If someone uses these 10 phrases, they’re an emotional manipulator

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Ever meet someone who makes you question yourself a lot? They’re nice, but something just doesn’t feel right.

That could be an emotional manipulator at work. These folks are experts at using words to confuse and control others.

They might seem friendly, but they use certain phrases that make you feel small, unsure, or like you always owe them something.

In this article, we’ll point out 10 phrases often used by emotional manipulators. Knowing these phrases can help you spot a manipulator early on.

Phrase 1: “You’re too sensitive.”

One of the classic phrases that emotional manipulators love to toss around is accusing others of being “too sensitive” or “overreacting.”

They use this phrase as a weapon, a quick and dirty way to dismiss your feelings and make you question your reactions. It’s like saying your emotions aren’t valid or reasonable.

Here’s the scenario: you’re upset about something they did or said. Instead of acknowledging your feelings or discussing the issue, they label you “too sensitive.”

This move not only dodges responsibility but also puts you on the defensive.

Now, instead of talking about what they did wrong, you’re left justifying your emotions and reactions.

So, the next time someone hits you with the “you’re too sensitive” card, take a step back. Ask yourself if this is a one-off instance or a pattern.

If it’s the latter, you might just be dealing with an emotional manipulator who’s trying to undermine your feelings and assert control.

Stand firm, trust your emotions, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries to protect your mental and emotional well-being.

Phrase 2: “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

This one cuts deep. It’s raw because it wraps something harmful in the guise of care and affection.

When an emotional manipulator uses this phrase, they’re playing a dangerous game. They’re taking something beautiful – love – and turning it into a weapon, a tool for control.

Imagine this: they do something that clearly oversteps your boundaries. It could be anything – prying into your personal space, controlling who you see, or how you spend your time.

When you call them out, they hit back with, “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

Suddenly, their invasive or controlling behavior is painted as a sacrifice. 

It’s a trap. They want to make you feel guilty for questioning their actions.

It’s a way to make harmful, toxic behavior seem noble.

But let’s be real – love is about respect, trust, and freedom. If someone’s version of ‘love’ feels like a prison, if it undermines your autonomy and makes you feel small, that’s not love. That’s manipulation. 

Phrase 3: “No one else would put up with you.”

I’ve heard this one before, and let me tell you, it stings. It’s designed to make you feel like you’re hard to love.

It’s a sentence meant to knock down your self-esteem and make you feel indebted to them.

But here’s the thing – it’s a lie, a cruel tactic used to foster dependence.

No one deserves to hear that they’re a burden, and that love and respect for them is a favor.

We all have our quirks, our flaws, but they don’t make us unworthy of love and respect.

Emotional manipulators use this phrase to tether you to them, to make you feel like they’re your only option, that without them, you’re unlovable.

But I learned, and I want you to know too – your worth isn’t determined by someone’s inability to see it.

If you ever hear this phrase, recognize it for what it is: a manipulation, not a fact. You are worthy of love and respect, just as you are, quirks and all. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Phrase 4: “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Apologies are supposed to be good, right? They’re meant to acknowledge a mistake and express regret.

But not all apologies are created equal.

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is a masterclass in non-apologies.

It sounds like they’re apologizing, but if you look closer, there’s no acknowledgment of wrongdoing, no commitment to change. It’s all on you – your feelings, your reaction.

This phrase is a manipulator’s golden ticket. It allows them to appear remorseful while skillfully sidestepping responsibility.

It turns the tables, shifting the focus from their actions to your reactions.

Now, instead of addressing the issue at hand, you’re left grappling with your feelings, wondering if you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

An apology that dismisses your feelings or deflects blame isn’t an apology at all.

Be vigilant, stand your ground, and don’t be afraid to peel back the layers to demand accountability, not just empty words.

Phrase 5: “If you really loved me, you would…”

This phrase goes something like this: “If you really loved me, you would cancel your plans to be with me” or “If you really loved me, you’d do this for me.”

It puts you in a corner. Suddenly, you’re not just declining a request; you’re questioning the depth of your love. 

I used to fall for it, thinking that saying ‘yes’ was a testament to my love, a way to prove that I cared.

But love isn’t about constant sacrifice, and it isn’t proved by how many times you can push yourself aside to accommodate another.

It took me a while to realize that love is as much about respect for the other as it is about respect for oneself.

If you’ve heard this phrase, remember: love is not a bargaining chip. It’s not something to be measured by the amount of your self-sacrifice.

You can love someone deeply and still have boundaries, still say ‘no’.

And if someone tries to make your love conditional upon meeting their every whim and demand, it’s a red flag. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge it as such.

Phrase 6: “You always” or “You never”

When someone starts a sentence with “you always” or “you never,” watch out. They’re usually about to throw a whole lot of blame your way.

They say something like “you always forget things” or “you never listen to me.”

Sounds familiar, right? It feels like they’ve got a list of all your mistakes ready to go.

What’s sneaky about this is it makes you feel like you’re always wrong. They turn small mistakes into big patterns. You’re left defending yourself, and the real issue? It gets lost in the mix.

Remember, nobody is perfect. We all mess up sometimes. But that doesn’t mean we’re always messing up.

So if someone hits you with a “you always” or “you never,” take a breath. It’s not all on you.

Every relationship – whether it’s friendship, family, or love – takes two.

Each person has their part to play, their own mistakes to own up to. You’re not in this alone.

Phrase 7: “Can’t you take a joke?”

Ah, the classic deflection. Someone says something hurtful, you react, and suddenly, it’s all “just a joke.”

They make it seem like you’re the one with the issue – you can’t take a joke, you’re overreacting, you need to lighten up.

It’s a clever way to sidestep accountability and make your feelings seem like an overreaction.

Here’s the problem – jokes should be funny, not hurtful. If a “joke” makes you feel bad, small, or disrespected, that’s not humor; it’s a disguise for unkindness or manipulation.

Emotional manipulators use this tactic to test boundaries, to see how much they can get away with.

If you call them out, they retreat behind the “it’s just a joke” defense, making you the bad guy for not finding their hurtful comments funny.

But respect trumps humor. If a “joke” is at the expense of your feelings, your self-esteem, or your dignity, it’s not a joke worth telling.

You have every right to speak up, to demand respect, and to draw the line where humor ends and hurt begins.

Trust your feelings – if it doesn’t feel like a joke, it probably isn’t one.

Phrase 8: “Trust me.”

In a healthy relationship, trust is natural. 

But in the hands of an emotional manipulator, “trust me” is often used as a tool to skirt around issues, avoid questions, or dismiss concerns.

Here’s how it can play out: you have a legit concern or question about something they did or said.

Instead of addressing it, they brush it off with a simple “trust me.”

Now, if you push further, you’re not just seeking clarity; you’re questioning their integrity, which can easily make you feel like the bad guy.

Emotional manipulators use “trust me” to bypass accountability.

It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card; they don’t have to explain themselves because you’re just supposed to trust them, no questions asked.

But here’s where we draw the line. Trust is earned, not entitled. It’s built through actions, not just words.

If someone uses “trust me” to avoid transparency or escape accountability, take a pause.

Trust is a two-way street, and you have every right to ask questions and seek clarity in any relationship. Trust should empower, not silence you.

Phrase 9: “You owe me.”

In my experience, manipulators use this phrase to establish a power dynamic. They do a favor, offer help, or give something – not out of kindness – but to create a sense of obligation.

Every gesture, every act of ‘generosity’ is a transaction, something that comes with strings attached.

“I helped you when no one else did, you owe me,” they’d say. It made me feel small and powerless.

But with time, I learned an invaluable lesson: true kindness doesn’t come with an invoice.

Genuine support and generosity aren’t tools for manipulation – they’re offered freely, with no expectation of reciprocation.

If you’ve been told “you owe me,” remember this – you don’t owe anyone your freedom, your autonomy, or your peace of mind.

Kindness is not a debt, and you’re not a prisoner to someone else’s expectations or favors.

You’re free to choose, to set boundaries, and to prioritize your well-being, always.

Phrase 10: “You make me feel like I’m walking on eggshells.”

When someone tells you that you make them feel like they’re walking on eggshells, it hits hard.

Suddenly, you’re not just having a disagreement; you’re the perpetrator, the reason they feel oppressed or silenced.

They paint a vivid picture where they’re the victim, constantly navigating your unpredictable, volatile emotions.

This phrase is a manipulator’s masterpiece at shifting the blame.

It made me question my emotions, my reactions, made me feel like I was the problem, unstable, and erratic.

It’s a guilt trip and a deflection wrapped into one potent package.

It’s a manipulation tactic meant to make you apologize for having emotions, for reacting to their actions. It places them on a pedestal of patience and martyrdom, dealing with ‘difficult’ you.

But your emotions are valid. You have every right to express yourself, to react to actions, and words that impact you. You’re not ‘too much’ or ‘too intense’ because you have feelings and reactions.

If they make you feel like you have to tiptoe around their sensitivities, while they trample all over yours, that’s manipulation.

It’s a red flag that signals it’s time to evaluate the balance, respect, and communication in the relationship.

You’re not an emotional burden, and it’s not your job to shrink yourself to make others comfortable.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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