Manipulation happens every day, whether you realize it or not.
The American Psychological Association defines manipulation as “behavior designed to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage.”
This behavior can include things like lying, flattery, isolation, devaluing, gaslighting, and even fear and violence.
Is manipulation always intentional?
While it can be thought through and planned, for many people, it’s simply a result of the normal patterns they use when interacting with other people. So they might be able to manipulate others and get their way without even trying to.
There are clues that you can look for to protect yourself against being used and abused, however.
If someone uses these ten phrases, they’re being manipulative without realizing it.
1) “You’re so selfish.”
This phrase is not only super-manipulative, it’s also ridiculous. It would be funny if the person wasn’t actually trying to manipulate you.
Calling you selfish is laughable because it’s the other person who is using this phrase to gain something from you and not the other way around.
However, they may be completely oblivious to their own behavior.
They would normally say this when they’ve asked you to do something that you’re not able or willing to do – both legitimate reasons to refuse.
They might ask you to do something that you’re not comfortable with, and then when you say new, this is what they accuse you of.
They don’t realize that they’re actually the ones selfishly trying to push past your boundaries.
2) “You’re overreacting.”
One of the most manipulative phrases on this list is also one that we all recognize.
While this is often true, it’s also very frequently said in order to do a few different things.
First, it’s an attempt to deflate another person’s anger.
It’s also meant to minimize the speaker’s fault in the situation by making it seem like whatever they did isn’t so serious.
Well, they might actually believe that’s true. But when someone uses this phrase, they’re essentially telling you that your assessment of the situation is wrong.
This devalues your feelings and opinion and pushes their version of reality to the forefront.
And while this is a pretty common thing to do, it’s also manipulative.
3) “I’m the victim here.”
You’ll recognize this manipulative phrase as a prime example of ‘flipping the script.’
A person is going to use this phrase when they are trying to deflect blame away from themselves. But the way it works is that the blame has to go somewhere else, so it sticks to you.
Is this always intentional?
No, the person saying this might just be feeling very defensive and would automatically turn to this phrase to protect themself.
Does that mean it’s not really manipulative?
Not at all. Remember, manipulation can be behavior someone uses to influence others to their own advantage.
So, re-framing themself as a victim can certainly be advantageous.
It can get them out of trouble and even attract sympathy and support, even when they’re actually the person doing wrong.
4) “That’s not the way it happened.”
This phrase and its variations like “That never happened” or “You’ve remembered things all wrong” can sometimes be used in a truly innocent way.
You might say this when someone is telling a story, and they get the details all bungled up while you remember what actually went down.
At the same time, though, it’s not nice to hear when you’re absolutely sure of what happened, and yet the other person is questioning your version of events.
This is an example of gaslighting, trying to convince you that your understanding and perceptions are wrong.
And it’s definitely manipulative, even if the other person doesn’t realize it.
They might have convinced themself of a version of events that makes them look good, and your version doesn’t support their narrative. So they tell you you’re wrong because they’ve made themself believe something they invented.
5) “Calm down.”
I don’t know about you, but to me, there’s nothing calming about being told to calm down.
I feel like it’s a denial of my feelings and a devaluation of how I’ve interpreted a situation.
Just the other day, I was checking my messages while waiting at a bus stop when someone ran into me hard and knocked my phone to the ground.
I was angry. There was no reason they should have bumped into me as I was out of the way and minding my own business.
I picked up my phone and saw the screen was smashed, but when I waved my damaged device at the guy, he told me, “Calm down. It’s no big deal.”
It was clear that this guy didn’t care or want to take any responsibility for what he’d done. And he was making it seem like I was wrong to be upset.
6) “This shows you don’t care.”
Don’t you love other people telling you what you care about?
Here, the person is telling you how you think and feel rather than asking and listening to you.
How inconsiderate is that?
Suppose your boss says that if you don’t work overtime tonight, it shows you don’t care about the job. Or maybe your partner says if you don’t take them away on a holiday, then you don’t care about them.
Can you see how manipulative that is?
They might not even realize it themselves – they might really think this is logical. If A, then B.
But what they’re doing when they say this is denying you the opportunity to make your own choices and have complex motivations.
This is black-and-white thinking that’s being thrust upon you even though you never asked for it.
7) “If you loved me, you’d…”
This phrase that people use when they’re being manipulative is also really similar to the last one. It’s just that this time, it’s a really serious relationship issue.
Clearly, this phrase questions your loyalty to the person, whether that’s a partner, a parent, or even a friend.
But is it fair?
The person saying this is being manipulative, whether they know it or not.
They’re making it clear that they think love is conditional and based on your actions.
That might be their hang-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s yours.
If someone does say this, they’re backing you into a corner and trying to force you to make a choice. You either do something to prove you love them, or you don’t, and that means you don’t.
Not fair at all, it is?
8) “You’re being unreasonable.”
Here’s another statement that denies the value of your feelings.
This is something often said by a person who’s frustrated, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all true.
It’s important for all of us to have boundaries. There are things we’re comfortable doing and things we’re not, and other people should respect that.
But imagine a coworker asks you to lie and say they were at work when they weren’t, and you don’t want to be dishonest.
If you refuse to do what they want, they might accuse you of being unreasonable and not supporting them in their subterfuge.
Once again, they’re flipping things around on you.
It’s them who’s being unreasonable by trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do.
But because this serves their purposes, they might not even be able to realize that they’re actually trying to manipulate you.
90 “You’re paranoid.”
Have you ever asked someone a direct question or told them how you feel only to be called paranoid?
If you have, you’d recognize the truly horrible feeling this brings on.
For one thing, this denial of what you think is a form of gaslighting and devaluing your feelings and intuition.
It also switches things around so that the focus is on you and not the other person.
Imagine you simply asking your partner why they’ve been so hard to get a hold of lately, and they come back with this accusation.
This is such an aggressive thing to say to someone – it’s basically calling them crazy.
10) “…too much drama”
Manipulative people invented drama, so it’s ironic and more than a bit laughable when one of them tells you you’re causing too much.
Or they might state that they like to keep away from too much drama, in this case, insinuating that they’re above it all.
Well. They’re probably the ones actually causing it.
Calling people’s behavior “drama” belittles it and once again devalues their emotions. They’re basically saying to you that you’re being over-dramatic and causing trouble, probably because you’re not falling in line with their plans.
If someone uses these ten phrases, they’re being manipulative, whether they realize it or not.
They’re trying to exploit you, control you, or gain some advantage. But now that you recognize these red flags, you can protect yourself from getting burned by these manipulative people.