Signs You’re Being “Groomed” by an Abuser or Emotional Manipulator

By Rachel Puryear

We’ve all done that thing where we’re watching a horror movie, and we see our protagonist on the screen headed straight for the killer – but they don’t know it.

We scream in vain at them…”no, don’t go in there!” There’s that awful feeling of dread when you know they’re walking into their own doom, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Sometimes, though, we also do that in real life – we see someone we know and love falling into the trap of an abusive emotional manipulator, we know they need to run away instead of getting further enmeshed with that person, but we just can’t seem to get through to them.

Or, maybe we’ve also been that person ourselves – blinded by love for someone who once seemed amazing, confused as to why others seem to want to undermine our happiness…and then, once we realize what’s really going on, wondering how the hell we could have let that happen to ourselves.

Hand of puppeteer pulling the strings.

Getting involved with an emotional manipulator – whether in a romantic relationship, friendship, or otherwise – is a highly traumatizing experience for the person involved, and often for those who love them, as well.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen overnight, either. Nor is it necessarily obvious.

There are subtle signs early on.

Emotional manipulators and other abusers typically “groom” their victims for a period of time before blatantly abusive and toxic behavior starts to show.

These grooming behaviors often seem innocuous at the time – especially when viewed alone, rather than as part of a totality of pattern behaviors.

The goal of grooming is to slowly condition the victim to accept toxic behavior and abuse, and to give the emotional manipulator/abuser the upper hand, holding the power and control within the relationship.

Typically, by the time the victim realizes what’s going on, they’re already in pretty deep.

Accordingly, it’s important to know the early signs that one is dealing with an emotional manipulator – so that you can act before a lot of damage is already done.

Therefore, here are some signs to watch out for that you – or someone you loved – may be getting groomed by an emotional manipulator:

Note: This post will focus on grooming of adults.


One of the first things on a groomer’s (someone grooming someone else) agenda is to isolate their target (the person they’re grooming). This clears a path to establish control by putting distance between the target and those who love them – the latter of whom would likely want to come between the target and the groomer.

Goldfish, alone in a fish tank. By Ahmed Hasan.

This doesn’t always start with the groomer telling the target they shouldn’t see people they love. It could be a lot more subtle, such as “I don’t think your best friend is that good for you,” or “I think he’s just using you,” or “I heard her gossiping about you the other day”. If there’s grooming going on, the groomer is deceiving the target.

If you’re finding yourself or a loved one increasingly isolated from your social circle – and it seems to tie back to a particular new person, don’t just take that person at their word. Investigate the facts, and trust your instincts.

Financial and Emotional Controlling Behaviors

Again, the groomer wants to control the target. Quite often, the first types of abusive behaviors to show up in a toxic relationship are financial and emotional. These usually precede any physical abuse.

Then again, not all abusive relationships ever include physical abuse – but even if they don’t, that doesn’t mean that financial and emotional abuse and control alone aren’t enough of an awful nightmare.

Leash in the shape of a heart.

The financial and emotional controls are inherently abusive and destructive in and of themselves, and they also break down an abused person enough that they might accept physical abuse if it starts – and/or, be too financially trapped, and isolated from loved ones to feel like they can escape.

If someone seems overly interested in your finances, in how you might manage your affairs, and wants to tell you what you can and cannot spend money on, this is a huge red flag.

Hot and Cold

When someone is frequently lovey-dovey and attentive one moment, but then cold and distant the next, and you never know what you can expect from them; it may be a deliberate effort.

A groomer may use this kind of behavior intentionally to destabilize a target, leave them walking on eggshells all the time, and priming them to revolve all their efforts and energies around constantly placating the groomer.

Definition of word “Jekyll and Hyde” in dictionary.

To be fair, some people may behave inconsistently due to mental illness, or unresolved trauma; and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are an abuser, or have nefarious intentions – even if these people are quite difficult to be around sometimes. But if such behavior is paired with others in this post – especially controlling behaviors, be very wary.

Expecting Constant Availability

When someone expects another to always be around, always pick up the phone the moment they call, always come over/let them drop by at a moment’s notice and doesn’t ever seem to want the other out of their sight for too long; it’s very concerning.

This is, yet again, another exercise in control. A groomer will do this to prime their target to make their life revolve around the groomer, give the groomer their way, and also to isolate the target from others and control the target’s time. The groomer also doesn’t want the target to start having second thoughts, while getting a break from them.

Hands holding phone that’s “blowing up”, representing where someone calls constantly and intrusively.

For many targets, this kind of attentiveness and availability can be quite flattering – at first. If the target has a history of people ghosting them, being emotionally unavailable, and being distant; this can seem like a refreshing change.

In fact, in the beginning, the groomer’s behavior can seem flattering and charming, rather than overbearing and controlling. The groomer can be irresistible to a lonely person with an unloved past, such that the target can’t help but quite willingly want to suddenly spend all their time with the groomer.

A really skilled abuser and manipulator charms and attracts their victims initially, rather than scaring them into submission. What stands out about this person, is that they’re just too good to be true. At the same time, some people truly are wonderful. So when in doubt, follow your gut – and, time will tell.

The Groomer Plays the Victim, and Initially Puts the Target on a Pedestal

As I have discussed in several ways before, people who frequently play the victim and hate seeing others happy are all kinds of red flags, and are virtually always toxic people – at least to some degree.

Initially, a groomer might draw in a target by seeming vulnerable and sympathetic – like a diamond in the rough, who’s got a sob story and had some tough breaks; and who just needs the love and care of a special someone to put it all behind them. Right?

A grenade covered in little red hearts.

And of course, their target could be that special someone – they’ll make them feel so wonderful at first, praise them for giving them a chance, and shush concerns of their loved ones.

But rather than being a genuine expression of gratitude and affection from the groomer, these behaviors are meant to make the target feel emotionally responsible for the groomer. Once the target feels emotionally responsible for the groomer, it’s much easier for the groomer to emotionally control and abuse the target.

Worried that you or a loved one may be in an abusive relationship, but don’t know where to turn? Contact the National Domestic Violence network for further assistance.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to building up your inner bullshit detector. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

Check out my other blog, too – Free Range Life, at It’s about personal finance, freelancing and remote work, current events and political commentary, and traveling and the RV life.

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4 responses to “Signs You’re Being “Groomed” by an Abuser or Emotional Manipulator”

  1. […] also: Signs You’re Being “Groomed” by an Abuser or Emotional Manipulator, and Manipulation – Sneaky Tactics of Toxic […]


  2. […] or about you, if they used you, if they consistently took but didn’t give back, if they are emotional manipulators, if they tried to come between you and people who love and support you, if they intentionally […]


  3. […] otherwise – because they were just looking to get something else out of you all along (see here and here and […]


  4. […] same time, just because someone identifies as empathic, doesn’t mean that they cannot also be toxic and abusive. Always listen to your instincts with […]


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