Emotional manipulation comes in many shapes and sizes.
Sometimes, it’s very obvious. Putting someone down by reminding them of their insecurities belongs in this category, for instance.
However, emotional manipulation can also be very subtle. And the subtler it is, the more you might struggle to recognize whether you’re being manipulated or not.
Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a much better idea of how manipulation works and what to watch out for.
These are the 8 phrases you’d never think were part of emotional manipulation but most definitely are.
1) “I’m sorry you feel that way”
Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? After all, the phrase contains an apology, as well as some kind of acknowledgment of your feelings.
Not so fast.
“I’m sorry you feel that way” is inherently manipulative, and that’s because the person is not apologizing at all. They’re just making it sound like they are.
What this phrase really means is, “I can see you feel a certain way, but I don’t really understand it and I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, so I’m going to transfer the responsibility for this conflict onto you.”
Remember: a proper apology always comes from a place of understanding and empathy.
2) “I already apologized. What more do you want?”
…and speaking of apologies, this one doesn’t cut it, either.
Here’s the deal.
If someone says sorry but it feels forced or insufficient, the person who’s hurt probably won’t get over it. They’ll bring it up again and again because their emotions have not been validated enough for them to move on.
However, it might be a futile battle because the person who’s apologized may simply not care about your feelings enough to go the extra mile and give you what you need.
This is when they get frustrated and say, “I already apologized. What more do you want from me?!”
The thing is, they know what you want. They just aren’t able to give it to you. Instead of saying it as it is, though, they will try to make you feel like you’re the problem.
In other words, they’ll twist the narrative in their favor. Manipulation 101.
3) “I don’t remember it that way”
This one’s tricky, so you better watch out.
When someone says something hurtful and you call them out on it later on, their immediate defense strategy might be that they simply don’t remember.
This is a great way to avoid taking responsibility because, well, how can you apologize for something you don’t remember saying?
However, some people truly may not remember, which is why this phrase is so very complicated.
While the first will wave the issue away, the latter will say, “I don’t remember it that way, but if I really did say that, I’m very sorry. I would never mean to hurt you and I’m not going to do it in the future.”
See? Problem solved.
4) “You’ve changed”
One of my exes once reached out to me a few months after the breakup. After we’d talked for a bit, he sighed, shook his head, and said, “You’ve changed.”
It might not seem like much, but “you’ve changed” is actually very manipulative.
It’s a phrase that makes you feel like you’ve changed in a way that disappoints them or no longer works for them. Who you are now goes against their expectations of who they want you to be.
“You’ve changed” translates to “you are not who I used to love”, which can be very hurtful if you’re still attached to that person.
In turn, you might want to convince them that you are still the same, that you are still loveable, and that what you had was real.
And through that behavior, they’ll get exactly what they want – a strong emotional response that confirms your heart is still in it.
5) “Look what you made me do”
“Look what you made me do” isn’t just a Taylor Swift lyric – it’s also a phrase with strong manipulative undertones.
Imagine a jealous boyfriend Adam dates a nice and outgoing girlfriend Jade. Jade never flirts or cheats, but seeing as she’s very warm and kind, people naturally gravitate toward her and want to be her friends.
Adam doesn’t like that one bit. His jealousy grows. He goes through her phone and breaks her boundaries by doing so.
But when she confronts him about it, he throws his hands out and says, “Look what you made me do! You drive me crazy!”
The thing is, Jade didn’t “make him do” anything. He chose to do it of his own volition. His jealousy is more about him than it is about Jade.
By throwing the responsibility onto Jade, Adam can get away unscathed and make her feel bad at the same time.
6) “I really thought you cared about me”
Let’s stay with Adam for a bit.
Once the tantrum is over, he sits Jade down and says, “I really thought you cared about me. But you don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t be friends with X and Y. I thought our love meant more to you.”
While all this sounds like it may come from a sincere place of insecurity, what Adam’s really doing is pushing Jade to prove her love to him by letting him cross her boundaries.
“I really thought you cared about me” says, “I am disappointed in you. You’re hurting me and you’re not worthy of my love. I might leave you.”
This is such a threat to the relationship that Jade might let him win and stop being friends with X and Y.
(Which, as long as the friendships are purely non-sexual, would be wrong. Jade should be able to have as many friends as she wants.)
7) “I just don’t see the problem”
Dismissal is the king of emotional manipulation, and “I just don’t see the problem” is a prime example of that.
It’s okay if you don’t understand why someone’s so upset. You’re not them, and if your personalities are quite different, you may naturally struggle to grasp the complexities of their mind.
But “I just don’t see the problem” only brings them down. It means that instead of trying to understand and help, you’re simply walking away from the issue.
If you don’t see the problem, it’s not a problem. End of story.
But it is. That’s the whole point. By diminishing the issue, you’re manipulating the person into thinking something’s wrong with them and their emotions aren’t valid.
8) “Stop twisting my words”
Careful with this one.
If someone’s clearly gaslighting you, it may be your natural response to say, “Stop twisting my words. That’s not what I said.” And you would be right.
However, sometimes the one who gaslights gets a bit meta and gaslights you into thinking you are the one gaslighting them.
I know. What a mess.
“My romantic feelings have kind of gone. My heart’s not really in it anymore.”
“Okay, well, if you don’t love me in that way, we should talk about it more and maybe split up.”
“Stop twisting my words. That’s not what I said.”
Is it not? The meaning seems the same to me. It’s just the words that differ.
Emotional manipulation can take many forms, and it’s not always easy to distinguish between a genuine reaction and a manipulation technique.
As long as you keep the above phrases in mind and pay close attention to what the other person is saying, though, you may be able to recognize manipulation for what it is and learn to resist it.