Words are one of the most powerful tools someone can use to manipulate others.
Sometimes they can even come off as so innocent that the very idea of doubting them can feel outright wrong.
To better protect yourself from manipulators, you have to know their favorite phrases so when you hear them, you can pause and go “Hmmm, are they manipulating me?”
Here are 12 phrases that manipulators love to use and why they work.
1) “If you say so…”
Now this phrase can be cute, but if someone has a habit of saying this whenever they don’t get their way, they’re definitely trying to manipulate you.
They want you to feel bad for “ignoring” or “putting aside” their wishes or advice.
It’s a way of saying “So you think that you’re right? Well, don’t blame me when things go bad!”
This is often accompanied with an “I told you so!” if things indeed don’t go as planned.
2) “Not everything is about you”
Phrases like these are meant to subtly pressure you into second-guessing yourself.
But if you think closely about what they’re actually saying, you’ll find that it’s anything but subtle.
They’re straight up accusing you of being selfish or even narcissistic, all the while trying to put themselves above you by acting all cool and mature!
You might feel tempted to lash out and say “I’m NOT!”, and that would be a mistake.
When in doubt, you can always explain things to friends who are not involved and get their opinion.
Because you know what? Chances are that the people accusing you of being self-centered are the ones who are.
3) “Why are they treating you like garbage?”
The thing you must understand with this phrase is that it’s a double-edged sword.
It’s not necessarily an immediate red flag that someone is trying to manipulate you. The fact is that we can never be truly sure if they’re trying to help you.
That’s why when used by a true blue manipulator, it can be dangerous.
Why? Nothing makes us feel more seen than to feel like we have someone on OUR side. Abusers like to play on this.
They usually do it by trying to make it clear that they’re on YOUR side, and that it’s the two of you against the world.
So pay attention whenever someone tells you this and then immediately starts cutting you off from everyone else around you.
They probably want to do this so they’ll have more control over you.
4) “Family is forever”
Manipulators love to imply phrases that invoke some kind of “perpetuity” of your relationship to rein you in and keep you by their side.
You will often hear them say things like “blood is thicker than water!” and “friends forever!”
But what it really means is that they want control over you —and that you make sacrifices for them— forever!
It’s not like it’s restricted to just manipulative PEOPLE either, because entire groups of people (like abusive friend groups) will also use this to make it feel like you’ll be all by yourself without them.
5) “But I thought you love me”
They’re always quick to invoke your feelings for them whenever you do something that they don’t like.
It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can just be you setting boundaries like “don’t call me past midnight” or don’t use my things without my permission.
They’re trying to take advantage of the idea of unconditional love—that if you truly love them, you’ll not set boundaries.
Be extra wary if someone uses this line or something similar like “But I thought we’re friends”, or “But I thought we’re family”, or “But I thought we’re a team.”
They just want to get what they want all the damn time.
6) “You’re the best!”
“You’re the smartest”, “You’re the most generous person I know”.
There’s nothing wrong with praise, per se. Praise is great, and everyone—even those who might deny it—wants to receive praise.
The problem lies with the intent behind them.
Manipulators give praise so you’ll become emotionally attached to them and do things for them.
They’ll say “You’re really great at what you do. I adore you. Can you help me?”
As a rule of thumb, if someone’s way too quick to praise people, you should be wary. If they’re a true manipulator, they’ll sell you something or ask you to do things for them.
7) “You know I’d never do that to you”
Someone can say this phrase and mean it.
But most of the time, this line is used when someone is caught red-handed and they want to deflect.
You should be wary when someone uses this often. If it’s definitely consistent enough that you can call it a habit, then you need to take a closer look at your relationship with them.
it doesn’t matter if they’re a lover, a friend, or even family.
By saying this phrase, they’re basically trying to put the pressure on you for daring to doubt them and even shame you for it.
Basically, they want you to feel bad for accusing them of doing something bad (even if it could be true).
8) “Calm the f*ck down! You’re overreacting”
Like yes, maybe you ARE overreacting, but straight-up accusing you like this is probably the worst way to approach it.
They’re basically saying “I’m not interested in understanding you, now shut up.”
And if you’re calm, they will try saying this while trying to rile you up so that they can feel justified.
But the thing is, the real manipulators use this phrase as a technique to shift focus away from them and their behavior.
By putting the spotlight on YOUR reaction, the actual issue (which they caused) would be buried.
This is their clever way to turn tables. This makes YOU the bad person, not them.
9) “Don’t you care at all?”
Translation: “Why don’t you care about the things I care about?!”
Manipulators may use the same words the rest of us do, but they have a more selfish definition for those words than the rest of us.
When they say “you don’t care!” it’s not because you’re apathetic—it’s because you aren’t as interested in their things as they wished you were.
They want you to think about their career, their garden, their dream vacation, their dream family. Not only that, they want you to put effort on helping them achieve their goals even if you’d rather focus on yours!
10) “You’re overthinking it”
Or, alternatively, “Don’t think too much about it” or “you’re making it too complicated.”
We live in a pretty complicated world, and sometimes a lot of thinking is necessary to understand it.
While admittedly there are times when, yes, things actually aren’t that complicated, it’s still bad form to ask people to just shut off their brains and comply.
Don’t be afraid to think, and in fact, ask for time to think if you feel like you need it. Everyone could use a bit more time to breathe and truly process their thoughts.
Anyone who tries to rush you—or worse, shut off your brain—should be immediately suspicious.
Ask yourself “Why are they rushing me to decide right now?” and “Who can truly benefit from this—me or them?”
11) “Let me tell you a secret…”
Be wary when someone willingly shares a secret to you.
They’re almost always going to be manipulators who want to get some kind of leverage over you.
Think about it—if it’s their secret, why would they share their secrets out of nowhere? Secrets are called secrets for a reason, after all.
And if it’s someone else’s secret, why are they sharing it?
It psychologically draws you closer. It can help build friendships faster by making one feel like the other understands and trusts them.
Now ask yourself this “Why do they want to be extra close with me?”
12) “You’ve changed.”
We all change.
We change little by little, day by day. Sometimes a lot of changes happen quickly, followed by little to no change over a long period of time.
It’s fine when people say this positively—as in they approve of the changes that have happened to you.
But definitely be on guard the moment they act like it’s somehow a bad thing.
Step back and think about what changes they might take issue with…chances are, they’re the ones they can’t benefit from anymore.
Usually, manipulators will say this if you’ve changed into someone more mature and harder to control.
Their hope being that you’ll feel pressured into changing back into your old self—someone they can easily toy with.
Good manipulators are especially hard to spot.
You might have spotted and repelled a lot of obvious manipulators… and yet dance to the tune of another manipulator without knowing.
I hope this article will help you spot the more insidious ones better.
But don’t stop with words. It’s also important that you learn how to read people’s intentions through their tone and body language.