9 subtle phrases that reveal a manipulative person’s hidden agenda

Conversing with others is a delicate dance of words and intentions. Sometimes, you might find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s not just guiding the dance, but controlling it.

These manipulative individuals don’t always reveal their true intentions outright. Instead, they use subtle phrases designed to push you into acting in ways that serve their own interests.

Fortunately, you can unmask them. There are telltale phrases that, when noticed, can help you decipher a manipulator’s hidden agenda.

These phrases might be sliding under your radar, but once you’re aware, you’ll be equipped to navigate these tricky conversational waters.

1) “Everyone else is doing it”

In the realm of manipulation, the concept of social proof can take a darker turn.

Manipulators often utilize the strategy of social proof to coax you into compliance. They appeal to your natural tendency to follow the crowd, assuming that if “everyone else” is doing something, it must be the right thing to do.

The phrase “everyone else is doing it” is a subtle way manipulators exploit this social phenomenon. It’s designed to make you feel left out, or even foolish, for not following what’s supposedly the popular choice.

But here’s the catch. This phrase is often used without any real proof. The manipulator might not have any evidence that “everyone else” is indeed doing what they claim. It’s a bluff designed to make you fold without questioning the validity of their claim.

So, keep your ears open for this phrase. Remember, just because “everyone else” is allegedly doing something doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Make decisions based on your personal needs and values, not on the pressure to conform.

2) “Trust me, I would never lie to you”

Ah, the classic “trust me” line. The phrase sounds reassuring, doesn’t it? But in the wrong hands, it’s a manipulator’s magic wand to make your doubts and questions disappear.

Let me share a personal experience. A few years ago, I had a friend who was constantly late to our meet-ups. It was frustrating, but I decided to address the issue. When I confronted her, she quickly responded with, “Trust me, I would never lie to you. I always have a valid reason.”

Although her words seemed genuine, over time it became clear that they were just a tactic to deflect my concern without addressing the real issue—her constant tardiness.

This phrase is often used by manipulators to win your trust and silence your skepticism without providing any real evidence or making any changes. It’s a subtle way of saying: “Stop questioning me.”

So remember, trust must be earned through actions, not just words. If someone frequently uses this phrase without demonstrating trustworthy behavior, it might be a sign of manipulation.

3) “You’re just too sensitive”

We’ve all heard this phrase at some point, and it’s a classic in the manipulator’s playbook. Its purpose is to shift the blame from the manipulator to you.

The phrase “you’re just too sensitive” is a form of gaslighting – a psychological manipulation technique used to make the victim question their reality. It’s a tactic that manipulators use to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and to make you feel guilty instead.

According to psychologist Dr. Robin Stern, gaslighting can be incredibly damaging to a person’s mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and even a phenomenon known as ‘gaslighting syndrome’.

So if someone dismisses your feelings or reactions as being ‘too sensitive’, be cautious. Your feelings are valid, and no one should make you doubt that.

4) “I don’t remember saying that”

Selective memory is a tool often used by manipulative individuals. The phrase “I don’t remember saying that” can be a red flag that someone is trying to rewrite history to suit their needs.

Manipulators use this phrase to dodge accountability for things they’ve said or done. By stating they don’t remember, they put you in a position where you’re either forced to drop the issue or appear as if you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

The truth is, it’s not about having a perfect memory—it’s about honesty and integrity. If someone frequently uses this phrase to dodge responsibility, it may be a sign of manipulation. Always trust your memory and instincts.

5) “I’m only doing this for your own good”

When manipulators use the phrase “I’m only doing this for your own good”, they’re essentially trying to justify their controlling behavior by making it seem like they have your best interests at heart.

This phrase is a manipulator’s way of making their actions seem noble and selfless when, in reality, they’re likely serving their own interests. It’s a tactic used to make you question whether your resistance to their control is, in fact, against your own good.

Remember, you are the best judge of what’s good for you. If someone insists on dictating your actions under the guise of your well-being, it might be time to question their motives.

6) “If you really cared about me, you would…”

This phrase tugs at your heartstrings. It’s a manipulative tactic that tries to guilt you into doing something by questioning your care and commitment.

The phrase “If you really cared about me, you would…” is a form of emotional manipulation. It’s designed to make you feel obligated to fulfill the manipulator’s request, often at the cost of your own needs or boundaries.

One of the most important things to remember in any relationship is that genuine care and love never involve manipulation or guilt-tripping. True care respects personal boundaries and never forces anyone to prove their affection through compliance.

When someone uses this phrase to pressure you into doing something, it’s not a reflection of your caring nature. Rather, it’s a sign of their manipulation. Always value your feelings and boundaries, and never let anyone make you feel guilty for doing so.

7) “You owe me for all I’ve done for you”

The phrase “You owe me for all I’ve done for you” is a manipulator’s way of keeping a scorecard, and it’s one that I’ve sadly encountered in the past.

Years ago, I had a friend who always kept a tally of the things she did for me. Any time she needed a favor, she’d remind me of how much I owed her. It created an uncomfortable power dynamic and made our friendship feel more like a transaction than a genuine connection.

This phrase is a manipulation tactic used to make you feel indebted to them, creating an obligation to comply with their requests. A healthy relationship, however, isn’t about keeping score or leveraging favors. It’s about mutual respect and genuine kindness without expecting something in return.

If someone frequently reminds you of what you owe them, be wary. You don’t need to repay kindness with obedience. Always remember that genuine acts of kindness don’t come with strings attached.

8) “I’m your only option”

Manipulators often try to make you feel that you’re dependent on them. The phrase “I’m your only option” is designed to make you feel helpless and cornered, believing that you can’t survive or succeed without them.

This tactic is a manipulator’s attempt to control you by stifling your independence and making you feel that they hold all the cards. By making you believe that you have no other options, they’re hoping to make it easier to manipulate your decisions and actions.

But remember, there are always options and alternatives in life. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, it’s likely a sign of manipulation. Don’t let anyone make you feel stuck or dependent—it’s your life, and you have the power to choose your own path.

9) “You’re just misunderstanding me”

This phrase is a manipulator’s attempt to make you question your understanding and perception. “You’re just misunderstanding me” is often used to deflect your legitimate concerns or feelings, making you doubt your judgment.

This tactic allows manipulators to escape accountability for their actions or words by making it seem like the problem lies with your comprehension, not their behavior.

However, if you consistently feel misunderstood by someone, it’s not necessarily a reflection of your comprehension skills. It could very well be a manipulation technique. Trust your understanding and intuition. You have the right to voice your feelings and thoughts without being dismissed as ‘misunderstanding’.

Final reflection: It’s all about respect

Digging deeper into the subtle phrases of manipulation, we find an underlying thread: a lack of respect for personal boundaries and individual autonomy.

Renowned psychologist Dr. George K. Simon points out that “Sometimes just the manipulator speaking with apparent conviction can invite the overly conscientious person to doubt themselves.”

The phrases we’ve explored are tools that manipulators use to infringe upon your autonomy and manipulate your decisions. They thrive on confusion, guilt, and self-doubt – all elements that can disrupt your sense of self and make you more susceptible to their control.

But knowing these phrases gives you the power to recognize manipulation when it happens. It equips you with the understanding needed to stand firm in your boundaries, trust your instincts, and respect your own feelings and decisions.

Every human being deserves respect and autonomy. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise with their manipulative tactics. You have the right to be treated with kindness and sincerity, and most importantly, the freedom to make your own choices.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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