7 phrases emotional manipulators love to use, according to psychology

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Psychological research suggests that certain people are highly skilled at keeping their true intentions under wraps. These emotional manipulators are adept at playing people to get what they want. 

Manipulators want to influence, or, better yet, control someone else, whether it’s in the context of a romantic, platonic, or professional relationship. 

Not surprisingly, manipulation in dysfunctional or abusive relationships is very common. 

There’s often a fine line between influencing someone to do something or manipulating them into it. 

For starters, manipulators rely heavily on dishonesty and hidden motives. 

Influencers may favor one outcome, but all options are presented for consideration. When you are being manipulated, your ability to make your own choices is taken from you. 

According to psychology, manipulators favor using certain phrases to garner someone’s trust and get what they want. 

By using these phrases, a manipulator will try to gently steer you in the direction of their desired outcome. What you or anyone else may want is of no consequence.

Here are seven of those phrases you should be aware of.

1) “Why do these things always happen to me?”

Oh, the poor sweet baby.

The central theme of all the tales of woe shared by emotional manipulators is “poor me”. Every long, drawn-out story they tell will mostly center on the injustices the world has unfairly heaped upon them.

If you can stand listening to them long enough, you’ll notice that nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever their fault.

They are perennial victims and misunderstood martyrs at the mercy of the unfeeling throng around them.

Emotionally mature people acknowledge that they’re responsible for their own actions and don’t play the victim.

2) “Stop being so touchy”

In a list of things you should never say to your partner during an argument, “stop being so touchy” is definitely in the top ten. It may seem like a harmless enough comment (especially in the heat of battle) but it’s actually a subtle type of manipulation.

When a manipulator says this, their goal is to invalidate your feelings. So by pigeonholing you as “too sensitive,” they are simultaneously minimizing your reaction and dismissing your emotions.

Psychologists call this gaslighting, a technique manipulative people use to make you second guess your perception of reality or even your sanity.

They want you to doubt yourself so you’ll turn to them for advice and guidance.

So, if your partner accuses you of being “too sensitive,” don’t just brush it off as a harmless remark. They could be trying to control how you perceive and respond to certain situations.

And no, you’re not being overly sensitive when you recognize that someone is playing with your emotions for their own benefit.

3) “Why can’t you take a joke?”

This is closely related to “stop being so touchy” but instead of accusing you of being too touchy, they want you to believe that you’re lacking a sense of humor.

For example, one time my ex made an insulting comment about my new hair color. Apparently, he wasn’t a fan of purple.

I was taken aback by the sheer meanness of it. So I told him that was uncalled for and a crummy thing to say. 

He just brushed it off like lint from a jacket and claimed he was just kidding around.

There’s a reason he’s my ex.

It’s a classic manipulation technique. This phrase, under the pretense of harmless teasing, can make you feel bad or guilty for taking offense to their “joke.”

4) “I really hate to ask …”

“But…”

And there will always be a “but.”

Manipulators like this phrase because it appears that they’re incredibly reluctant to ask, but that they’ve exhausted all their other options and you’re their last resort.

By prefacing their request this way, manipulators mean to activate your empathy and make it impossible for you to say no without looking like a huge jerk. 

They’re in a desperate situation with their back against the wall – how can you refuse?

Experts agree that manipulators use reverse psychology, by giving you a chance to save the day while thinking it was your idea all along.

And you’re happy to help, of course, because that’s what decent people do when someone’s in a bind.

So it’s very important to be aware of and understand these manipulative techniques. It’s definitely commendable to help people in need, but it’s also essential not to get sucked in by manipulative phrases and let them sully your judgment.

5) “I’ve never shared this with anyone else before”

This is a classic phrase manipulators love to use, probably because it works like a charm.

Be honest. You’ve fallen for this crock of you-know-what before, haven’t you? We all have, most likely. It’s when you continue to fall for this line that you may want to pause and do a little self-reflection.

Manipulation techniques can’t work without the trust and unwitting cooperation of the victim. 

Luckily for them (and not so lucky for the rest of us), most manipulators have a gift for making friends and gaining their trust quickly. 

And this phrase is one of the most effective ways they accomplish that. 

This is why: when someone shares something deeply private with you that they’ve “never shared with anyone before” they’re opening their hearts and being vulnerable. 

It’s endearing and even flattering.

It’s also possible that their vulnerability is just an act to fool you into trusting them. 

The manipulator being so open and honest encourages you to respond in kind. And knowing your weaknesses makes it easier for them to control you. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful thing when someone trusts you enough to open up to you. 

But be suspicious of people who use this phrase often, as it’s likely that they’re more interested in manipulating you to further their own agenda than cultivating a real connection. 

6) “You’re being completely irrational”

Probably because you’re too “touchy,” right? 

Toxic people deliberately make you feel like you’re the problem when they’re the actual problem. They’ll bend over backward to convince you that you’re irrational or the only one at fault. 

And let’s be real. Not everything can always be your fault. The math just doesn’t math. 

7) “I’m sorry you feel that way”

Blech, I think I hate this one most of all. It’s just so patronizing and dismissive that it makes me want to scream, I swear. 

At first glance this phrase seems pretty innocent, right? They’re apologizing so what’s the problem? 

Shall we take a closer look?

When you’ve hurt someone, you’d appreciate an apology for the behavior that caused offense, right? 

So saying, “Sorry you feel that way” is a copout that manipulative people use to avoid being accountable for their words or actions.

It’s an underhanded way of saying that your feelings are the real issue and not their deplorable behavior. 

According to psychology, dismissing your feelings and inferring they’re invalid is called emotional invalidation. It’s a common technique utilized by master manipulators. 

If someone is forever apologizing for how you feel instead of how they’ve behaved, it’s a huge red flag that you’re up against a seasoned manipulator.

Final thoughts

It’s sad that some people will target you just because you have a caring, trusting nature, but that’s how manipulative people make their way through life. 

Knowing a manipulator’s go-to tactics is one way you can protect yourself from being exploited. Being educated and prepared can help you avoid falling under the spell of someone determined to use you. 

Kathleen Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

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