9 cunning phrases manipulators use to shift blame and accountability

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There’s a thin line between being persuasive and being manipulative.

The key? Accountability.

Manipulation often involves shifting blame, dodging accountability, and masking true intentions. It’s a crafty game of smoke and mirrors, and some people have it down to an art.

Manipulators tend to use certain phrases to avoid taking responsibility.

In this article, we’re going to shine a light on 9 cunning phrases manipulators use to shift blame and accountability. Being aware of these phrases can help you spot manipulation and safeguard your own interests.

Let’s get started.

1) “I never said that…”

One of the most common phrases manipulators use to dodge accountability is “I never said that.”

It’s a deflection tactic designed to put you on the back foot and question your memory or understanding.

This phrase is a classic case of gaslighting, a psychological manipulation technique where a person makes someone else question their reality, memory or perceptions.

Remember, if you’re confident about what was said and the context in which it was communicated, stand your ground.

Don’t let a manipulator rewrite the narrative to their advantage.

Recognizing this phrase for what it is – an attempt to shift blame and duck responsibility – can help you maintain control of the situation.

2) “You’re just overreacting…”

In my own experience, I’ve encountered manipulators who tried to undermine my feelings or reactions.

This brings me to the second cunning phrase: “You’re just overreacting.”

Once, a colleague missed a crucial deadline that affected our project.

When I addressed the issue, instead of owning up to his mistake, he brushed it off with, “You’re just overreacting, it’s not that big of a deal.”

This phrase is often used to trivialize legitimate concerns and make you second-guess your judgment.

They do that to deflect blame by painting you as overly sensitive or irrational even when your feelings and concerns are valid. 

3) “It’s not my fault, it’s because of…”

Meet the master of deflection: “It’s not my fault, it’s because of…”

This phrase is a manipulator’s ticket to passing the buck and avoiding responsibility.

Psychologists call this behavior ‘externalizing blame‘.

It’s a defense mechanism often used by individuals who have difficulty accepting their role in a situation.

Studies have shown that people who frequently externalize blame tend to have lower levels of emotional intelligence.

In other words, they struggle with self-awareness and empathy, which leads them to pin their mistakes on external circumstances or other individuals.

4) “If you hadn’t…”

The phrase “If you hadn’t…” is another classic shift-the-blame tactic. The goal here is to make you feel guilty and question whether you were indeed at fault.

It’s a way for the manipulator to sidestep responsibility for their actions by making it seem like your actions triggered theirs.

When you hear this phrase, remember that each individual is responsible for their actions and reactions, regardless of the circumstances.

Don’t let a manipulator shift the blame onto you.

5) “You always…”

When a manipulator uses the phrase “You always…”, it’s an attempt to pigeonhole you into a negative pattern of behavior.

Wondering how?

This tactic is often used to divert attention from their own actions and shift the blame onto you.

The use of “always” is an exaggeration, a way to highlight a perceived flaw or mistake you’ve made. 

In essence, it’s designed to make you feel defensive and question your actions, rather than focusing on their lack of accountability.

6) “I’m sorry you feel that way…”

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is a classic non-apology. It sounds like an apology on the surface, but it subtly shifts the blame onto you.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their actions, the manipulator expresses regret for your feelings.

This phrase can be particularly hurtful because it invalidates your feelings and experiences. It subtly suggests that the problem isn’t their actions, but rather your reaction to those actions.

After all, a genuine apology acknowledges the wrongdoer’s actions and their impact on you. 

7) “It was just a joke…”

I recall a time when a friend constantly made derogatory comments about me, under the guise of humor.

Whenever I expressed my discomfort, her go-to response was “It was just a joke.”

This phrase is often used to mask hurtful comments and actions. It makes it seem like you’re the one with the issue – that you’re too sensitive or you lack a sense of humor.

In reality, it’s a manipulative way to avoid taking responsibility for inappropriate behavior.

Ultimately, your feelings are valid – don’t let anyone dismiss them under the guise of humor. 

8) “You’re misunderstanding me…”

The phrase “You’re misunderstanding me” is a manipulator’s way of sidestepping responsibility.

They imply that the issue lies not with what they did or said, but how you interpreted it.

By blaming your understanding, they’re able to deflect criticism and shift the focus onto you. It’s a cunning way to dodge blame and maintain an illusion of innocence.

As you know, communication is a two-way street and it’s just as much about how messages are delivered as how they are received.

9) “I was just trying to help…”

Finally, perhaps one of the most deceptive phrases manipulators use is “I was just trying to help.”

The truth is, it’s a phrase that, on the surface, seems harmless and even well-intentioned.

Yet, it’s often used as a cover for actions that cause harm or discomfort.

This phrase paints the manipulator as the good guy – just trying to assist. In reality, it’s a sneaky way to escape blame for harmful behaviors and actions.

The key thing to remember is that genuine help respects boundaries and doesn’t cause harm.

If someone uses this phrase to justify inappropriate behavior, recognize it as an attempt to dodge accountability.

Final thoughts

We all know the importance of clear and honest communication. But you see, in the world of manipulation, words can be twisted, misinterpreted, or conveniently forgotten.

Recognizing these phrases manipulators use to shift blame and accountability is a powerful tool in safeguarding your emotional wellbeing.

It’s about becoming aware of the subtle tricks and techniques that manipulators might use to evade responsibility.

And you know what? 

Being mindful of these phrases can help you navigate tricky conversations, maintain your confidence, and most importantly, hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Whether it’s in our personal relationships, professional interactions, or social encounters, having this awareness can change the dynamics significantly.

It empowers you to stand your ground, validate your feelings, and challenge the narrative when necessary.

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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