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21 Manipulation Tactics that are Signs of Domestic Abuse

To stay safe during Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, know the 21 most common tactics of coercive control.

Oftentimes, domestic abuse begins with a series of manipulation tactics. A series of tactics that an abuser uses to keep the victim under his or her control, often making the victim feel as if they’re going crazy. In fact, abusers often draw their power from psychological tactics and mind control. That said, domestic abuse doesn't have to involve any physical abuse at all. According to The New York Times, coercive control, a pattern of behavior to dominate the partner, is emotional abuse. It includes tactics such as humiliation, manipulation, isolation, physical abuse, etc. In 20 percent of domestic violence cases, there is no physical evidence and coercive control often escalates to spousal violence. Here are 21 manipulation habits to be aware of in the context of a relationship.


  1. Minimizing: Saying that his or her behavior isn’t really that bad or harmful (as someone else is saying), trivializing the wrongdoing or the impact on others.  

Ex. “What are you so upset about?” “Why do you have to spoil the fun?” “I was starting to feel really close to you and then you have to ruin it with your complaints.”


  1.  Lying by Omission: Leaving out of important details that change the meaning of what is being said.  

Ex. “I didn’t tell you about the party because I knew you would get all upset and make a big deal out of nothing.”


  1. Denying: Refusing to admit when he or she has done something harmful, refusing to admit the motivation behind the behaviors, or refusing to admit having a hidden agenda.

Ex. “I did not flirt with that other woman; you just can’t take a joke. I was just fooling around.”


  1. Attending Selectively: Actively ignoring warnings and pleas or wishes of others.

Ex. “You never told me that you needed me home. How was I supposed to know?”


  1. Rationalizing: Making excuses to engage in what he or she knows is harmful behavior, allowing him or her to remove internal resistance.

Ex. “All I did was move the money from one account to another so I could get a better rate. What’s the problem with that?”


  1. Diverting Attention:  Changing the subject, keeping the focus off of his or her own behaviors and hidden agendas, keeping the other person on the defensive.

Ex. “If you didn’t get so upset all of the time, I would have told you that I was going away for the weekend, but I hate to hear you make such a fuss. It’s your own damn fault.”


  1. Evading Detection: Giving rambling, incoherent and vague responses to appear as if he or she is being compliant and responsive, but not really being so.

Ex. “You see, it’s like this. I hear about this terrific offer from my buddy and you are always ragging on me for not being enough of a go-getter, so I decided that…”


  1. Intimidating Subtly: Keeping others in a one-down position so as not to be challenged or required to change.

Ex. “If I have an affair, it will be your fault because your insecurity will chase me away. Don’t blame me if it happens.”


  1. Provoking Guilt: Using the conscientiousness of his or her opponents to keep them anxious and off-balance.

Ex. “If you really cared about this family, you wouldn’t complain about my needing to unwind on the weekends. You have no idea how hard I work -- and all for you!”


  1. Shaming: Using subtle sarcasm, ridicule, mocking, rolling eyes and put-downs to increase fear and self-doubt.

Ex. “I wouldn’t have to be rude to your mother if you could stand up for yourself with her.”


  1. Playing the Victim Role: Evoking pity in the listener so that he or she will excuse the other person’s bad behavior.

Ex. “I only lied about seeing my ex because I knew how upset you would be. I only went to see him to get him to stop harassing us. You have no idea how hard that was for me!”


  1. Vilifying the Victim: Making it appear as if he or she is responding to the provocation of someone else.

Ex. “If you weren’t such a complainer,  I would have told you that the car had no gas in it. I just couldn’t stand to hear you whine about it.”

  1. Playing the Servant Role: Cloaking a self-serving agenda in a noble cause.

Ex. “My coworker begged me to help her move this weekend, so I won’t be around to help with the kids. She really needs me.”


  1. Projecting Blame: Blaming others, shifting the blame to someone else. (Very much a tactic of anyone who has a Victim narrative).

Ex. “Why did your mother have to tell you she saw me with someone else? What a blabbermouth she is. I am sick of her spying on me. She has no idea what she’s talking about.”


  1. Feigning Innocence: Pretending to be unaware of what he or she is doing.

Ex. “Your feelings got hurt? Really? I can’t believe that. All I did was tell a little joke.”


  1. Feigning Ignorance or Confusion: Pretending to be unaware of what he or she is doing.

Ex. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I barely even spoke to that other girl.”


  1. Brandishing Anger: Deliberately displaying anger to intimidate and coerce others; yelling, name-calling, swearing, being physically intimidating, towering over the other person.

Ex. “If I have to listen to one more complaint from you, I am going to lose it!”  


  1. Distorting What the Other Person is Saying or Doing: Purposefully obfuscating the issue by accusing the other person of saying or doing something he or she did not say or do.

Ex. “How dare you accuse me of gambling! (when the topic was why there isn’t enough in the accounts to cover the expenses).


  1. Withdrawing Love and Approval: Sulking, refusing to respond, becoming emotionally distant in order to induce fear of abandonment in the other person.

Ex. “If this is what you think, then I don’t know if we can be together.”


  1. Indicating Contempt for the Other Person: (one of Dr. John Gottman’s four horsemen of the apocalypse - biggest predictors of relationship discord): Mocking, ridiculing, rolling eyes, laughing or otherwise showing that he or she has no respect for the other person’s thoughts and feelings.

Ex. “Stop being so nutty” possibly with an eye roll.


  1. Acting as the Final Authority, Defining Reality: Speaking in an authoritative manner, making unilateral decisions, discounting the other person’s views.

Ex. “The problem with you is…”


  1. Criticizing in a Harsh and Uncalled-For Manner: Frequent and undeserved complaints and criticisms that undermine the person’s sense of safety and security.  

Ex. “You are so pathetic with your little complaints. Why don’t you just grow up?!”


  1. Not listening, Interrupting: Not allowing the person the freedom and respect to share their thoughts and feelings.

Ex. “I have heard enough of your complaints.”


If you feel as though you are experiencing domestic violence, we urge you to first leave if you feel unsafe. Next, you can call the Domestic Violence hotline 1-800-799-7233 or speak with a therapist.

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