Who Attracts Manipulative People?

Emotional manipulators use gaslighting, guilt, and other dishonest tactics to exploit their partner's weaknesses and maintain control. What traits make us attract them?

WRITER
Apr 14, 2022 UPDATED
Featured Article

Client: “I’m a magnet for manipulative people! What is it about me that makes me the target?”

Me: “You're vulnerable!”

Read on to find out why you might find yourself in relationships with manipulators.

What's an emotionally manipulative (EM) person? 

An emotional manipulator (EM) is someone who is highly skilled at influencing their partner’s feelings and behaviors to benefit themselves.

They often use gaslighting, guilt, button-pushing, anger, and other dishonest tactics to exploit their partner's weaknesses and maintain control. 

Man getting bombarded with common gaslighting phrases.

Why do I attract manipulators?

It’s a common pattern: “nice” people can continually attract partners who emotionally manipulate, exploit, and abuse them.

Why does this happen? And why does it seem to happen to the same people over and over again?

Is there something wrong with them?

The answer is both yes and no. 

  • No, there’s nothing wrong with you, even though you continue to find yourself in relationship after relationship with an emotionally manipulative person. 

  • Yes, you have specific traits that the EM finds captivating. You’re vulnerable! You’re overly empathetic, and you give people the benefit of the doubt. You want to help people!

These qualities are wonderful, however you may also wear a target on your chest that says: “Pick Me.”

However, if you learn to recognize and work on these traits, some time soon that target on your chest will say: “Manipulators Need Not Apply.”

5 traits that make you vulnerable to emotional manipulation

1. You’ve got low self-esteem

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t everyone have low self-esteem?

Well, yes, but what makes this trait so appealing to emotionally manipulative people is when you have issues with self-love.

You choose someone who unconsciously reminds you of your dysfunctional parent(s).

When you struggle to love yourself unconditionally (psst: that means loving all the stuff that’s easy to love and all the stuff that’s not so easy to love) you may hunt for someone who mirrors you. 

Spoiler alert: Emotional manipulators also have low self-esteem and lack unconditional self-love.

So what do I do about it?

Work on your self-love!

Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. 

If you won’t tell your best friend she’s horrible, don’t say it to yourself.

And, oh yeah, you don’t need to believe what you tell yourself for this to work. Fake it till you make it!

A Monarch by SimplePractice illustration of a woman with a white shirt, blue pants, and green sandals sitting down with her arm around another woman in an orange shirt, polka-dot shorts, and white sandals who is resting her head on her knees and hugging her knees to her chest.

2. You love to take care of other people

Empathetic people love to do things for other people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but, in healthy relationships, we care for people, we don’t take care of people. 

This may come as a shock, but most people can take care of themselves. They may not be experts, but they are capable.

Emotionally manipulative people are more than willing to play a victim so that you will pay attention to them and take care of them.  

So what do I do about it?

Practice letting other people take care of themselves.

It will initially feel very uncomfortable, but if another adult is struggling with something, give him or her time to work it out themselves. 

Emotional manipulators love to hook you by playing the victim.

So, call their bluff! Use your energy toward taking care of yourself (see Trait #1).

3. You believe in love at first sight!

Look, I love rom-coms as much as the next person, but let’s be realistic. Love takes time!

That’s right, “love at first sight,” “I loved him the moment we met!,” or “you had me at ‘hello’” is not love! I’ll repeat it… it’s not love! 

Emotional manipulators love to target a person who has boundary problems. That means the door is open for an EM to convince you that only selfish people have boundaries.

Remember, having low self-esteem makes you more prone to fall for the harmonious stylings of the emotionally manipulative person who says: “I’ll take you away from all this!”

So what do I do about it?

“Love takes time” to quote the 1970s Yacht Rock classic by Orleans. It is created and developed with trust, communication, understanding, and time. 

If the emotional manipulator is asking you to move in with him by the end of the week, exit stage left!

A heterosexual couple where the woman is sad and the man looks angry.

4. You’ve got damaged or nonexistent boundaries

Emotional manipulators love to target a person who has boundary problems. That means the door is open for an emotionally manipulative person to convince you that only selfish people have boundaries. 

How do they know you have boundary issues? People with good boundaries communicate very clearly about their boundaries when they first meet you.  

So what do I do about it?

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Perhaps one of the most important behaviors to learn in life is setting boundaries. Boundaries allow us to say “no,” they permit us to protect ourselves and they are the basis for every healthy relationship from now until forever.

So, learn, study, discuss, and practice healthy boundaries!

A Monarch by SimplePractice illustration of a young Black couple, with the woman leaning on the man's back.

5. You pick people who are familiar to you!

Let’s be honest, nobody likes to feel uncomfortable, awkward, or different. You seek the road well traveled. You connect with people who have characteristics that are familiar to you.

Unfortunately, many times, what is familiar is dysfunctional. You choose someone who unconsciously reminds you of your emotionally manipulative parent(s). If you can make the relationship work with the dysfunctional partner, you can fix what was broken in your childhood. 

Sounds like a plan, right? Sorry, the only way to fix problems from childhood is to work on yourself. 

So what do I do about it?

This would be a job for a therapist. A trained mental health professional can help you sort through any unresolved issues with your family so that you can stop attracting emotional manipulative people.  

There you have it. The traits that make you more vulnerable to the manipulator.

Remember that vulnerability isn’t bad, as long as you develop healthy boundaries and learn to protect yourself from manipulative people. After all, no one else is going to.  

Am I a Narcissist?

Take our 3-minute Narcissistic Traits Quiz  to find if you, or someone you know, has the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. Results are completely confidential.

READ NEXT:  How Do You Know If Someone's a Narcissist?


Need to find a therapist near you? Check out the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice to find licensed mental health therapists  with availability and online booking.


Article originally published Mar 1, 2022. Updated Apr 14, 2022.

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