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5 traits that make you vulnerable to emotional manipulators

Vulnerability can mean a multitude of things, but when it involves emotionally manipulative people (EMs), being vulnerable could be a liability.

Sep 3, 2021 PUBLISHED

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

Me: “You are vulnerable!”

Vulnerability can mean a multitude of things, but when it involves emotionally manipulative people (EMs), being vulnerable could be a liability. 

What is an emotionally manipulative (EM) person? 

An emotional manipulator (EM) refers to a person that 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 partners weaknesses and maintain control. 

Over the years, I have counseled many people who have found themselves in relationships over and over again with people who emotionally manipulate, exploit, and abuse them. They seem to be magnets for them. 

So, what is it about the individual that attracts them to these 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 EM. 

  • Yes, you’ve got 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 to have, but you may also wear a target on your chest that says “Pick Me.” But, don’t worry, you can work on these traits and before you know it, that target on your chest will say “EMs Need Not Apply.”

Here are 5 traits that make a person vulnerable to EMs.

1. You’ve got low self-esteem

Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t everyone have low self-esteem? Well, yes, but what makes this trait so appealing to EM’s is that you have issues with self-love. 

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: EMs 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 are capable of taking care of themselves. They may not be experts, but they are capable. EM’s 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. 

EM’s 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! 

Remember, having low self-esteem makes you more prone to fall for the harmonious stylings of the EM’s “I’ll take you away from all this!”

So what do I do about it?

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

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

4. You’ve got damaged or nonexistent boundaries

EM’s 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. 

How do they know you have boundary issues? People who are good boundary setters 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 person with black hear wearing a gray shirt and light gray pants walking next to another person with black hair wearing a gray shirt and black pants on a blue bicycle.

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 dysfunctional 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 professional can help you sort through any unresolved issues with your family so that you can stop attracting  EM’s.  

There you have it! The 5 traits that make you more vulnerable to the EM. Remember that vulnerability isn’t bad, as long as you develop healthy traits and learn to protect yourself. After all, no one else is going to!   

Article originally published Sep 3, 2021.

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