8 phrases manipulative individuals use to undermine your confidence

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Ever had someone say something that made you feel bad or unsure about yourself?

Sometimes people use tricky words to make others feel less confident. It’s like they know just what to say to make you doubt yourself.

But why do they do it? And how can you spot when it’s happening?

In this article, we’re going to talk about 8 common things people might say to make you feel this way.

These are phrases that some sneaky individuals use to try to control or manipulate you.

By learning about these, you’ll be better able to see when someone is trying to pull a fast one on you.

Let’s get started and figure out what to watch out for. 

1. “You’re Too Sensitive!”

Ever heard someone tell you that you’re too sensitive after they said something hurtful?

It’s a tricky way to make it seem like the problem is with you, not with what they said.

By telling you that you’re “too sensitive,” they’re trying to make you feel guilty for having feelings.

This phrase puts the blame on you and takes the focus off what they did or said. It’s like they’re saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong; you’re just overreacting.”

If someone says this to you, remember: It’s okay to have feelings, and it’s okay to let others know when something bothers you.

You’re not “too sensitive.” You’re human!

By recognizing this phrase, you can stand strong and not let it shake your confidence.

2. “I Was Just Joking! Can’t You Take a Joke?”

This phrase reminds me of a friend I once had who would always make cutting remarks and then laugh them off as jokes.

One time, he commented on my appearance in front of a group, and when I confronted him, he said, “I was just joking! Can’t you take a joke?”

What he was really doing was hiding behind humor to take a dig at me.

By saying he was “just joking,” he tried to make me feel silly for being upset.

The problem with this phrase is that it’s often used to disguise unkind words.

If you feel hurt by what someone said, and they claim it was just a joke, it can make you feel like you’re in the wrong for not finding it funny.

The next time someone says this to you, trust your feelings. If it didn’t feel like a joke, it probably wasn’t.

3. “I’m Only Saying This for Your Own Good.”

Now, here’s a phrase that can really throw you for a loop. It sounds caring and concerned, doesn’t it?

Someone tells you something critical or harsh, and then they follow it up with, “I’m only saying this for your own good.”

Suddenly, what seemed like a hurtful comment is framed as helpful advice.

The counterintuitive part is that this phrase often comes from those who genuinely care about us, like family or close friends.

They might believe they’re giving us a dose of “tough love.” But sometimes, it can feel more tough than loving.

The tricky thing is that it can make you feel guilty for being upset about what they said.

After all, they’re only trying to help, right? But true help doesn’t tear down your confidence.

If you hear this phrase and it doesn’t sit right with you, it’s worth taking a moment to think about why it bothers you.

Maybe have a calm talk with the person about how their words made you feel. It’s possible to give advice and be honest without being hurtful.

Sometimes, those who care about us need a gentle reminder of that.

4. “If You Really Loved Me, You Would…”

This one can be a real gut-punch, especially when it comes from someone you care deeply about.

The phrase “If you really loved me, you would…” is often used to force someone into doing something they’re not comfortable with.

For example, a partner might say, “If you really loved me, you would quit your job and move with me.”

Or a friend might insist, “If you really cared about our friendship, you wouldn’t hang out with them.”

What’s so harmful about this phrase is that it ties your actions to your feelings for the person.

It makes you feel like you have to prove your love or friendship by doing what they want.

The truth is, love and friendship are not about passing tests or meeting demands. They’re about understanding, respect, and compromise.

If someone uses this phrase on you, it’s a good time to pause and communicate how you feel.

Explain that your feelings for them aren’t connected to this one action or decision, and try to find a solution that respects both your feelings and theirs.

Love shouldn’t be a bargaining chip.

5. “No One Else Would Put Up with You.”

Years ago, someone close to me dropped this bombshell during a heated argument: “No one else would put up with you.”

It was a sharp, stinging comment that made me feel both unlovable and trapped.

What’s particularly nasty about this phrase is that it’s designed to isolate you.

By suggesting that no one else would tolerate or accept you, it aims to make you feel like you’re lucky to have the person who said it.

It can make you feel like you owe them something or that you shouldn’t expect better treatment.

The truth couldn’t be more different. We all have quirks and flaws, but that doesn’t mean we’re unworthy of love, friendship, or respect.

If anyone ever says this to you, please know that it’s a reflection of their insecurities, not your worth.

Don’t let anyone convince you that you’re not deserving of kindness, understanding, and genuine care.

It took me some time to realize this myself, but knowing that these words were a form of manipulation and not a truth about myself helped me regain my confidence.

6. “You’ll Never Be Good Enough.”

I’ll be blunt: this phrase hurts. It cuts right to the core, no matter who says it.

Whether it’s a parent, partner, friend, or boss, hearing the words “You’ll never be good enough” feels like a punch to the gut.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this phrase, and I can tell you, it sticks with you. It can eat at your self-esteem, making you doubt your worth and abilities.

But here’s the raw truth: It’s a lie. It’s a cruel and manipulative tactic used to control and belittle you.

It’s designed to make you feel powerless, to keep you from reaching for your dreams, or even standing up for yourself.

If anyone ever tells you this, please know that it’s not a reflection of who you are. It’s a reflection of their need to control, dominate, or feel superior.

You are enough. You always have been. And anyone who truly cares about you would never use such devastating words against you.

It may take time to shake off those words, but never let them define you or hold you back.

You are capable, worthy, and strong enough to prove them wrong.

7. “I’m Doing This for Your Own Benefit.”

On the surface, this phrase seems caring and selfless. After all, someone is telling you that they are acting with your best interests in mind.

They’re doing something “for your own benefit.”

But sometimes, this phrase is used to cover up actions that serve the person saying it more than they serve you.

Let’s say a co-worker takes over a project you’ve been working on, insisting they’re doing it “for your own benefit” so you won’t be stressed.

Sounds thoughtful, right?

But in reality, they might be doing it to gain credit or to push you aside.

Or perhaps a family member makes a big decision about your life without consulting you, saying it’s “for your own benefit.”

In this case, they might be trying to control your actions or choices under the guise of caring for you.

The counterintuitive part of this phrase is that it sounds like it’s all about you, but it may actually be all about them. It’s a subtle way to manipulate situations or decisions to their favor.

If you hear this phrase and something feels off, trust your gut. It might be a good time to ask questions and make sure that the action really is in your best interest.

True friends, family, and colleagues will be open to discussing their decisions and will respect your thoughts and feelings, rather than hiding behind seemingly altruistic phrases.

8. “Trust Me, I Know What’s Best for You.”

I remember a time when a close relative used this line on me when I was making a significant life choice.

They said, “Trust me, I know what’s best for you,” as if my own feelings and opinions didn’t matter.

At first, I was taken aback. It sounded like they were looking out for me, but something didn’t feel right.

They were making my decision for me, and I felt robbed of my voice and agency.

This phrase can be especially manipulative because it comes wrapped in concern and wisdom.

It’s often used by people who are older or who feel they have more experience.

They might think they’re guiding you, but in reality, they might be trying to control your decisions.

What I learned from that experience is that nobody knows what’s best for you better than you do.

Others can offer advice, share their experiences, and express their concerns, but at the end of the day, it’s your life, and you are the best judge of what’s right for you.

If someone uses this phrase on you, it’s worth considering their perspective but also standing firm in your understanding of yourself and your needs.

You are the author of your life, and while it’s good to listen to others, you should never feel pressured or manipulated into living by someone else’s script.

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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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