.
  • Someone posts about an issue they have with you on Facebook without mentioning your name specifically, but you know it is about you.

Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment is when someone gives you the cold shoulder or avoids contact with you as a means to get what they want or cause shame. The silent treatment should not be confused with going “no contact” with someone. If you are avoiding contact with someone in order to protect yourself from an emotionally abusive person, you should not feel guilty about doing so.


  • You are having a conversation with someone and they go completely silent.
  • You share something you are excited about with someone and they don’t respond.
  • You tell someone how their action hurt your feelings and instead of responding, they walk away and ignore you for several days thereafter.


Correcting is when someone corrects something you believe, say, or do. 


  • “You should have said ‘further’ not ‘farther’”
  • “Keep your elbows off the table. It’s more polite.”
  • “You need to smile more when we are around my friends.”


Comparing is when someone makes a comparison that is hurtful, shaming, or controlling of you.


  • “You don’t spend as much time with us as your brother and his wife do.”
  • “Gary’s wife allows him to play golf on the weekend. Why can’t you be more like her?”
  • “Michelle’s children allow her to come over unannounced, why won’t you?”


One-upping is when you share something you've accomplished or experienced and someone then shares something that was just as good or better that what you shared.


  • "You think you have it rough? When I was your age, I was living on the streets, working two jobs."
  • "That's nothing, wait 'til you hear what happened to me..."
  • "I'm so sorry to hear that your parents didn't give you very much attention when you were a child. I know exactly how you feel because my alcoholic parents were never around, but when they were they'd yell and hit me until I was out cold."


Scapegoating is when someone blames one person for a group’s problems.


  • Your parent says to you, “You’re the reason this entire family is a mess.”4
  • Your spouse says something like, “If you wouldn’t have been so lenient with the kids growing up, maybe they wouldn’t be so lazy.”


Should-ing is when someone tells you that you “should have” done something in the past or you “should” do something in the future.


  • “You should have picked up cheese when you were at the grocery store. We’re all out.”
  • “You should have known better than to tell my parents that.”
  • “You should spend more time with us.”

Guilt Tripping

Guilt Tripping is when someone seeks to make you feel guilty about something.


  • “If you loved me, you would have been home 5 minutes ago.”
  • You tell your mom that you need to move to another state, and she responds by saying, “Well, I guess I’ll just die alone then…”

Bringing Up Past Mistakes

Bringing Up Past Mistakes is an example of Guilt Tripping in which someone reminds you of something you did wrong in the past.


  • “You are always criticizing me. You never compliment the dinners I cook, do your share of the chores, or help watch the kids. And let’s not forget the time that you told your mother that you like her cooking better than mine.”
  • “You never listen to my input. When we bought the house, we got the house you wanted. When we bought a new car, you got to choose which one we got. When are you ever going to start listening to me?!”

Bringing Up Past Contributions

Bringing Up Past Contributions is an example of Guilt Tripping in which someone reminds you of favors they performed for you in the past.


  • “We bought you a brand new car, and how do you repay us? By crashing it into the garage door. Don’t expect us to get you anything nice in the future.”
  • “I gave birth to you. The least you can do is call me every now and then.”
  • “I’ve tried so hard to be a good spouse. I’ve never complained about your driving. I’ve cooked dinner every night for years. And I’ve done the budgeting year in, year out. And after all I’ve done for you, you just complain, complain, complain.”


Nagging is when someone reminds you to do something over and over and over again.

Expecting Mind Reading

Expecting Mind Reading is when someone acts as if you should know what they are/were thinking.


  • “You should have gotten more of my favorite granola bars from the store because I just ran out.”
  • “Why didn’t you hang out with me at the party? I wanted you to spend the evening with me, not your friends.”

Making Assumptions

Making Assumptions is when someone acts as if they know what you are thinking/intending.


  • “You didn’t come to the party because you knew I needed your help. You purposefully deserted me.”
  • “Ever since meeting me, you’ve made it your goal to ruin my life.”
  • “I thought for sure you’d want to come on this vacation with me, so I went ahead and bought a ticket for you.”


Gaslighting (aka Confusion)

Gaslighting is when someone uses tactics aimed at getting you to question your own sanity.


  • You tell your partner that you are feeling hot, and they respond, “What are you talking about? It’s cold in here.”
  • Your partner asks you to pass them the ketchup. When you do, they respond angrily, “I asked you for the mustard. What’s wrong with you?!”
  • Your partner has told you several times that they love Chinese food. When you suggest going out to get Chinese food, they say, “I’m not really into Chinese food. How about Italian?”
  • In Spongebob, Bubble Bass orders a Krabby Patty, and insists that Spongebob forgot the pickles. This causes Spongebob to lose his mind until he realizes that Bubble Bass is just hiding the pickles under his tongue.5
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Defining (aka Playing God)

Defining is when someone defines your internal reality such as your motives, needs, feelings, and even very nature in their own terms.


  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “You just want to be right.”
  • “You feel like it has to be more complicated than it needs to be.”


Diverting is when someone leads an important conversation away from what you want/need to talk about.


Blocking is when someone avoids/prevents an important conversation in an effort to maintain control over you.


  • “Sorry, can’t talk right now, I’m heading to the store.”
  • “Everything’s fine. There’s nothing to talk about.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about it.”


Denial is when someone denies (or “forgets”) doing something that they actually did.


  • “It wasn’t meant as a joke. I seriously thought you’d enjoy that gift.”
  • “I never said that.”
  • “I don’t know where you got that.”

Rewriting History (aka Whitewashing)

Rewriting History is when someone rewrites how events occurred to their advantage.


  • You saw your husband flirting with someone, and when you confront him about it he says, “I was flirting with her? You must be remembering it wrong. She was flirting with me, and I was just trying to escape.”
  • Your parent physically abused you during which you shouted at them over and over again, “Stop! You’re hurting me!”. After the event, your parent excuses their behavior by saying, “If you would have just told me that you were in pain, I would have stopped.”


Withholding is when someone keeps something from you that you should have. Examples include financial withholding, informational withholding, emotional/sexual withholding, etc.


  • Your spouse does all the budgeting, and they keep you purposefully uninformed of your financial situation. This allows them to make all the important joint financial decisions.
  • Your spouse wants to switch jobs, which will require moving to a new state. He/she purposefully avoids telling you negative information about the area you will be moving to so that you’ll just go along with it.
  • Your partner refuses to have sex with you until you agree to let them buy a new bigscreen TV.

Countering (aka Opposing)

Countering is when someone argues against almost anything you say. An effective conversation is impossible because they are effectively saying “no” to everything.


  • “You’re wrong. Batman would totally beat Superman in a fight.”
  • “How can you think that? Pink never looks good with brown. Ever.”
  • “No. Universal Healthcare would be a huge disaster. It would never work.”


Lying is when someone tells you something that isn’t true or purposefully omits true information.

Empty Promises

Making Empty Promises is a form of lying in which someone promises to do something with no intention to actually do it.

Social Circle Manipulation

Social Circle Manipulation is when someone manipulates the people you know, controlling your social circle. Because the abuser is pulling the strings, the victim is left confused as to which of their social experiences are fake and which are actually genuine.


  • Your partner tells one of your close friends that you don't actually like them (i.e. lying). Your friend stops talking to you because of this, and you are left feeling sad and confused.
  • Your parent chooses which friends you are allowed to hang out with as a mature teenager. They do everything they can to scare away the friends they don't like.
  • You just moved to a new town, and another kid your age visits your house. Your parent tells them that you are lonely and having a hard time making friends, so it would mean a lot if they'd invite you over to their house. It may seem like a kind gesture, but it shares sensitive information about you behind your back (i.e. gossip), and if your new friend does invite you over, you are left wondering if they actually want to be friends or if they just feel sorry for you.
  • In movie The Truman Show, Truman grows up on television, never knowing that everyone around him are paid actors. The show's creator tells key people in his life what to say and do in order to keep the façade going. Even Truman's "best friend" lies to his face, all at the command of the show's creator. This is an extreme, yet poignant, example of how damaging social circle manipulation can be.
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Pseudomutuality is when problems are solved by simply ignoring them. It is commonly seen in families where everyone simply puts on a happy face and pretends nothing is wrong.

Image Management

Image Management is when an abuser manages their public image excessively in order to appear completely normal to outsiders.


Bandwagoning is when someone tries to get as many followers, both on social media and in real life, as possible. This gives them a false sense of validation.


  • You bring up an issue with your parent and they say something like, “Why does everyone like me except you?”
  • You bring up an issue with your spouse, and they say something like, “None of our friends or family would ever believe you. Everyone thinks I’m a wonderful person.”
  • You bring up an issue with a business, and they simply ignore it, thinking they are too big to fail so they don’t need to help you.

Black-and-White Thinking (aka Dichotomous Thinking)

Black-and-White Thinking is when someone only thinks in terms of right vs. wrong, leaving little room for opposing opinions or viewpoints.


  • Your parents are die-hard liberals, and they view Republicans as being completely wrong in every possible way, saying things like, “Republicans are brainwashed, cult-following extremists.”
  • Your love interest says something like, “Parents who put their children in timeouts are brutal nazis. How can they sleep at night knowing they are torturing their own flesh and blood?”
  • One of your partner’s friends is late to their birthday party, and your partner refuses to ever speak to them again, referring to them as a traitor.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

Shifting the Burden of Proof is when someone makes a claim and then requires you to refute it with proof, saying something like, "I'm right. What I say stands until YOU can prove otherwise."


Incredulity is when someone overreacts to something in order to make it sound outrageous. They may say something like, "Seriously? You actually believe that? That would never happen in a million years."


  • You confront your spouse about staying out late with someone, and they respond by saying, “You think I would have an affair?! Never in a million years!”
  • You hear that someone has been speaking ill of you behind your back, and when you confront them about it they respond with, “You think I would ever say anything negative about you?! Are you crazy!?”
  • Your partner makes a sarcastic remark about a past issue that you felt was resolved. When you ask them about it, they say something like, “You think I’m still upset about it? Of course not. I always forgive and forget.”

False Compromise

A False Compromise is when someone offers to make a “compromise” that treats you unfairly.


  • You don’t want your kids to have any screen time while being babysat, and your parent responds, “Sure, let’s make a compromise. Instead of 2 hours of TV, I’ll limit it to just 1. It’s only fair.”
  • You lent your friend $100, and instead of paying you back the full $100, they say something like, “Okay, you win, I’ll pay you back $50 of the $100 you gave me and we’ll call it even. Hey, it’s better than nothing.”6
  • You confront your spouse about their drug use, and they respond, “Alright, fine. I’ll give up cocaine but I get to drink as much alcohol as I want. Sound fair?”

Quoting Out of Context

Quoting Out of Context is when someone twists your words around to their own advantage.


  • “You always said people have to take responsibility for themselves so I didn’t think you needed my help when you had to go to the ER.”7

False Equivalences

False Equivalences is when someone tries to equate vastly different situations to their advantage.


  • You ask your partner if they are having an affair, and they respond by saying, “Yes, but I wouldn’t have needed to if you weren’t looking at pornography all the time!”
  • Your parent empties your bank account and rationalizes it by saying, “Yes, I emptied your account. But don’t forget, you once stole a dollar from your younger brother when you were six.”8

Lesser of Two Evils

Lesser of Two Evils is when someone only gives you two undesirable options in an effort to make their behavior seem more acceptable.


  • Your spouse says to you, “Look, you can either let me look at porn or have an affair. Which would you rather have?”
  • Your parent says to you, “Yes, you were hit as a child when you misbehaved. Would you rather have been sexually abused? Count your blessings.”9

Minimizing (aka Discounting)

Minimizing is when someone devalues your thoughts, emotions, or memories as if they were worth little to nothing.


  • “You are getting upset over nothing.”
  • “What? That hurt your feelings? Really?”
  • “You’re too sensitive. That was nothing.”


Exaggerating is a form of deception in which someone magnifies what happened out of proportion.


  • “You are the worst at making me feel loved.”
  • “This is the worst relationship I’ve ever had with anyone in my life.”
  • “This is the worst day of my life.”


Generalizing is a type of exaggerating in which someone says that something always or never happens instead of citing specific instances.


  • "You never invite me to anything."
  • “You’re always late to everything.”
  • “You never pick up the phone when I call.”

Abusing Truisms

Abusing Truisms is when someone uses truisms (general statements that are hard to refute) to their advantage.


  • You confront your partner for cheating on you, and they respond with “Everybody makes mistakes.”
  • Your parent is going through a hard time, and they are treating everyone around them poorly. You express your frustration with how they are treating you, and they respond by saying, “Don’t kick someone when they’re down.”
  • Your partner physically abuses you, and when you confront them they say, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

The Chain of Yes

The Chain of Yes is when someone asks you questions that they know you will respond yes to, creating a chain of yeses. The more times they can get you to say yes, the harder it will be for you to say no when they finally ask you to say yes to an unfavorable request.


False Flattery is when someone gives you compliments and praise that they don't really mean.


  • After yelling at you and telling you what an awful child you are, your parent tells you, “I love you so much. You are so wonderful.” You know your parent doesn’t mean it and the conflict remains unresolved.
  • You are dating someone who compliments and praises you often. After several months, however, the compliments die down as abusive behavior begins. You feel like you were baited into an abusive relationship.
  • Your spouse compliments you often, but then you later find out from a friend that your spouse has been saying negative things about you behind your back on a regular basis. You no longer know what to think about all the praise they’ve been giving you.

Backhanded Compliment

Backhanded Compliment is when someone insults you in the form of a compliment.


  • “You’re very smart for someone who never finished college.”
  • "You're amazing for going back to work. I could never let a stranger watch my kids!"
  • "You're so independent — it's no wonder you haven't found anyone yet."

Ransoming Back

Ransoming Back is when someone borrows or takes something from you and then requests something from you in order to have that thing back.


  • You’ve left some of your important personal items at your ex’s house. You ask for them back, but they require you to do something for them in exchange.
  • Your partner comes into the room where you are working and starts listening to loud music. You ask them to turn it off, and they agree to if you will do something in exchange.

Moving Forward

Finding Healing

If you've been on the receiving end of emotional abuse, some of these examples may have been extremely triggering for you. If it is hard to work through the pain on your own, I'd encourage you to reach out to a therapist for help in healing from the past trauma you've experienced. 

If working through it on your own feels within reach, I'd recommend writing down your own experiences using Nonviolent Communication as a guide. Nonviolent Communication can help you see each experience for what it was and help you work through the pain. This has been extremely helpful for me on my path towards healing.

Action Item

Read my article "How Nonviolent Communication Completely Transformed My Relationships" and write down the observations, feelings, and unmet needs for each abusive experience.

Improving Your Communication Patterns

I think it is important to remember that, as humans, we all do some of the things on this list from time to time. If you noticed that you use them all the time, however, and you have a hard time avoiding them, you may want to seek help from a therapist. They will be able to help you heal from past trauma that may have increased your need for control above a healthy level.  

If you noticed that you are guilty of some of these things from time to time, that's okay. The key is to become aware of it, and find something to replace it with. This is another instance in which Nonviolent Communication can be extremely helpful. It provides a way to communicate emotional information in a way that is safe and respectful of the other person's agency to choose.

Action Item

Read my article "How Nonviolent Communication Completely Transformed My Relationships" and make a personal plan for replacing any abusive communication patterns with nonviolent ones.

Recognizing Manipulation and Verbal Abuse In Real-Life Situations

I worked hard compiling this comprehensive list of control tactics so that I would be better able to notice it. The better we recognize it, the better we can avoid using it on others and avoid situations in which it might be used on us. While I'm hopeful that reading this article helped, I believe getting to the point where you can recognize it in a real-life situation takes a lot of practice.

To help you practice, I've compiled this list of entertaining (and often very funny) movies/shows in which control tactics are used often:

  • The Truman Show
  • What About Bob?
  • Tangled
  • Encanto
  • The Emperor's New Groove
  • The Grinch
  • Spongebob
    • Season 1: Episode 6: Pickles
    • Season 1: Episode 18: Walking Small
    • Season 2: Episode 37: I'm With Stupid
    • Season 3: Episode 47: Can You Spare a Dime?
  • Gaslight (1944)

Action Item

Watch a movie/show (or two or three) from the above list, carefully noting any tactics used to control, manipulate, or verbally abuse. Try to name each tactic using the proper terminology (you may want to bookmark this article for easy reference). The more instances you can recognize and name, the better.

Well, if you made it to the end of this article, congratulations! I know it is a lot of information, but I hope this article can act as a detailed guide for you as you seek to free yourself from negative communication patterns. As you move forward, I wish you the best of luck in filling your life with healthy, authentic, and meaningful relationships (See "How to be Happy Right NOW"). 

  1. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  2. 14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  3. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  4. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  5. Spongebob Vs. Bubble Bass” by Nikelodeon
  6. 14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  7. 14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  8. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
  9. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You” by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.

4 comments to “100+ Tactics Used to Control, Manipulate, and Verbally Abuse”

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  1. Jean-Philippe Martin - October 29, 2021 Reply

    Just to say thank you for this list… it’s much helpfull since I recognize myself in a lot of it :-/ !

  2. Carlijn - February 12, 2024 Reply

    Thank you so much!

  3. Mike - March 19, 2024 Reply


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