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People use manipulative sentences or phrases usually to get their way, bully, “gaslight” or create a power imbalance. For narcissistic people, it's a tactic used to create conflict, inflict emotional abuse or diminish the self-esteem of others. In some cases, the speaker does not intend to cause harm, but their words may still have damaging effects.
This article will help to familiarize yourself with nine common manipulative statements people make in conversations, what they mean and how to shield yourself from the harmful psychological effects.
What Is Manipulation?
Manipulation is an unhealthy psychological tactic used to control how someone thinks, feels, or behaves. Almost everyone engages in this behavior from time to time, but there are those who do it intentionally to influence another person's perception or reaction. Some people willfully manipulate others to get their needs met, gain control or feed their egos.
An overt or passive approach can be taken to affect another person's thinking or behavior. Common examples include passive aggression, silent treatment, guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, gaslighting, denial, and lying. Other tactics include codependency through trauma bonding, playing on people's insecurities, withholding sex, instilling fear, or threatening to harm themselves.
People typically use words or phrases that have a manipulative effect on those close to them, such as their partner, child, or co-worker. It can be difficult to recognize if it's done subtly or you're unaware of common manipulative sentences. Luckily, arming yourself with information on manipulation helps protect your mental health. If you're the one communicating in this manner, you can start using positive language to express how you feel or get your needs met.
Manipulation and Emotional Abuse
Repeated manipulation is common in intimate or close relationships. Experts label it a “red flag” because it may cause emotional or mental harm to the person being manipulated. You might feel belittled, humiliated, guilty, ashamed, or worthless. There are cases where people admit to questioning their perception of reality because of manipulative words said to them.
A chronic pattern of manipulation is commonly seen in patients diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and psychopathy. Trauma from chronic manipulation consistent with emotional abuse can cause you to develop anxiety or depression. You may become enmeshed in a codependent relationship with the manipulator or try harder to please them. Other signs of emotional trauma include difficulty trusting and putting the person's needs over yours.
I once dated someone who successfully manipulated me before I knew what narcissism and manipulation were. He engaged in a pattern of lying, deception, gaslighting, denial, degrading, and other tactics too numerous to list. After a while, I didn't recognize myself. I went from being confident to feeling confused and not good enough. I even began questioning my own sanity after being told multiple times, “You're clueless,” “You're paranoid!” and “Something is wrong with you.”
Learning about words and behaviors people use to control others emotionally helped me end the relationship and rebuild my self-esteem.
9 Manipulative Sentences People Use in Conversations
Using manipulative expressions is also a toxic way of communicating feelings or needs. It's important to recognize this and acquaint yourself with these 9 statements, the underlying meaning, and how to respond. You may need to be assertive and respond in a way that reduces the chance of conflict.
1. “That's not what I said.”
This can imply that you're lying about what was said or skewing the meaning. People who use these words are essentially attempting to gaslight and deceive since they're fully aware of what they said. They may go as far as to say, “You're hearing things.” Implying that you're lying or misconstrued their statement is also an attempt to avoid responsibility.
Another intent is to make you second-guess your ability to hear, interpret, or understand. Adding that you're “hearing things” suggests that you're hallucinating or delusional.
Emphasize that you know what you heard. Make it clear that you won't participate in a conversation with anyone who denies the things they say and tries to belittle you in the process. If it's someone you need to continue the conversation with, inform them that you're willing to revisit the conversation when they can own up to their words.
2. “You shouldn't feel that way.”
The speaker is trying to control your emotions. It's also dismissive of your feelings—as if they don't matter. “How dare you!” may be your response if you're someone who doesn't mince words. A person who's shy or doesn't know how to stand up for themselves, express a need or set boundaries may accept it.
Put your foot down right away when someone attempts to dictate how you should feel. Calmly let the speaker know you will decide how to process your feelings. If they insist that your feelings are inappropriate in the circumstances, then you can choose to disengage from the conversation.
You're setting a boundary by taking this approach. It lets the person know what you are unwilling to tolerate and you'll feel good about yourself for taking a stance against manipulation.
3. “You're overreacting!”
Saying, “You're overreacting!” is a tactic designed to trivialize your feelings and silence you. And just like that, you're dismissed! The person's intention is often to deflect from their wrongdoing while painting you as someone who is unreasonable and unable to regulate your emotions.
Accusing you of overreacting, or exaggerating, is a way to control your behavior or shame you, perhaps because you're holding them accountable or setting a boundary. It's not only controlling and manipulative but can instantly put you on the defensive. You shouldn't have to defend yourself to anyone who's into negatively labeling your reaction to anything.
Although this manipulative statement can be upsetting, reacting with anger may only make them double down and say, “You see, I'm right. Now you're acting crazy!”
You can reply by saying, “I don't feel understood when you say I'm overreacting.” “It comes across as if my needs or feelings aren't important.” Then restate your need or boundary. The individual may immediately apologize if they truly care about you. Otherwise, it's worth reconsidering your relationship with this person.
4. “You made me do this.”
This is a classic blame-shifting sentence used by individuals who refuse to take accountability for their behavior. It's a famous line of narcissists who try to convince you that everything is your fault. They're essentially saying you're the villain and not the victim in the situation.
Saying you made them commit a certain act is unfair. Of course, we can influence other people's emotions positively or negatively, but we don’t have the power to make any adult do anything.
Relate to the person that they are solely responsible for their choices, actions, and any consequences. Feel free to call them out for trying to use you as a scapegoat. Make it clear that you're aware of the blame-shifting and that their refusal to take accountability is on them.
5. “I said I was sorry! What more do you want from me?”
People often say this with a tone of disgust or annoyance. What is really being said is, “You're acting unreasonably for expecting more of me after I apologized.” Saying “sorry” should be enough to absolve them from any of their wrongdoings that have upset or hurt you. Don't be surprised if they follow up with, “Now, you're overreacting!”
Sometimes the apology isn't even sincere. They offer it just to get you off their back. They expect you to brush the situation aside and move on the moment they utter the, “I'm sorry,” line. The wrongdoer wants you to know that no emotional support is coming your way once they apologize.
Explain to the individual that you're still hurting and would feel supported if they showed you empathy instead of annoyance. Someone who cares for you and isn't trying to be manipulative may say, “I'm sorry I hurt you but realize that you're still hurt although I apologized. “What can I do to make you feel better?”
6. “You're too sensitive.”
When someone utters this line, they're conveying to you that other people don't have a problem with their language or behavior. Your reaction, therefore, means you're different or something is “wrong” with you. Maybe you're more sensitive than others in certain ways, but that doesn’t mean people should use it against you. It's not a flaw. You're unique and affected by words and situations differently.
If you feel hurt, offended, or disrespected by the person's words, behavior, or present situation, that's perfectly fine. Let them know you'd appreciate it if they refrained from labeling or judging your personality. You can take it a little further and tell them how the statement makes you feel and that you're willing to accept their apology. If they refuse to consider your feelings or apologize, feel free to shut down the conversation or walk away.
7. “You'd do it if you loved me.”
The person is trying to make you prove you love them by catering to their demands. They think, by appealing to your conscience, you will feel guilty for not wanting to do whatever it takes to please them, even if it's harmful. People also do this to test your loyalty to them or the relationship.
Empaths and those who have a pattern of people-pleasing can be especially vulnerable to this manipulative expression. Do not fall for it. It's a common emotionally abusive tactic. You may respond to the toxic, guilt-tripping remark by assuring the person that you love them (assuming you do). Next, point out that testing your love with ultimatums can destroy your trust or the relationship.
8. “You're paranoid.”
Paranoia is a symptom of mental illnesses such as paranoid personality disorder (PPD), delusional disorder, and schizophrenia. Calling you paranoid is a gaslighting tactic similar to calling you “delusional,” or “crazy.” Paranoid and crazy are the narcissist's pet names for people when you catch them lying or cheating. Like emotional abusers, they use these words skillfully to evade responsibility and make you question your own sanity.
You can inform the person that you will not engage with them if they continue to call you offensive names. There's not much else you can say to convince chronic manipulators that they're being mean or childish for engaging in name-calling. They lack empathy and are unable to connect with your feelings. What's important is distancing yourself from anyone who makes you feel as if you're crazy.
I was called paranoid and it hurt my feelings because it came from someone I thought loved me. I responded to the offensive description by saying, “So now you're psychoanalyzing me?” “I didn't know you were a psychiatrist.” Luckily, I know what emotional manipulation looks like.”
I didn't take the gaslighting bait or get in my feelings. Instead, I called him out and shut him down.
9. “I don't like drama.”
When someone makes this statement or says, “You're being dramatic,” it's an attempt to deflect attention away from their dramatic behavior and project it onto you. You'll likely hear this statement after you try to hold them accountable for misbehaving. They'll turn around and attempt to paint you as a toxic person or accuse you of wanting to start a fight. Interestingly, those who claim to not like drama are usually the ones who instigate conflict and are difficult people to get along with.
Respond by letting the individual know it's an unfair statement that implies you want to create conflict. Assure them that you have no desire to be labeled negatively or baited into an unhealthy exchange. Walk away if the individual escalates their attack on your character. This will send a strong message that you're the one who doesn't like drama.
Protecting Yourself from Emotional Manipulation
The way you respond when communicating with individuals who use manipulative expressions is also key. The book, Non-Violent Communication, taught me how to choose words that diffuse rather than escalate a situation. Communicating without using conflict words encourages openness, vulnerability, trust, and accountability.
I observed that responding without reacting to manipulative sentences prevents the person from using your emotions against you. Ensure you communicate how you feel in a clear and direct way and identify behaviors you will not tolerate. That's setting boundaries, which helps minimize the harmful effects of emotional manipulation.
Tell the person how their words or actions made you feel. Next, state your need, then the consequences of bullying, blame-casting, name-calling, gaslighting, lying, denying, deflecting, projecting, or trivializing your feelings. In this YouTube video, Life and Relationship Coach, Stephanie Lyn, emphasized how loving yourself and setting and enforcing boundaries can repel manipulators.
There may be some difficulty setting boundaries with loved ones because you risk hurting their feelings. With practice, setting boundaries will become second nature. Ultimately, you'll feel proud of yourself and empowered for standing your ground.
Final Thoughts on Manipulative Sentences
In this article, we covered some of the most common everyday expressions manipulative people will use in conversation. That being said, frequent exposure to statements that question your personality, cognitive abilities, emotions, or mental state is psychologically damaging.
You need to protect your mental health and self-esteem by taking a strong stance against manipulation, setting boundaries or distancing yourself from toxic people. If you're hungry for more ways to recognize manipulation, you may like 8 Weird Things That Narcissists Do to Manipulate People.
Finally, if you want to increase your happiness and life satisfaction, then watch this free video that details the 7-minute habit for planning your day to focus on what's important.