8 phrases manipulators use to gain emotional leverage over you

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Emotional manipulation is in the details.

Oftentimes, you don’t even know you’re being manipulated until all the little bits and pieces add up into one gigantic realization that you’ve fallen into the trap.

Untangling yourself from a manipulator’s web can be a very difficult and intricate process, though, which is why the best course of action is to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the first place.

And how do you do that?

By focusing on communication. Many manipulators actually use the same phrases to gain emotional leverage over you, often without even realizing it.

And that is exactly how we recognize their glittering web for what it is – a trap.

Watch out for these 8 phrases.

1) “No one knows you like I do…”

Let’s start with one of the most popular phrases of all.

“No one knows you like I do” (and equivalents, such as “No one will love you as much as I love you”) is all about preventing you from leaving a manipulator and ensuring that you’re even more emotionally attached to them.

We all want to be known, loved, and understood.

If someone only ever uses you to their advantage and doesn’t express any kind of affection for you, you probably won’t stay by their side for very long because there’s nothing you’re gaining from the relationship.

Being loved and understood feels like a huge reward, though. It makes us feel like we matter. Like we’re part of a team. Like we’re worthy.

Therefore, “No one knows you like I do” is a very effective phrase in a manipulator’s arsenal.

Not only does it express deep affection but it also isolates you from other people who “don’t know you as well”.

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

Ah, another favorite.

This little phrase does wonders when it comes to emotional manipulation.

Why?

Because not only do we feel amazing when we’re loved by someone else – we also want to know that our own love for them is acknowledged and cherished, a bit like a precious gift.

When you love someone, one of the worst things they could ever do is to doubt your feelings.

“I bet you don’t even love me” could do a lot of emotional damage if all you’ve been doing for the past few months is try and prove your love.

“If you really loved me” works on the same basis, except that it includes subtle encouragement, which makes it even worse.

“If you really loved me, you’d do X.”

“If you really loved me, you wouldn’t be making such a big deal out of this.”

When someone you care about says this, your instinct may be to try your best to prove them wrong. And how do you achieve that?

Exactly. By doing exactly what they want.

3) “Oh, because I’m such a horrible human being, right?…”

This phrase sounds completely different from the one above, but it actually works very similarly.

Imagine that you bring up an issue that’s been bothering you. For example, your best friend has been making mocking jokes about you in front of other people for quite some time now, and you’re slowly getting fed up.

When you try to talk about it, though, your friend throws up their arms and rolls their eyes, saying, “Oh, because I’m such a horrible person, right? I do everything wrong, don’t I? Do you even like me?”

By responding in this manner, they’ve essentially dialed up the issue from 10% to 100%.

Instead of apologizing and moving on, they’ve assumed the position of a victim, and all you can do is shake your head and say, “I didn’t mean that at all, I think you’re a wonderful friend…”

See what happened there? 

You’re not discussing the matter at hand anymore. Instead, you’re trying to make your friend feel better about themselves. The conversation may even end with your consoling them, which only strengthens your emotional attachment.

4) “I’m just being honest…”

Honesty is great. However, there are many people out there who will use what they call “honesty” to gain emotional leverage over you.

Your partner might make cruel comments about your new dress, only to shrug and say, “Look, I’m just being honest. No one else will tell you the truth.”

The problem is that there’s a big difference between honesty and cruelty. Honesty can be gentle – for example, your partner could say that they like the color but they prefer some other dresses you have – while cruelty is just plain mean.

By disguising cruelty as “brutal honesty”, manipulators portray themselves as good friends or partners who have your best interests at heart.

Unfortunately, the truth is much more malicious.

5) “I did it for your own good…”

Another way to pretend that someone means well is to do something you dislike and then explain it by saying, “I did it for your own good.”

I used to have a friend who used this phrase all the time.

He would tell someone my secret or confront my ex on my behalf without my permission and then simply say that he meant well. After all, he only did it because I “didn’t know what was best for me”.

Portraying oneself as a savior is an excellent way to gain emotional leverage over you because it could make you feel protected and cared for.

However, the manipulator in question is the real culprit here. If you need protection from someone, it’s them.

This is because the more you allow them to cross your boundaries, the more they’ll push and push until the dynamic is tipped in their favor and until you’re so attached that you find it difficult to cut them off.

6) “I always do X and Y for you…”

Here’s a question for you: How do you wrap someone around your finger?

Well, one thing you can do is to look after them so much that they’ll eventually feel like they have to return the favor. And if they don’t, all you have to do is keep a tally.

“I always make you tea, run to the store if you need anything, and help you out when you need me. What do you ever do for me, huh? When was the last time YOU made ME tea?”

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this speech, there’s a great chance you were being emotionally manipulated.

This is because keeping a tally has nothing to do with love and everything to do with viewing relationships as business transactions.

When you genuinely love someone, you don’t count how many times you’ve made them breakfast in bed or bought them a cup of coffee. You do those things because you want to make the other person happy, not because you expect them to return the favor.

Using expressions of love to make someone feel guilty is emotional manipulation at its best.

7) “I feel down because of you…”

Sounds quite innocent, right?

In some cases, it is. If you’ve really hurt someone, it’s completely natural for them to feel wounded, disappointed, and angry.

But then there are situations when you haven’t really done anything that bad, and yet the other person makes you feel like you should carry the responsibility for their feelings.

Let’s say your friend feels lonely. You’ve done your best to pick up the phone and be there for them the whole week, but these past few days, you’ve just been incredibly busy catching up on your workload.

If your friend complains that you’re the reason they feel even worse now and calls you a bad friend because “you’re busy when they need you,” that’s emotional manipulation.

Remember – you’re not responsible for anybody’s feelings but your own.

8) “I’m so proud of you…”

This phrase may sound a bit out of place – not only does it carry positive connotations, but it also doesn’t seem to be very manipulative – but it does, in fact, belong on this list.

And that’s because “I’m so proud of you” can be extremely manipulative in certain contexts.

For instance, you might have a friend who has a different political opinion to yours. After a lengthy discussion, you finally arrive at the conclusion that some of their opinions may not be as bad as you’d thought.

But once you express an agreement with them, they say, “I’m so proud of you.”

Feels uncomfortable, doesn’t it?

That’s because their “pride” comes from a place of condescendence. You only make them proud because they’ve managed to “convert” you to their side as it were.

If someone’s genuinely proud of you, it’s because you’ve done something great on your own. Not because you’re now more to their liking.

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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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