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Manipulative Parents – Signs & Effects

What is a manipulative parent

A manipulative parent attempts to influence their child’s behavior so that they will do or omit to do something they otherwise would not ​1​.

In most cases, manipulative parents refer to parents who use covert psychological methods to control the child’s activities and behavior in such a way as to prevent the child from becoming an independent adult apart from their control.

Despite its negative connotation, manipulation is an essential survival skill when used correctly. When infants cannot manipulate their parents to provide help by crying, they will not survive.

In everyday life, we all manipulate in some way. Toddlers get candies for using the potty, students get stickers for raising their hands before speaking in class, etc. Using manipulation is human nature.

However, when manipulation is done maliciously, problems occur. It’s this type of manipulation that we find problematic in parents. 

A young girl leans her head on her hand while her mother shouts in the background.

Types of manipulation

There are different types of parental manipulation. Common manipulative tactics include ​2​:

Emotional manipulation by parents

This insidious form of manipulation involves exploiting the bond you have with your parents.

  • Love withdrawal – they may say or imply they don’t love the child (unless the child does what they want).
  • Guilt induction – they use guilt to get the child to do things or take responsibility for things they shouldn’t have to.
  • Silent treatment – they make the child feel invisible and that no one cares about them.
  • Gaslighting – they use gaslighting phrases such as “that never happened” to make you doubt your own memory or judgment.

Fear exploitation

Fear is used to manipulate you into doing what they want.

  • Coercion – physical punishment, yelling, taking away privileges, and isolating are all coercive manipulation tactics.
  • Humiliation – shaming, mocking, putting down, insulting, name-calling, or attacking the child publicly.
  • Social comparison – they compare their child with other children to make their child feel inadequate.

Financial manipulation

  • Monetary reward – they use monetary incentives as bribes to get the child to do what they want.
  • Withholding allowance – they threaten to take away allowance, college funds, or inheritance rights in order to force the child to comply.

Characteristics of a manipulative parent

Different manipulative people have different characteristics, but many manipulative mothers or mothers are narcissistic parents.

Narcissistic parents have inflated egos and a sense of self-importance. They manipulate their children to get what they want damaging their children’s emotional health.

A narcissistic mother, in particular, often manipulates by playing the victim.

Effects of parental manipulation

Manipulative parenting tends to be the worst when it is an insidious form of psychological control that intrudes into a child’s mental and emotional development. 

In studies, psychological control strongly predicts youth internalized problems (e.g. depression) and, in some cases, externalized problems (e.g. delinquency), especially in adolescence and preadolescence ​3​.

Check Out: 10 Types of Things Manipulative Parents Say

Common signs of you being manipulated by your parents

  • There are always things being pushed on you that you don’t want to do, but you can’t seem to resist.
  • Often, the truth is twisted and doesn’t sound right.
  • You are often led to doubt your own decisions.
  • When things don’t go according to your parents’ wishes, repercussion or retaliation happens.
  • You are made to feel guilty about your decisions.
  • Your emotions and feelings keep being dismissed.
  • You are made to feel that you deserve bad things happening to you.

How to deal with manipulative parents

Dealing with manipulative behaviors from parents can be stressful even as an adult. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Recognize manipulation when it happens

It is crucial to catch manipulation in the act in order to stop it. Going back a few days later will not help.

However, when you’ve been manipulated for decades, it could be hard to recognize it right away when it happens again. So, be mindful of your interactions with your parents. 

Pay attention to how your body reacts, such as when you suddenly feel tense. Your body might recognize when something is out of place even if your cognition can’t.

Call out manipulations

When you do notice being exploited, call it out. 

Try to do this calmly. If you are too emotional, your parents may assume the victim role and blame you instead. Furthermore, letting your emotions take over will make it very difficult for you to avoid more manipulative traps.

When calling out the manipulation, state the fact and then name your feelings.

“You said you wanted me to be happy, but all you have done is bring me down. It makes me sad that you constantly use your words to hurt me.”

“You seem to adopt a victim attitude quite often. I feel manipulated.”

“You can believe what you want to believe, but I am sticking with the facts.”

Set healthy boundaries

It is important to set clear boundaries and limits in life and stick to them.

“I need you to treat me with respect. Otherwise, I will have to limit our contact for my own sake.”

While it may be hard to cut ties with a parent you love, it may be necessary for your own mental well-being to keep a distance from a toxic parent.

Get support

Having a network of friends you can turn to for support when you need it is essential. People who have experienced similar issues are a better match than those who have not.

Professional help

An experienced therapist can help you sort out your feelings, confusion, and issues. If you have doubts about being manipulated, they can also help you identify the root cause.

Also See: Toxic Mother and Toxic Things Parents Say


  1. 1.
    Rudinow J. Manipulation. Ethics. Published online July 1978:338-347. doi:10.1086/292086
  2. 2.
    Buss DM. Manipulation in Close Relationships: Five Personality Factors in Interactional Context. J Personality. Published online June 1992:477-499. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00981.x
  3. 3.
    Barber BK. Parental Psychological Control: Revisiting a Neglected Construct. Child Development. Published online December 1996:3296. doi:10.2307/1131780


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *