8 clever phrases to outsmart a manipulator

by Isabel Cabrera | March 15, 2024, 2:38 pm

The best way to deal with manipulative people is to cut them out of your life. 

But sometimes, that’s just not an option. Perhaps they’re your boss or your mother-in-law and you have no choice but to deal with them.

In that case, it can help to prepare a few clever phrases that can throw them off. 

That way, they’ll realize that you’re not a toy they can play with.

To help you along, here are 8 clever phrases to outsmart a manipulator.

1)  “I see… so anyways…”

Manipulators love getting people involved in drama and controversy. But they’ll do it in a very subtle way that you won’t even suspect they’re doing anything.

Sometimes it’s because they want people on their side in an argument, and sometimes it’s because they want to hear what you think so they can use your words against you.

If someone is clearly trying to get you involved in drama or gossip, refuse to engage no matter how “juicy” the scoop is. 

Simply say “I see” and change then follow it with “So anyways” to change the subject.

And of course, if they insist, hit them with “Uhmm, I’m really not interested. Sorry.”

2) “I respect your decision”

We all have a natural fear of loss. And manipulators use this to their advantage. 

They all learn at some point that toying with this fear is a good way to keep people wrapped around their fingers.

It makes sense, in a way. Enduring the presence of an abusive partner can sometimes seem more bearable than being all alone, and having a low-paying job is better than being totally unemployed.

You’ll have to learn how to fight against this urge and accept it when someone threatens to leave you or to get you fired.

If your partner says they want to break up with you (and they’re clearly doing it to have things their way), don’t try to argue or beg them to stay. 

Simply tell them “I understand this is what you want.” or “I respect your decision.”

This is you telling them that you know exactly that they’re trying to manipulate you, and you’re setting yourself free from their empty threats.

3) “Thanks for your concern but I’ll handle this on my own”

Manipulators like to offer their “help” in order to curry favors from people. 

Like hey, they got you coffee once. It wouldn’t be right if you were to say “no” now that they need your help doing their papers…

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with exchanging favors—that’s something we humans just do. 

Where things go wrong is when  someone is clearly just trying to butter you up so that they can boss you around and use you at a later time.

If you know that someone is a manipulative person or if someone consistently has you doing things for them that aren’t remotely proportional to the things they’ve done for you, say no.

Why get them involved, after all, if you can do things all on your own?

4) “You’ve been struggling? Yeah, me too.”

To a manipulative person, pity and guilt are extremely potent tools they can use to make people do their bidding.

They might try to wax poetic about how hard life is, and especially how much they have personally struggled just to get by.

They might try to gain your loyalty by talking about how their old friends always leave them or turn on them somehow. 

Or to get your support and sympathy, they might try to share about their bad luck and how everyone thinks they’re a loser.

Empathize with them. But do remind them softly that you’ve also been struggling…and so is everyone else.

By telling them this, they lose their power to manipulate you because you’re basically telling them that you have nothing to be guilty about.

5) “Why don’t we try to talk out a solution with them?”

Manipulators will often disguise their attempts to turn you against someone by venting out their personal problems with you.

They’ll talk about how some other person has always been an a*hole to them, or how their colleague is hard to talk to because of how uncooperative they are, etc.

Sometimes, they spin these complaints out of thin air.

But most of the time, those complaints are based on a truth of some kind—which is how people unwittingly end up agreeing with them.

That’s why when they start complaining about someone else, you should set aside whatever biases you might have and instead suggest that you work it out with the third party involved.

It helps if you are genuine about it too.

If they’re trying to manipulate you, they’ll back out. If they weren’t, you get to become a peacemaker.

6) “Sorry, but I’m trying to protect my mental health.”

Protecting your own mental health is extremely important.

After all, things like being exposed to drama or being told about other people’s burden can take a toll on your mind (especially if you’re an empath).

So pay attention to what they’re saying, and when they start talking sh*t about other people.

If they go on and on airing secrets or talking about the latest drama they’ve heard even if you’ve already shown them you’re clearly uninterested, tell them to stop.

Do it as gently as possible, though. A manipulative person would offense in you being “harsh” on them and use it to manipulate you some more.

So instead of saying “Can you please stop talking about other people?”, say “Christie, please don’t take this negatively, but my mental state can’t take other people’s issues right now. Can we talk about something else? How is your new cat doing?”

7) “It’s a good thing you’re not manipulative”

This line is a manipulative tactic in itself, taken straight from their own playbook. That’s why it’s so effective—it catches them off guard and makes them feel uncomfortable.

It’s especially effective if you look them in the eye while saying these words.

Do keep in mind that this is far from foolproof and it’s not like it’ll actually make them stop from trying. But it will make them think twice, to reflect on themselves, and maybe even back off enough to let you disengage.

There’s also a chance that they’ll get offended and ask if you’re accusing them of being manipulative.

At that point, simply say that you never said that.

This could backfire so be careful. Only use it when someone is extremely being manipulative and there’s no other way to make them stop.

8) “Look, I know what you’re trying to do here”

Some manipulators simply don’t get the hint no matter how obvious it is that you’ve caught on to them and will keep trying to wrap you around their finger.

So when all else fails, call them out!

Tell them that you know EXACTLY what they’re doing, and that they should cut it out.

Don’t be surprised if they’ll throw their arms up in protest and try to say that no, they’re actually not trying to manipulate you

They might even try to do the whole DARVO routine and accuse you of being ungrateful.

But be firm. Tell them you’re not going to entertain their excuses, and that you’ll keep calling them out if they insist on being manipulative.

Last words

Something that you must keep in mind is that while these phrases are useful, it’s important that you try to understand why they work.

They can throw a manipulator off and discourage them. But if you don’t understand why these phrases work, you can’t take advantage of this and they’ll just get right back to you.

But don’t think that just because you’ve figured out how to disarm a manipulator that you’re free from their grasp. 

They can easily manipulate the people around you if they really want to get their way.

As I mentioned before, the best course of action is to simply cut manipulators out of your life

If you can’t do that just yet, then aim to minimize contact as much as possible.

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