7 phrases you don’t realize are actually quite manipulative

by Brendan Brown | May 8, 2024, 2:07 pm

 It’s an unfortunate fact that the world is full of manipulative people.

These people use every trick in the book to get others to behave the way they want. Manipulative people have a variety of reasons for doing what they do, but often, it comes down to some kind of personality disorder, including narcissism.

You don’t want to be a manipulative person. However, it’s possible that you are using some tricks out of their playbook without realizing it.

You see, language is one of the major ways that people manipulate one another. And even if that’s not your intention, the phrases you use may make other people think you are trying to manipulate them.

So if you find yourself using any of the phrases below, it might be a good idea to delete them from your vocabulary before you get a reputation for trying to control other people.

1) You shouldn’t feel like that

You may have said this phrase in all innocence. Unfortunately, it’s a textbook manipulative phrase.

This is something people say when they are trying to control the emotions of other people. Telling someone how they should and shouldn’t feel in a given situation invalidates the feelings that they do have and tells them that they should feel the way you say.

Therapist Jennifer Litner calls this emotional invalidation and writes that it can look like blaming and name-calling to those who experience it. She also writes that it can cause numerous problems, including:

In other words, this isn’t something you want to do to people you care about – or anyone else, for that matter.

Instead, you can validate someone’s feelings even if you don’t agree with them. Let people know that their feelings are valid and important so that you don’t seem manipulative.

2) You’re overreacting

This is similar to the emotional invalidation we talked about earlier. Because when you tell someone they are overreacting, you are telling them that their emotions are disproportionate to what you think they should be.

Now, of course, sometimes people really do overreact. 

But it’s not for you to tell people how they should feel emotionally, or how they should react in any given situation. When you do that, it often comes off as being controlling.

Instead of telling people they are overreacting, focus on understanding why they are reacting the way they are. 

Then, you can help them manage their emotional reactions in a way that doesn’t make it seem like you are dismissing how they feel.

3) That’s not what I said

This is another one that has some nuance to it.

If people are lying about the things you said, there’s nothing wrong with setting them straight. At the same time, if you find yourself saying this a lot, it might be a sign that you need to look inwards.

Perhaps, if you’re constantly correcting people about what you said, it’s possible you are not being clear. Or maybe you are misremembering what you have said and haven’t said.

The thing is, when you tell people they are wrong about what you said, it can seem like a form of gaslighting. That’s a manipulation tactic that involves people lying to others about what has happened to make them question their sense of reality.

4) I’m sorry, but…

Be very careful with apologies.

Sometimes, a well-meant and sincere apology can do incredible things. It can mend relationships that seemed irreparably broken and make people think far better of you than they did previously.

But the key is that it has to be sincere.

If you have messed up and you recognize that fact, all you can do is apologize. But if you add anything on to your apology, you make it seem insincere and as though you are justifying yourself.

Author Peg Streep has written extensively on manipulation, narcissism, and toxic relationships, and she argues that the words “I’m sorry” are often just part of a manipulator’s game. Qualifying your apology can often be a way of shifting blame onto the other person for what you did wrong.

If you do something that requires an apology, apologize. But leave it there.

5) You’re too sensitive

Minimizing people’s feelings never makes them feel good. And telling someone they are too sensitive when they get upset at the things you say or do can often backfire.

You see, telling someone they are too sensitive is another form of the blame-shifting I talked about above. Instead of focusing on your own actions, you are instead blaming them for their reaction to it.

This is highly manipulative, even if you don’t mean it be.

6) You made me do it

This is an extremely dangerous phrase that is often used by manipulators. As a result, it’s one you should almost never use yourself.

Other than certain professions like cops and judges, no one really makes you do anything in this life. Certainly, not once you’re an adult. 

How you react to the things other people do is completely in your control, and accepting that is part of being a responsible and emotionally mature adult.

Blaming other people for your emotional reactions is classic manipulation. And it’s also a good way to make sure you never learn from your mistakes.

7) You’d do it if you loved me

Manipulators love to use people’s best qualities against them. That’s how they often exploit feelings of love and affection to get what they want.

This phrase is about as direct as manipulation gets.

It makes people feel bad for not doing what the manipulator tells them. And it’s a phrase you should absolutely avoid if you don’t want people to see you as a manipulative person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *