If you recognize these 10 phrases, you’re dealing with an expert manipulator

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It’s hard to tell if someone is indeed a manipulator —especially if they’re someone very close to you.

They’re charming, they’re “kind”, and they don’t act like the typical manipulator we see on TV.

Amateur manipulators are often quite crude and obvious.

But people who have been playing people like puppets for years—decades, even—know how to make people dance on their hands without being caught!

To catch an expert manipulator, it’s not enough that you pay attention to their actions, you have to listen carefully to what they say.

Want to know if you’re dealing with a master manipulator?

Here are 10 phrases that you should watch out for.

1) “I was just trying to help”

They told you something—maybe a piece of advice, or maybe some rumor they heard—and because of it, you did something that you came to regret.

So you try to talk to them about it and they just shrug and say “Well, I was just trying to help!”

They might even double down and try to make YOU feel guilty by saying something like “If I knew you’d feel this way, I shouldn’t have cared!”

What they want is to sell the idea that whatever they’ve said and done, it was with good intentions. 

They just “wanted to help”, after all, and that means you’re an a*hole for giving them grief over it!

But in truth someone who genuinely wants to help will own up to their mistakes. They won’t use their “good intentions” as a get-out-of-jail card.

2) “Just this once!”

They’ve got a request of some kind—maybe they want to borrow your car, or hold your hand, or have you act as their wingman.

Now you don’t really like what they’re asking, so you said “no”.

It would be fine if they just left it at that. But no! Out they go with their puppy eyes as they plead “please, just this once?”

They might even keep it up long enough to sound convincing. 

What’s the harm in letting them borrow your car just this once, after all? It’s not like they’ll scratch the paint or use it to get away with a robbery, right?

They might even have you thinking that you’d be heartless to deny them!

But that’s exactly where their manipulation lies. 

They want you to feel guilty at the very thought of turning them down.

3) “Not everything is about you”

Shutting you up by making you feel like you’re being self-important (even when you’re not, really) is a classic trick among master manipulators.

They want you to doubt yourself

They want you to feel like you’re being selfish, overstepping your bounds, and not giving much thought to the lives of the people around you.

Did you complain that they never spared you enough time or attention? Or perhaps that their plans interfere with your career goals?

Master manipulators can easily silence you if you don’t have a good grasp on your boundaries, or if you struggle to balance your needs with that of others.

So if you want to resist master manipulators, figuring out your boundaries is a good first step.

4) “I don’t want you to feel like I’m taking advantage of you, but…”

But they’ll take advantage of you anyway.

They say this because they want to make it seem like you just FEEL like they’re taking advantage of you and not… well, that they’re actually taking advantage of you.

The idea is that their “self-awareness” will make you focus on the supposed guilt they feel whenever they impose on you.

They’re also hoping that it will make you like them more (after all, self-awareness is cute and honest and raw) so that you’ll just let them do whatever they want.

While simple, this trick is extremely effective and it is for that reason that the best manipulators often use some variant of this phrase.

5) “Do you really think I can do that to you?”

You learned that they did something to you.

Perhaps they broke your trust and slept with your partner, or perhaps they blew through your college fund one night in Vegas.

Whatever it was, you’re fuming mad. And rightfully so.

But the moment you confront them about it they act all shocked. 

“Do you think I can do that to you?” they’d say, perhaps invoking the times when they acted in your best interest.

And for a moment you wonder—could they really be the kind of person to do that?

Expert manipulators will have stacked the dice in their favor and painted themselves in such a good light that even if you know that they did it, it simply feels wrong to say “yes, you’re awful!”

You’ll be tempted to say “sorry, I should have never doubted you” instead.

6) “Nobody loves me”

They spend a lot of time grumbling about how they never have any friends, or how nobody really cares about them.

Now, keep in mind that not everyone who feels like the world hates them is necessarily a manipulator. 

People with BPD often take other people’s feelings about them more harshly than normal, for example.

So understand that while extreme self-pity itself isn’t damning, it IS something that manipulative people like to do nonetheless.

Manipulative people know it will win them sympathy, and the fact that some people legitimately have self-image issues works to their advantage.

After all, if you were to ignore them or downplay their concerns, then you’d automatically become the “bad guy.”

It takes a lot of awareness and practice to tell if someone’s being genuine or if they’re being manipulative. 

What you must do is to be on guard—to give them the benefit of the doubt but to keep an eye out for other “tells.” 

An obvious tell is when they ask you to do favors for them right after they say this line.

7) “Now, let’s not get too emotional”

Expert manipulators are good at using their “emotions” to get your sympathy. But when you get genuinely emotional, they’ll dismiss your feelings.

That’s probably because they think emotions are just used to manipulate (after all, that’s what they do).

They’ll make you doubt yourself by telling you how “emotional” you are.

When you get mad at them, they’ll chide you for being “irrational” or being “too emotional”, as if the fact that you’re upset invalidates any opinions you might have.

When you make decisions they don’t like, they’d go “But you’re not using your head right now, you’re using your heart. Let’s calm down for a bit.”

The thing is that you might not even be THAT emotional, but they’ll bring it up and play it up so much that they’ll have you doubting your own judgment

Once they’ve managed that, they’ve won.

8) “I’m not feeling well right now”

Health is something of a pressing issue, and only a*holes will ignore it or sweep it aside.

But that’s exactly why expert manipulators love to use it so much. 

As I’ve mentioned before, good manipulators like using arguments that actually offer a valid cause for doubt.

I mean, you simply can’t dismiss them when they say this because they exist behind legitimate problems that people struggle with!

Health—both physical and mental—is one of those. 

They might say “I’m depressed” or “I haven’t slept for days” when they weren’t, simply because they know that doubting them will make you look like an a*hole.

9) “You believe in me, right?”

It might be touching for someone to turn to you and go “so, you believe in me, right?” when that moment is earned.

But that’s the thing—it HAS to be earned.

Unfortunately, some people use it to guilt-trip the people around them into going along.

In that context, what they’re actually saying is “If you don’t let me have it my way, then you’re saying I’m not trustworthy!”

Alternatively, you can see it as them trying to get trust that they haven’t yet earned.

They’re putting you on the spot, and you’re damned whether your answer is yes or no.

10) “We’re a team, remember?”

And the question is… are you really?

Sure, perhaps you two helped one another every now and then. But at some point, they started acting like the two of you had some kind of unwritten agreement. 

They might make a big deal of the times when they helped you “out of the goodness of their heart” or when you asked them for help.

And perhaps to really drive the point home, they might even try making you think how everyone else is untrustworthy…and that you should stick together as a team.

Your best friend? They never show up to your dates.

Your coworker from two stalls down? They badmouth you in the office all the time.

Your cousins? They keep vague-posting about you on Facebook!

And perhaps they’re the only person who truly cares about you.

But be careful. The moment you stop being useful to them, you’ll be dumped on the side like yesterday’s garbage.

Final thoughts

Master manipulators are incredibly frustrating to deal with.

Many of the things they exploit are things that might actually be legitimate concerns—like mental health and self-esteem issues.

You’ll need to be vigilant and to pay close attention to patterns.

And, if you’ve known them for a long time, ask yourself if they’ve been obviously manipulative in the past. Master manipulators start out as amateurs, after all.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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