7 phrases manipulative people use to undermine those around them

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling small, but couldn’t put your finger on why? 

Sometimes, people use crafty language that’s designed to make you doubt yourself — without you even realizing it. 

I’ve been there, feeling trapped and unheard, all because of manipulative words cloaked as harmless phrases. 

But once I figured out what these phrases were, it was like someone had handed me a shield. 

Now, I’m passing that shield to you. Let’s uncover the 7 phrases manipulative people use to undermine those around them. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll protect yourself from feeling powerless again.

1) “You’re too sensitive.”  

Oh, the classic “You’re too sensitive.” How many times have you heard this, especially when you’ve expressed discomfort or disagreed with something? 

It can make you really start to doubt yourself, wondering if you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

But the truth is, it’s the person saying this phrase trivializing your feelings. They paint your reactions as an overblown spectacle, making it easier for them to dismiss what you’re saying. 

It’s a sneaky way to shift the spotlight away from their rude comment or insensitive remark — and onto you. 

Don’t fall into the trap. Your feelings are your feelings. They are valid, and no one has the right to label them as “too much.” 

Stand your ground and let them know that their actions, not your reactions, are the issue at hand.

2) “Don’t you trust me?”

Imagine this: a friend wants to borrow a considerable amount of money from you. When you hesitate or ask for more details about what it’s for, they hit you with, “Don’t you trust me?” 

Suddenly, the tables have turned. Instead of them having to justify their questionable action, you’re now on the defensive, feeling like you’ve broken some unspoken pact.

And that’s exactly what this phrase is designed to do — a stellar example of manipulation

Trust is not a free pass for someone to do whatever they want without explanation. It’s a mutual understanding built on honesty and integrity. 

Questioning someone’s actions or intentions doesn’t mean you inherently distrust them; it means you’re looking out for yourself and making an informed decision, which is your right.

So if someone tries to corner you with this phrase, don’t let it derail you. Stand your ground and remember, asking for transparency isn’t a breach of trust, but a cornerstone of a healthy relationship. 

If they can’t understand that, then the answer to their question is “Apparently, I’m sorry to say that I can’t.” 

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

This one cuts especially deep, because it always comes from someone very close to you — whether that’s a partner, parent, child, or a very close friend. 

By saying “If you really loved me, you would…”, this person ties your feelings and your love for someone to a specific action. In other words, they make it seem like your love is up for debate. 

I’ve been stung by it before, and it’s a tough one to stand up to.

But you’ve got to remember that love is not a bargaining chip, or something to be leveraged to get one’s way. 

Real love means respecting each other’s opinions and finding a compromise, not emotionally blackmailing someone into submission.

A good way to respond to this is to tell them, “I do love you, and I can’t do what you’re asking.” One thing doesn’t exclude the other — and just because you love them doesn’t mean you have to give in to anything they want. 

4) “Everyone else agrees with me.”  

With this manipulation tactic, the person is trying to use the power of the majority. And it’s a pretty powerful one — studies have shown that people will go against what they believe in order to blend into the crowd. 

Here’s an example of what this could look like. You’re in a meeting at work, and you disagree with the direction a project is taking. You speak up, sharing your concerns, and the person dismisses you with, “Well, everyone else agrees with me.” 

Instead of addressing your points, they go for making you feel isolated, as though you’re the odd one out for not seeing things a certain way. 

But there’s a good chance that’s not the case. Many others could think the same, but just be too afraid to speak up.

And even if not, just because a viewpoint is popular doesn’t make it right. History is filled with examples of the majority being wrong, from believing the Earth was flat to more recent social injustices.

So if you find yourself on the receiving end of this dismissive phrase, don’t let it sway you. Be sure to voice your opinion no matter how many people allegedly disagree with you — just make sure to obviously be polite and non-conflictive.

5) “I did this for you.”  

“I did this for you” can make you feel indebted and guilty all at once. It’s as if someone has wrapped a ‘favor’ in shiny paper, only to reveal that it’s actually a ticking time bomb of obligation. 

A good friend of mine spent a long time in a relationship where her ex manipulated her in this way, and it was heartbreaking to see.

They met abroad when they were both doing an internship, and when it ended, he decided to move to her country in order to keep being with her.

What a grand gesture of love, right? Well, it might have been until he started using it as a tool for manipulation. “I left my family and friends, I sold my car, I quit my job, I had to learn a new language…”

Whenever it was convenient for him, he pulled it up as a reason to make her do something for him or agree with him. 

She even felt trapped in the relationship for a long time because of that, feeling obliged to stay with him in light of all the things he kept reminding her that he did for her. 

If you hear these words, tread carefully. It might be hard, but make it clear that while you appreciate the gesture, you didn’t ask for it and aren’t obliged to return it in kind. Real kindness is selfless, not a down payment on a favor.

6) “I never said that.” 

Hearing someone say, “I never said that,” can make you feel like you’re losing your grip on reality — and that’s exactly its point. 

It might be them flat out denying that they’ve said something. That’s a classic example of gaslighting, a manipulative tactic that makes you doubt your own perceptions and memories.

Or, it can be more subtle, the way my friend’s ex used to do it. Aside from what I mentioned above, he also used to approach their conversations like a lawyer.

“I didn’t say XYZ… I said YZX. That’s completely different.” He would nitpick tiny differences in phrasing or tone. 

Obviously, my friend isn’t a robot with a perfect memory, so she can’t repeat his words verbatim — and that wasn’t even the point. It was the general idea of what was said, which her ex tried to twist himself out of. 

He wasn’t trying to solve the problem at hand, he was trying to control the narrative. And once he got her doubting herself, he gained the upper hand

If you encounter this tactic, stay grounded. Trust your instincts and your memory. If necessary, keep records of important conversations, whether it’s a quick note on your phone or saved text messages. 

These can serve as your anchor to reality, helping you stand firm against attempts to rewrite history.

7) “Let’s not talk about this now.”  

Finally, we have the tactical retreat — “Let’s not talk about this now”. 

It may even seem respectful and considerate on the surface, like the person cares about good timing to tackle a sensitive topic.

Or, they may say it with an air of superiority, like you’re the one who’s being pushy and bringing up inappropriate topics.

In either case, the hidden agenda is the same — to dodge uncomfortable truths. 

The trouble with “Let’s not talk about this now” is that “now” can stretch on indefinitely until eventually, the issue is so deeply buried that it’s almost forgotten — except by you.

The next time someone sidesteps a conversation this way, don’t be silenced. Politely insist that the topic is important and needs to be addressed. If not now, then when? 

By holding your ground, you can help ensure that critical conversations aren’t perpetually postponed.

Stop letting others manipulate you

I’m willing to bet you don’t want to be manipulated by others — and now you know 7 phrases to watch out for to prevent that from happening.

These phrases can come out of the mouths of even people very close to us.

That doesn’t automatically make them bad people — we all make mistakes or say things in the heat of the moment.

But whatever the situation, the best thing you can do for everyone involved is recognize these manipulative phrases and not let them undermine you, consciously or not.

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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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