8 phrases manipulators casually use to exploit your emotions, according to psychology

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The worst thing about manipulation is that it can be very difficult to recognize – especially if the manipulator in question is a master at subtlety and nuance.

But you know what?

This is what the internet is for. If you want to learn more about manipulation so that you’re resilient to it in the future, all you’ve got to do is read into it, and just like that, you know better.

So, what are the 8 phrases manipulators casually use to exploit your emotions?

Let’s find out!

1) “Yeah, big deal”

Imagine you’re having a conversation with your friend or partner, complaining about something that really gets on your nerves.

Casually, they wave their hand and say, “Yeah, big deal.”

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to one of the most important ways manipulators exploit other people’s emotions: invalidation.

If you care about the opinion of this person, there’s a high chance that you take their reactions to heart. This means that to a certain extent, they have power over your feelings.

Of course, all our close ones hold power in that sense. We offer it to them because we trust them to treat us with respect.

Sometimes, we lay ourselves bare to the wrong people, though. And that’s when their invalidation strategies can really get to us, from being told our issues are “no big deal” to being reprimanded for “being too sensitive”.

“Emotional invalidation upsets the power balance in a relationship and leads to uncertainty and self-reproach,” says psychotherapist Amy Lewis Bear MS, LPC.

She explains that “emotional invalidation is often delivered with a casual tone as if part of an ordinary conversation” but comments such as these can dismiss the other person’s experience and make them feel invisible.

You’re not too sensitive. You’re just opening up to the wrong person.

2) “I’ll never understand [gender]”

Another way to make you feel invisible and put you on the defensive is to say your actions are wholly determined by your gender, which is something the other person will simply never understand.

“Women,” your boyfriend might sigh. “You always overreact.”

“Men,” your female friend may shake her head. “You’re something different.”

Sometimes, these comments carry a playful and innocent undertone – I mean, people have been making fun of the opposite gender for ages, often in a harmless and non-offensive way.

But once comments like this slip into serious conversations that require nuance and complexity…

It’s a recipe for disaster.

Your actions and opinions cannot be summarized by placing you in an extremely broad category. Your reaction isn’t necessarily influenced by your gender; it’s got much more to do with the context, the action you’re responding to, and your personality.

Making sweeping statements such as these is yet another way to invalidate someone’s feelings and make them feel misunderstood.

3) “You wouldn’t get it anyway”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“It’s whatever, you wouldn’t get it anyway.”

If there’s a bulletproof way to make someone feel invalidated – not to mention silly – it’s to tell them you doubt their ability to understand your experience and provide valid emotional support.

The problem with this phrase is that it kind of flips the narrative, making the person saying it sound like the victim here (their problems are so complex and unique that they inherently feel misunderstood).

Not only that but it can be also used as a distancing technique, pushing you away and decreasing the chance of vulnerability.

When one of my ex-partners once told me, “You wouldn’t get it anyway,” I raised an eyebrow and said, “Try me.”

He didn’t. Why?

Because feeling misunderstood wasn’t the point. He simply didn’t want to open up and used this phrase as a way to shift the blame.

4) “I’m always right”

The same ex-partner I mentioned above also used to jokingly say, “See? I’m always right.”

While this kind of bickering is sometimes harmless, it can turn into a more serious issue when they stubbornly cling to their opinion during more complex and deep conversations.

By insisting that they are always right, they are essentially manipulating you into blindly following them and not thinking for yourself.

What’s more, it signals a lot of hidden insecurities.

As psychologist Seth Meyers Psy.D. explains, “Psychologically, men and women who are never wrong would feel extremely exposed if others witnessed them being wrong. Being wrong under any circumstances in front of others reflects to them a weakness or flaw, even when most people would not consider being wrong here or there as rising to the level of a flaw!

“In contrast, people with good self-esteem accept that they are sometimes wrong (read: occasionally vulnerable and always imperfect) because they are human.”

5) “Look, I’m only saying this because I love you”

Are you?

Or are you saying it because you want to bring me down, make me feel like rubbish, and then convince me I should be grateful to have you in my life because no one else would put up with me?

That is the question.

While honesty is an integral part of every relationship, the manner in which it is delivered matters a great deal. You can be honest and respectful at the same time.

People who love to be “brutally honest” often use that label as an excuse to be cruel. Don’t fall for it.

If someone loves you – genuinely and purely – they won’t make you feel embarrassed, humiliated, silly, or invisible. On the contrary, they’ll be your biggest cheerleader.

6) “Jeez, it was just a joke”

“It’s never just a joke. OK fine, sometimes it is just a joke. But there is always a nugget of truth inside the joke,” says Phil Stark, AMFT.

The best kind of humor is rooted in a snippet of truth. Unfortunately, bad jokes – that is, insults veiled behind humor – are built upon truth as well, except the person who says them refuses to admit it.

When someone casually tells you that “it was just a joke” and that you’re “taking everything too seriously,” it’s a sign they don’t want to take accountability for their actions and change their behavior to accommodate your feelings.

It’s a sign they’d rather manipulate you into thinking there’s something wrong with you than apologize.

Emotional exploitation at its worst, ladies and gentlemen.

7) “That’s so you”

Don’t get me wrong, “That’s so you” is a phrase that can be used in very cute and innocent situations.

When you do something that’s characteristic of you, your friends might laugh and say, “That’s so typical!” And very often, this leads to feelings of shared joy because you’re all happy you know each other so well.

But imagine you do something… not so great. You might spill a glass of water, say something dumb, or make a mistake.

And then the person you care about looks at you, rolls their eyes, and sighs, “Typical.”

That’s different, right? At that point, these phrases aren’t about knowing you; they’re about putting you down.

And if you haven’t learned about manipulation before, you might fall for it, letting the person manipulate you into feeling deflated and into doubting your own capabilities.

8) “Are you sure?”

The last phrase on our list serves to undermine your faith in yourself through the art of asking a simple question.

Let’s say you put on a new dress. Your friend raises their eyebrows and says, “Are you sure it’s a good idea to wear that?”

Or imagine you let your partner read an essay you’ve written. They sigh and ask, “Are you sure you want to submit this?”

This is a very passive-aggressive way to express their opinion on something without being straightforward and communicative.

And it also makes you feel like rubbish, which may or may not be intentional.

Remember: someone who has your best interests at heart won’t belittle you, make you feel invisible, or give rise to self-doubts.

On the contrary, they will want to see you shine.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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