If someone says these 10 things in conversation, you’re dealing with a manipulative person

by Leila El-Dean | January 4, 2024, 11:41 am

Have you ever come away from a conversation feeling uncomfortable?

I’m not just talking about social awkwardness (which is super common and pretty harmless).

No, this is different.

You feel responsible, guilty, or like you’ve done something wrong. You may even feel forced or pressured into something that you don’t particularly want to do.

The shocking fact of the matter is you might be a victim of manipulation.

But how to know for sure?

Check out these 10 common phrases used by master manipulators and see how many you recognize.

1) “You’ve got it all wrong, it didn’t happen like that.”

When someone strongly denies your version of events and attempts to correct you (with false information) it’s called gaslighting.

It’s a highly effective manipulation technique used to confuse you.

Here’s the thing.

When someone is so confident in their story, it can be pretty convincing. And when you start to question the reality of the situation, they’ll push even harder! Drilling their interpretation into you until you concede and accept their exaggerated lies.

You’ll finish the conversation feeling a little lost.

But why are they so determined to convince you of something?

Chances are, they’re in a defensive mindset. They probably made a mistake and don’t want to accept responsibility or be accountable for their actions. This could be because deep down they actually have low self-esteem.

Look at it as a protection mechanism.

They’re basically trying to avoid embarrassment and maintain respect (because they’re so scared of losing it).

This leads nicely to our second phrase.

2) “It wasn’t me, she did it.”

Scapegoating is similar to gaslighting but usually involves pointing the finger and passing blame on a specific person.

Again, the reason why master manipulators do it is to protect themselves from uncomfortable situations.

Let’s be honest.

Nobody likes to be wrong, or make mistakes.

So shifting all responsibility elsewhere naturally makes us feel better.

But when manipulators use scapegoating, it’s often done unfairly. In other words, the person they’re blaming might only be partially responsible (or not at all).

To be honest, they often don’t care how others feel, they’re just hell-bent on moving all responsibility away from themselves.

3) “I guess I’m just a burden to everyone.”

Phrases like this prey on our emotions.

They guilt-trip us into feeling bad and wanting to help (which is exactly what the manipulator wants).

Guilt-tripping is especially effective when used by people we care about. So close friends, family, and loved ones. 

This also makes it a particularly dark form of manipulation!

We care about them, and they take advantage of this fact. Not cool.

It’s classic narcissistic behavior (and they might not even realize they’re doing it).

Coming from loved ones, it can be awkward to deal with.

For example, my friend was telling me about her parents. When she calls her mom for a chat, she’s usually greeted with something sarcastic like “Oh, you finally had time to call?”

It makes my friend feel terrible and guilty for not making more effort.

Whether intentional or not, her mom was trying to guilt-trip her into calling more.

How did she deal with it?

A transparent and direct conversation. It’s better to nip these things in the bud before they get worse. Let them know how you feel. As I said, sometimes they don’t actually realize they’re being manipulative.

4) “I feel ugly today.”

Fishing for compliments is a similar (less extreme) version of gilt-tripping. For example, when your friend says how ugly they feel, they could be baiting you to reply: 

“No you don’t! You’re gorgeous. I wish I had your figure.”

While it might seem harmless, fishing for compliments is attention-seeking behavior and a form of manipulation.

It’s a slippery slope. 

What starts as the occasional compliment bait might lead to stronger forms of manipulation.

Here’s the truth.

Chances are, your friend is insecure about their appearance and needs constant external validation to deal with their lack of confidence.

If it happens regularly, rather than give them the compliment they want, bring up the deeper issue and try to help them build confidence.

5) “You’re amazing!”

Wait, what?!

I know what you’re thinking.

This doesn’t seem so cynical, manipulative, or controlling.

But the key here is context and frequency.

Excessive flattery and charm is a powerful form of manipulation. There’s even science behind the idea of making someone feel good to get what you want.

Think about it.

Even if it comes across as insincere, stroking someone’s ego speaks to their subconscious. This means it can surprisingly still work (no matter how fake it sounds). It’s a clever hack that bypasses their rational thought.

After all, if they decide to disagree with the flattery, they’re effectively insulting their ego. Not a comfortable thing to do!

We tend to joke about it, saying: “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

But as it turns out, it actually works.

There’s more.

If you add charm into the mix, and a great sense of humor, they can really pull your strings. Talk about being a puppet master!

Humor naturally makes us warm to people. It can foster a sense of trust and comfort.

There’s a reason why top salespeople know how to make us laugh and put us at ease (while dishing out bucketloads of flattery).

6) “I’ll tell you later.”

If someone withholds information or frequently demonstrates selective disclosure, they could be trying to establish a position of power (to control you).

Let me explain with an example.

You arrive late at the party and all your friends are laughing hysterically. They know something you don’t. When you ask one of them what’s going on, they reply with something like “I’ll tell you later.” or “Oh, nothing, don’t worry about it.”

This social dynamic is even stronger in a many-to-one scenario. In other words, you’re the only one who isn’t privy to what’s going on.

This can make you feel isolated, inferior, and paranoid.

In reality, this exclusive inside information is probably nothing. Maybe someone just stumbled after having too much to drink.

But it’s the not-knowing that creates the control. They have something you want, and they aren’t giving it to you.

7) “People have lost their jobs for making mistakes like that.”

This is an example of a passive-aggressive threat and is designed to instill fear or intimidate you.

In other words, manipulate you.

Especially if it comes from your boss and there’s a lot on the line (your job).

Here’s the thing.

They’re forcing you to consider the worst-case outcome. Fear is an incredibly powerful motivator (maybe the strongest). When you imagine being unemployed, you start to think of mounting bills, supporting your family, paying your rent, and a bunch of other life challenges.

The result? You think very carefully about making that mistake again.

Your boss has manipulated you (in a rather negative way) to do better.

8) “Your family is always against you.”

Master manipulators understand that it’s easier to control isolated, vulnerable people.

So they might try to separate you from close friends and family.

This isn’t usually achieved in a single phrase, rather, this is a pattern of behavior that could last months (or even years). They’ll slowly grind away to change your opinion and break you away from your support network.

Isolation tactics are often used in toxic relationships by abusive partners.

They’ll leverage your strong feelings and make you choose between them and your friends.

When you’re alone, you’re more dependent on them (and right where they want you).

9) “I’ll help you with that, but…”

This is a classic case of conditional kindness.

The manipulator agrees to do something for you, but it comes with strict conditions that you must do something for them.

And often, the returned favor is much bigger!

Whether it’s lending you money (with a huge interest repayment), walking your dog (for a price), or giving you a ride (but expecting several lifts in return) they make it look like a fair trade when it’s not.

Remember, real friends won’t expect anything in return.

They’ll help you out because they care for you.

It’s only manipulative people who want you to be forever in debt to them. It gives them leverage and (of course) control over you.

10) “You’re so untrustworthy.”

Finally, if someone constantly projects their own insecurities onto you, they’re most definitely a manipulative person.

There’s a reason behind their behavior.

Projection is a defense mechanism to help them deal with their deep-rooted anxieties.

So when they tell you that you’re untrustworthy, they actually feel like they’re untrustworthy and are struggling to deal with it.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Attack is the best form of defense.” Well, it’s effectively what they’re doing. By shifting the spotlight onto someone else, they get to avoid their own problems.

But let’s end on this.

Whether it’s projection or any other of the phrases listed above, it’s important to understand that the manipulative person is probably going through a bunch of issues.

Anything from low self-esteem and low confidence to guilt and regret.

In an ideal world, we should try to help them fight their gremlins and even seek professional help to end their toxic behavior.

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