7 phrases manipulative people use to make you feel smaller

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As you may have noticed, manipulative people tend to be extremely cunning. 

They’re so good at what they do, we only realize it when the damage has already been done. 

And one of their main weapons is words. 

So if you suspect you have a manipulative person in your life, it’s wise to equip yourself with the necessary tools to defend yourself. 

In this article, I’ll take you through some of the common phrases manipulators use to undermine you, control you, and make you feel small. 

Once you know the signs, you can react accordingly. 

Let’s get to it. 

1) “You’re too sensitive.” 

Using the “sensitive” card is one of the oldest tricks in the manipulator book. 

This is the manipulator dictating how you should feel. 

Saying “you’re too sensitive,” is essentially a form of gaslighting. 

The truth is, if you feel offended or taken aback by a certain remark, that’s fine, you’re fully entitled to it. 

Yet the manipulator will work to make you question your reality–often making you out to be a hypersensitive, irrational lunatic for “overreacting” instead of a person deserving dignity. 

By allowing it, you’re essentially giving the manipulator the green light to say whatever they want. 

And if they ever go too far, they can backtrack by dismissing you as “sensitive”, washing their hands of any culpability. 

But guess what? At this point, the pain will already have been inflicted. Mission accomplished.

2) “I was only joking.” 

Speaking of removing culpability, claiming they’re joking after an overtly mean comment is typical manipulative behavior.

By hiding behind the guise of humor, the manipulator is giving themself permission to say anything they want, however hurtful, by later excusing it as light-hearted fun. 

Don’t fall for it. 

Trust your gut. If you feel a manipulator is making you feel small, call them out on it. 

I got into a fairly bad fight with my current girlfriend last week. 

Now for obvious reasons, I won’t go into too much detail, but during the climax, she said some really horrible things to me. 

When we both cooled off, she felt bad and cozied up to me, playing it off as if nothing had happened. 

But when I said she owed me an apology, she responded with “You deserved it.” 

I was bamboozled by the lack of remorse. When I brought it up hours later, she claimed she was only kidding, and that I needed to lighten up. 

Trust me, I love a good joke as much as anyone, but there are certain things that are off-limits, that are too personal. 

When I told her that her entire outlook was off, only then did she take some accountability for her thoughtless attitude. Better late than never, I suppose. 

3) “Everyone thinks that…” 

Unless they’re the official spokesperson of everyone, the manipulator is not in a position to speak for anyone other than themselves. 

Claiming otherwise is deceitful. 

By doing so, they’re actively trying to make you feel isolated, wrong, and alienated by society, even when that isn’t true. 

They also want you to question the very fabric of your identity, to feel like an outcast and an outlier, hoping that you will eventually bend to their will. 

Because by their logic, if “everyone” else thinks a certain way, they must be onto something, right? Wrong. 

Stick to your guns, until there’s concrete evidence proving you otherwise. 

Anecdotal feedback from a manipulator doesn’t count. 

4) “If you really loved me, you would…” 

The manipulator using emotional blackmail to get their way is the equivalent of a toddler using crocodile tears to get a new toy.

By questioning your commitment and loyalty to them, the manipulator is weaponizing big emotions to control you like a Sesame Street muppet–a pursuit that is far easier when you’re already predisposed to guilt. And many of us are. 

Like a predator smelling blood, when a manipulator senses weakness, they’ll pull out all the stops to make you easier to control. Stand your ground. 

Nobody likes to be used. 

The next time your partner requests you foot their bill at Zara or demands you cover their share of chores using the “if you really loved me” card as reasoning, consider it time to seriously rethink that relationship. 

5) “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this.” 

As you may have gathered by this point, a common pattern among manipulators is to wrong someone, and then trivialize their actions, dodging any fault in the process. 

Sometimes, they’ll start a fight, then play the victim when you react, claiming you’re the one with the issue. 

They want to have their proverbial cake and eat it too. 

This behavior isn’t only devious, it’s incredibly selfish and toxic too.

You’re better than that. 

6) “After all I’ve done for you…” 

My economics professor always used to say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” 

I used to question this logic, as I’m quite certain I’ve eaten for free in the past–but in the abstract, I think he’s mostly right. 

Free money or gifts almost always come at a cost, in some form or the other. 

This is especially true when you’re involved with a manipulator, as they often keep a mental tally of favors or kind acts they’ve done for you, in hopes of using them as leverage in the future. 

So if you notice a person always bringing up past acts of “kindness” to bait you into doing something for them, I’ll be honest: this is not the best sign. 

7) “I’m the only one who really understands/cares about you.”

I was watching a Netflix documentary on cults the other day. 

I have to admit, I’ve always been perplexed by how otherwise intelligent people can end up deep in the throes of a cult.

But then I thought, it really isn’t all about intelligence or logic. 

People who have unaddressed baggage often become emotional liabilities and are therefore susceptible targets for power-hungry, charismatic, and manipulative cult leaders. 

By making them feel understood and cared for, they find a rare sense of belonging and solace they may not get in conventional circumstances. 

This can sometimes result in isolation and blind loyalty. 

Soon, the victim will no longer feel the need for external support or perspectives. 

The feeling of being “understood” becomes addictive. 

They become completely dependent on the manipulator. 

Now, you might not have a cult leader on your hands, but if the manipulator you know tends to pull out “I’m the only one who really understands you…”, keep your guard up.  

Final thoughts

If you suspect you’re involved with a manipulative person, then don’t continue to sweep their behavior under the rug. 

Sometimes, we get so used to our own toxic behaviors, that we don’t realize we’re perpetuating them. This is especially true for someone with manipulative tendencies. 

Bite the bullet and address them directly. Give them an opportunity to change. 

But if you have voiced your concern and they still continue to make you feel confused, belittled, or guilty, then you owe it to yourself to walk away. 

We have one life to live, don’t continue to waste it around undeserving energy. You got this. 

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Hack Spirit! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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