12 phrases manipulative people use to undermine your confidence

by Brendan Brown | January 4, 2024, 3:15 pm

Manipulation is a tricky game, often played by those close enough to know your weaknesses. 

They can use words to undermine your confidence, make you question yourself, or even agree with them without realizing it. It’s unsettling, isn’t it? 

The problem is that if you don’t recognize their intention, you may find yourself doubting your own self-esteem. 

In this article, we’ll uncover 12 phrases manipulative people often use. Let’s explore the warning signs.

1) “You’re too sensitive about everything.”

Ah, the classic guilt-trip. How many times have you been told this and started doubting your own feelings? 

By saying you’re overreacting, the manipulator is trying to discredit your emotions

They want you to think that maybe you are the one in the wrong. But remember, your feelings are your own, and it’s okay to stand by them.

2) “I never said that. You must be imagining things.”

This is where things get a bit sneaky. If you ever hear this phrase, you might want to take a step back and think. 

When manipulative people use this line, they are attempting to rewrite history and gaslight you. It makes you question your memory and judgment. 

I’ve been there, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. Keep a record of essential conversations if you need to, but don’t let someone else’s words make you doubt your reality.

3) “I’m only telling you this for your own good.”

Now, this one might sound sincere, but don’t be too quick to buy it. It’s a favorite line for manipulators to hide their criticism or control behind a mask of concern. 

It makes you feel like they’re on your side, right? But what they’re actually doing is using your trust to guide your decisions. 

It’s subtle and might make you question your own judgment. 

Trust yourself, and seek advice from people who genuinely have your best interests at heart.

4) “If you were smarter, you would understand what I’m saying.”

Ouch. This one hits hard, doesn’t it?

It’s an outright attack on your intelligence. Manipulators use this line to make you feel inferior, doubting your abilities and knowledge. 

I remember once, during a discussion, someone threw this line at me. It was designed to make me feel small, and it momentarily worked. 

But guess what? I recognized the manipulation, stood my ground, and you can, too. Never let anyone define your intelligence or capabilities.

5) “Everyone thinks you’re wrong, but I’m on your side.”

This clever tactic is designed to isolate you while pretending to be your ally. 

By telling you that “everyone” disagrees with you, the manipulator is undermining your confidence in your ideas and judgments. 

They position themselves as the only one supporting you, making you feel indebted and more susceptible to their influence. 

Be cautious with this one; it’s often a mask for hidden agendas.

6) “You always mess things up, but I still care about you.”

This line is a double whammy. First, they criticize you by saying you “always” mess up, and then they cushion it with a declaration of affection or care. 

It’s a masterful way to tear down your self-confidence and then pretend to build it up again, all while keeping you under their control. 

Remember, genuine care doesn’t come with constant criticism. Watch out for this insidious combo; it’s one of the manipulator’s favorite tricks.

7) “You could never do that without me.”

This phrase is a subtle way to make you feel dependent on the manipulator. It’s as if they’re saying you’re not capable enough to achieve something on your own. 

I know from personal experience how this one can sting. When I was working on a big project, someone close to me kept saying I’d never pull it off without their help. 

It did shake my confidence, but I realized their intention and managed to prove them wrong. 

You’re stronger and more capable than manipulators would have you believe.

8) “Why can’t you be more like [person’s name]?”

Comparisons are a manipulator’s bread and butter, especially when they compare you unfavorably to someone else

By drawing these parallels, they make you feel inadequate and sow seeds of doubt about your abilities and worth. 

It might be a sibling, a coworker, or a friend they compare you to. The point is to make you feel lesser-than and rob you of your confidence. 

Reject the comparison, and focus on your unique strengths and values. No one can define who you should be but you.

9) “You wouldn’t understand; it’s too complicated for you.”

This is another direct attack on your intelligence, but it goes even deeper. 

By telling you that something is too complicated for you, the manipulator is implying that you’re not just wrong about a specific subject but fundamentally lacking in comprehension. 

It can make you hesitant to voice your opinions or take on new challenges. Don’t let this phrase paralyze you. 

Challenge the assumption, ask for explanations if needed, and never let someone’s words dictate what you can or can’t understand.

10) “You always take things the wrong way.”

This phrase is an insidious way to make you question your perception and understanding. 

By accusing you of always misinterpreting things, the manipulator makes you feel like you can’t trust your judgment. 

It’s a technique I’ve personally encountered in a past relationship. Every time I would express concern or disagreement, I was told that I was taking things the wrong way. 

It made me second-guess myself constantly, but eventually, I recognized the manipulation and learned to trust my intuition again.

11) “I don’t know why I even bother with you.”

This cutting remark is designed to make you feel worthless and unappreciated. It questions your value to the manipulator, making you feel like you need to prove yourself. 

You may start to feel like you’re constantly failing to meet their expectations, causing your confidence to plummet. 

If someone says this to you, recognize it for what it is—a manipulative tactic—and don’t let it define your worth.

12) “You’ll never succeed in that; trust me, I know better.”

Here, the manipulator positions themselves as the all-knowing authority, belittling your ambitions and dreams. 

It’s a brutal assault on your confidence, making you feel naïve for even considering your chosen path. The underlying message is that you’re not capable of making wise decisions for yourself. 

Reject this notion. Your goals and dreams are yours to pursue, and success doesn’t need anyone else’s approval.

Recognizing the first signs of manipulation

Manipulation can be subtle, creeping into our lives without us even noticing. These signs are a starting point, a way for you to gauge your interactions and relationships:

Unfamiliar guilt or doubt

If you often find yourself feeling guilty or doubting yourself after conversations with a particular person, it’s time to ask why. Is someone consistently making you feel like you’re in the wrong?

Emotional roller coasters

Manipulators know how to play with emotions. If your interactions with someone leave you emotionally drained or swinging between highs and lows, take note.

Constant apologies

Are you always the one apologizing, even when you know you shouldn’t be? Manipulators can make you feel like everything is your fault.

Changes in behavior or beliefs

If you find yourself changing your behavior, beliefs, or opinions to please someone else, it may be time to evaluate whether you’re being manipulated.

Feeling isolated from others

Manipulators often try to isolate you from friends or family. If someone constantly undermines your relationships with others, beware.

Inconsistency in words and actions

Pay attention if someone’s words don’t match their actions. Manipulators often say one thing and do another.

Your gut feeling

Trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. Our intuition can often sense manipulation, even if we can’t put our finger on it.

Seeking outside perspective

Sometimes, a fresh perspective can shed light on a situation. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your concerns, and see if they notice the signs as well.

Setting boundaries and observing reactions

Establish clear boundaries and observe how the person reacts. A manipulator will often become agitated or defensive when they can’t control you.

Consulting a professional if needed

If you’re deeply concerned and struggling, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance. Therapists or counselors can provide expert insights tailored to your situation.

Differentiating between manipulation and constructive criticism

Navigating the line between manipulation and genuine, constructive criticism can be challenging. 

I’ve faced this dilemma myself, and I know it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two. 

But here’s what I’ve learned: constructive criticism comes from a place of care and growth; it’s about helping you improve and achieve your potential. 

Manipulation, on the other hand, aims to control and undermine your confidence for someone else’s gain.

Trust in your ability to recognize the difference. Reflect on the intent behind the words and how they make you feel. If something feels wrong, chances are it might be. 

You have the wisdom and strength to discern what’s truly in your best interest. 

Believe in yourself, stand strong, and never let anyone manipulate your path. You’re in control, and your confidence is unbreakable.

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