8 clever phrases to put a manipulator back in their place

by Isabel Cabrera | April 24, 2024, 4:28 pm

We’ve all encountered them — the manipulators, the guilt-trippers, the emotional vampires who seem to drain our energy and undermine our sense of self.

I once had a relationship where I found myself wrapped up in twisted conversations that left me questioning my own sanity. 

It was one of the most stressful periods of my life. So I decided that I’ll never let someone do that to me ever again.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of 8 clever phrases to put a manipulator back in their place. 

These are the verbal tools you need to reclaim your space, your peace, and most importantly, your power. So, let’s dive in and arm ourselves with words that protect us.

1) Response to the manipulative phrase “You’re too sensitive.”

Ah, the classic “You’re too sensitive” — a phrase designed to undermine your emotions and make you second-guess yourself. 

I remember being told this after I expressed how a comment my ex made had hurt me. It felt like a double blow; not only was I initially hurt, but now I was being told that my feelings were ‘wrong.’

But you know what?

Your feelings are your feelings. No one else gets to decide if they’re valid or not, and it’s certainly not anyone’s place to dismiss them.

The next time someone tries to invalidate your emotions by labeling you “too sensitive,” counter with, “My feelings are valid, and it’s not your place to dismiss them.” 

This not only asserts your emotional integrity but also puts the manipulator on notice that their tactics won’t work on you.

2) Response to manipulative phrase “I’m only doing this for your own good.”

The phrase “I’m only doing this for your own good” is a masterstroke in the manipulator’s playbook

It’s designed to make you feel as if the manipulator is on your side, acting as a benefactor.

I recall my ex saying this to me when I told him about a particle job I wanted. He thought I wasn’t cut out for it, and discouraged me from going for it — “to protect me from disappointment”. 

I wish I could go back in time and respond with this: “I appreciate your concern, but I’m capable of deciding what’s good for me.” 

This response politely acknowledges their expressed intent but firmly asserts your own autonomy. 

And whether they’re trying to stop you from trying something like me, or push you into doing something you’re not sure about, it makes it clear that you’re the one in charge of your life, not them. 

3) Response to manipulative phrase “If you really cared about me, you would do this.”

In my past relationship, the line “If you really cared about me, you would do this” was all too familiar. 

It was a manipulative tactic aimed at questioning my loyalty and commitment whenever I couldn’t or wouldn’t do what my ex wanted.

I didn’t know this back then, but today I see that the best response to this undermining phrase is, “My boundaries are not a measure of my care or commitment.” 

This statement acknowledges the emotional blackmail while making it clear that love and respect should never require you to compromise your personal boundaries. 

It reassures the manipulator that your feelings are genuine, but stands firm that your limits are non-negotiable. The two are not mutually exclusive. 

4) Response to manipulative phrase “Don’t you trust me?”

I remember vividly when my ex would challenge me with the phrase, “Don’t you trust me?” as if trust was something to be automatically given, no questions asked.

It was often used to sidestep accountability or to pressure me into compliance.

In such moments, a strong retort would be, “Trust is earned through actions, not just words.” This response puts the onus back on them to demonstrate trustworthiness. 

It emphasizes that trust isn’t something you hand out like candy; it’s a precious commodity built over time and through consistent, respectful behavior.

Therefore, if they want you to trust them, the ball is in their court. 

5) Response to manipulative phrase “That’s not what I said. You misunderstood me.”

“You misunderstood me” was another favorite tactic from my manipulative ex. He would use this phrase whenever he wanted to escape accountability for something he’d clearly said. 

It was a way to make me doubt myself and deflect from the real issue at hand. And I’m sorry to say that it worked.

I would get sucked into arguing with him for hours about the exact wording, and of course, that’s a “he said she said” right that I couldn’t possibly win. 

We’d end those “discussions” exhausted and having resolved nothing.

If I could do it over again, the response I’d give this time around would be “Neither one of our memories is perfect, but the point goes beyond just words anyway. Let’s focus on resolving the issue.” 

This response acknowledges that human memory can be flawed, but it also emphasizes the need to address the underlying issue rather than getting bogged down in pointless details.

6) Response to manipulative phrase “You owe me for all I’ve done for you.”

One manipulative phrase I especially struggled with in my ex-relationship was “You owe me for all I’ve done for you.”

My ex loved this one — and it’s true he did do a lot for me. But the problem was that he seemed to think it granted him unlimited access to control my choices.

Even if I wanted to do something nice for him, I then felt like I was strong-armed into it — and like I couldn’t possibly assert boundaries, let alone have him care about them. 

And after some time, every kind act of his own started to have a heavy feeling to it, like “Here’s one more thing you now owe me for.”

There are several ways to counter this phrase.

A straightforward but powerful one is “Kindness shouldn’t come with strings attached.” It’s a way to assert your boundaries without diminishing the importance of mutual support in any relationship.

But I can totally see my ex fighting back against this one — so a more direct response might be “So you only did what you did in order to get me to do something back for you? Love doesn’t work like that.”

7) Response to manipulative phrase “It’s not a big deal. Why are you making it one?”

Here’s something I’d often hear from my ex whenever I tried to address something that bothered me: “It’s not a big deal. Why are you making it one?”

This is a classic tactic to dismiss someone’s feelings and concerns.

And it made me put up with things that hurt me for much longer than I should. Over time I built up strong resentment towards my ex because of this — so addressing this manipulative phrase is for the good of both of you really. 

A potent counter to this manipulation is to say, “What’s a ‘big deal’ is subjective. If it matters to me, it should matter to you too.” 

This phrase emphasizes the importance of mutual respect and validation in any relationship, taking the wind out of the manipulator’s sails.

8) Response to manipulative phrase “I thought you were different from everyone else.”

Here’s a phrase you might hear from someone who you don’t know so well yet: “I thought you were different from everyone else.” 

Manipulators use it to make you feel like you’re lumped into a broad category of people with some kind of toxic trait, so you’ll feel compelled to try to prove them wrong. 

My ex didn’t use this one himself — the beginning of our relationship was actually pretty great. It was only afterwards that the manipulative tactics began.

But I did hear it from another person I met who seemed interested in me and thought he could mold me into whatever he wanted. It was an attempt to make me feel special, only to guilt me into compliance later.

The best response I found was, “Being unique doesn’t obligate me to meet your expectations.”

This counters the manipulator’s strategy by reinforcing that your uniqueness is not a license for them to impose their will on you. It asserts your autonomy without falling into their emotional trap.

Learning to stand up to manipulators 

Learning to stand up to manipulators is more than just a skill — it’s a form of self-care. As someone who’s been through the ringer with a manipulative ex, I can tell you that reclaiming your voice changes everything. 

By mastering these responses, you don’t just counteract their tactics; you build a shield around your self-worth. 

Remember, the only person you owe anything to is yourself. Don’t let anyone, no matter how slick their words, make you feel otherwise. 

Stay strong, and protect your emotional real estate.

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