Keys to Recognizing Manipulative Parents

Manipulative parents use guilt, affection, or lies to exert control over their children. Here are some keys to recognizing them.
Keys to Recognizing Manipulative Parents

Last update: 26 July, 2021

Has your relationship with your parents always been tense and unsatisfactory and you suspect that they may be manipulative? Do you often feel guilty around them? Are you confused by their actions, words, and attitudes and these still affect you? If so, you may be part of an unfortunate group of people.

Anyone can exercise emotional blackmail or lose their temper with another person at some point. However, manipulative parents apply an extensive variety of strategies. These intend to exert control over their children and undermine their self-esteem as a consequence. It’s a constant that goes on and on.

Dealing with manipulative people is always harmful and unpleasant. However, the damage is much deeper and the after-effects more long-lasting in those who grew up with such parents. This is because they’re the main reference figures and the main shapers of a person’s personality.

Although it’s never too late to get away from them, you must first be able to recognize the signs of parental manipulation.

“Most adult children of toxic parents grow up feeling tremendous confusion about what love means and how it’s supposed to feel.”

-Susan Forward-

Keys to recognizing manipulative parents

A man trying to comfort another.

The mood of manipulative parents dominates the situation

Every family meeting revolves around the mood of this parent. They’re open, welcoming, and friendly when they’re happy, but the environment becomes tense and uncomfortable when their emotions are negative. Furthermore, their emotions are unpredictable and badly managed. For the same reason, others subordinate to the conditions set by them at any given moment.

They don’t celebrate their children’s success and joy

It’s hard to conceive a parent who isn’t happy when their children thrive. However, manipulative parents are often envious, resentful, critical, and even cynical. They twist any positive news into a source of guilt or shame.

A vacation, a job promotion, or even the birth of a child is no longer joyful and is tinged with negativity after passing through the manipulator’s filter.

They try to take them away from the people who love them

You’d expect a parent to be happy when their children enjoy broad and healthy social relationships while interacting with others who love them.

Moreover, a manipulative parent tends to criticize their children’s friendships, belittles the value of their bonds, and highlights every negative aspect. This is just another way to try to exert control.

They use affection as a means of manipulation

If you loved me, you’d visit me every day.” “I don’t know how you can say this to me, after everything I do for you.” Affection is a manipulation tool for these kinds of parents, and not only when it’s about instilling guilt.

For example, manipulative parents use flattery and gifts as a way to be on their children’s good side, even when they’re otherwise harming them with all types of negative attitudes.

Other keys to recognizing manipulative parents

The above signs are the most common. However, many others reveal a parent who’s toxic and manipulative. Here are a few examples:

  • They adopt a victim attitude instead of assuming their failures and responsibilities
  • They don’t clearly communicate, hide their true motives, and distort reality in their favor. For example, a mother insists and uses guilt to get her children to go somewhere with her. Then, she may flatly state they’re there because they chose to.
  • Their approaches and actions are incoherent. For example, the manipulative parent may condemn their children for never bringing their grandchildren along to visit. However, they treat them badly or completely ignore them when they do come.
Two serious women.

How to deal with manipulative parents?

The first step, and often the most complicated, is to recognize and accept that your parents might be manipulative.

This is because there’s a deeply rooted social belief that a parent always wants what’s best for their children. This makes abused children believe that they’re at fault for their difficult interaction with their parents. In addition, manipulators show different faces depending on the day and context, which can be really confusing.

However, it’s easier to identify the manipulative context you grew up in and deal with it once you recognize it. Thus, setting boundaries is essential to not continue to put up with these attitudes. Finally, you might want to consult a professional who can work with you through the emotional aftermath.

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  • Nazare-Aga, I. (2015). Padres manipuladores. B DE BOOKS.
  • Betancourt, D., & Andrade, P. (2011). Control parental y problemas emocionales y de conducta en adolescentes. Revista colombiana de psicología20(1), 27-41.