10 phrases manipulators use to make you feel guilty, according to psychology

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Words can be like powerful spells that cast their magic over us. That’s especially the case when they are coming from the mouth of a manipulator.

One of the most common tactics they turn to in order to get you to do what they want is guilt-tripping.

This subtle distortion of reality is designed to play on your emotions and try to make you feel bad.

But don’t fall for it.

It’s important to protect yourself and be on high alert for the following phrases. Because whenever you hear them, a manipulator may be trying to play you.

1) “You always/never”

This is used by a manipulator to try to paint the picture of a consistent negative pattern of behavior within someone else.

It makes out like they are long-suffering, and you are some sort of tyrant who doesn’t change.

For starters, studies have proved how talking in absolutes like this can be harmful to our relationships.

It creates this black-and-white aspect to whatever is being discussed. And within this framework, you are wrong and they are right.

That’s why it’s used as a maneuvering tool by manipulators to try to get you to feel bad and hopefully back down as a consequence.

2) “Do what you want”

Yet it’s quite clear from the way that they say it that all is not fine and you most certainly are not free to do whatever you like.

They may protest that you can “suit yourself” or throw a dismissive “whatever” your way.

But this has a clear sulking undercurrent that is specifically designed to make you reconsider.

As explained by therapist Liza Gold in Psych Central:

Guilt-tripping is a natural form of passive-aggression that people result to when they don’t have the skills or language to assertively communicate their needs or feelings.”

Rather than being upfront about the way they feel, they try to give you the cold shoulder in order to subtly assert their influence.

3) “If you cared about me, you would”

This is 100% emotional blackmail.

We should never be asked to do something that we are unhappy doing, and certainly not to prove our affection for someone.

When you are under the spell of a manipulator, this phrase can be an effective one in pressuring you to change your mind.

But try to flip the script.

Suggest to them that if they really cared about you, they would not try to force you to do anything you didn’t want to do.

Putting ourselves into situations we don’t want to be in is never a test of our love, it is always a test of our boundaries.

4) “If it were the other way around, I’d do it for”

Chances are you have zero way of knowing whether this is true. Because the shoe isn’t on the other foot. And realistically it rarely is.

It’s you who is being asked to give yet again and them who is doing the taking.

But this phrase tries to imply that they are only asking something of you that they would also willingly do.

It’s a way to suggest the balance of power and affection in the relationship is even, when really it’s not. Because you are the one who is being asked to sacrifice.

All the hypothetical scenarios in the world where they would “do the same for you” don’t change that fact.

All that matters is whether they are asking something of you that you are happy to do for them. If not, the answer should be no.

5) “I promise, this is the last time”

This phrase is thrown out like a bargaining tool.

The speaker knows that your patience is wearing thin. So they are seeking to reassure you that it’s not going to happen again.

They’re pleading for this one last favor or act of forgiveness.

But they are simultaneously pushing your boundaries and trying to talk you into accepting something that you probably shouldn’t.

They’re playing on your heartstrings to try and get their own way.

6) “After everything I’ve done for you”

This phrase suggests that you owe someone some sort of debt.

Even if someone has helped you out in some way, giving should never come with expectation.

And it certainly shouldn’t be thrown back in your face to try to make you feel bad.

But that often happens during manipulation.

As therapist Lynn Margolie points out in Psychology Today, guilt-tripping can go hand in hand with a sense of entitlement. 

“Guilt-tripping is, in effect, a form of emotional blackmail. But it is typically an unconscious process whereby the guilt-tripper feels entitled and innocent of any misdeed.”

Of course, being blind to the liberties they are taking isn’t an excuse.

But it allows them to maintain a certain amount of deniability about it all so they can continue to play the victim.

7) “How could you do this to me”

This attempts to make you responsible for their feelings.

Whilst we should be accountable for our actions, we’re never responsible for how someone interprets those. Especially when what we do is respectful.

When a manipulator uses this phrase they generally mean you have done something they do not like.

Perhaps you laid down a boundary they are unhappy about or called them out on inappropriate behavior.

If you have put consequences in place to protect yourself, they may pull out this expression to try to make you feel bad about it.

They’re trying to turn the tables and reverse the blame so that they can present themselves as the victim.

They’re trying to make out like you’re being unreasonable and it’s having an unfair knock-on effect for them.

8) “You only ever think of yourself”

Translation:

You aren’t doing what I want and I don’t like it.

There is a world of difference between being selfish and taking care of yourself.

But manipulators don’t see that.

All they see is their needs and wants not being met.

Of course, the real irony is that they are the selfish ones.

That’s why phrases like this one are uttered by people lacking in any self-awareness or who have narcissistic qualities.

They want you to feel bad that every single thing you do doesn’t revolve around trying to keep them happy.

9) “You don’t know what it’s like”

Saying this, or something similar like, “You don’t understand”, is designed to trigger your empathy.

They’re trying to make it sound like you have zero sympathy.

If you did, you wouldn’t be so hard on them. You would be more accommodating and kind. Or so they want you to believe.

But it’s just an attempt to justify whatever they’re asking of you, or an excuse for something bad they have done.

10) “I just can’t win with you”

This is yet another “poor me” phrase that manipulators use to suggest they are the weak ones in the relationship.

It’s a self-deprecating phrase that sounds defeatist.

It implies that no matter how hard they try, it’s never good enough for you.

Rather than own up to whatever they may have done, this shifts the focus back onto you.

The problem doesn’t lie with them, it’s your unreasonably high expectations and standards that are putting a strain on them.

When you spot manipulation at play, you empower yourself

Being on the lookout for manipulative phrases can save you from a lot of heartache.

Because once we become more aware of the ways in which manipulation takes place, we’re in a position to put a stop to it.

When you sense someone is trying to guilt trip you, let them know that you’ve understood what they’re saying, but importantly, tell them know how you feel about it too.

The vital final stage involves bolstering your boundaries so that you can confidently set limits.

It’s this that stops manipulators from walking all over us with their guilt-tripping ways.

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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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