7 phrases manipulative people use to undermine your sense of self-certainty

Have you ever felt a subtle erosion of your self-certainty, leaving you questioning your own instincts? 

You were probably feeling the effects of a manipulative person. There are certain phrases they use to undermine your sense of certainty — and they’re very crafty at using them.

You should never let your self-confidence and decisions be swayed by someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. 

That’s why it’s so important that you learn how to recognize these manipulative phrases. 

Let’s have a look at what they are.  

1) Gaslighting phrases

The first type of phrases manipulative people tend to use are gaslighting phrases.

First of all, what is gaslighting? It’s essentially like a mind game where someone tries to make you doubt your own thoughts, feelings, or memories. 

They say things then deny they said them, or vice versa they may claim they said things they didn’t. The result is the same: they make you question your reality, leaving you feeling confused and unsure about what’s true. 

It’s a sneaky way for someone to mess with your confidence and make you second-guess yourself and your memory.

I know from experience it can feel very disorienting to be confronted with this kind of manipulation. It’s natural for human beings to be influenced and start doubting ourselves.

But hold your ground and remember, your comprehension and memories are valid. If you hear these phrases come out of someone’s mouth, let that be the first red flag.

Examples of gaslighting phrases:

  • “I never said that; you must be imagining things.”
  • “You’re making things up in your head”
  • “You always twist things around”
  • “You have a vivid imagination”

2) Projection techniques

Projecting insecurities is another potent weapon wielded by manipulative people.

When someone projects, they take their own flaws, feelings, or intentions and attribute them to you. 

It’s as if they’re holding up a mirror, but the reflection isn’t really yours – it’s a warped image of their unresolved issues

Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy to recognize, and we may accept the “image” they are showing us as truly our own.

This is how manipulative people make you question your very character and actions, creating a cloud of uncertainty around your identity.

It takes a strong sense of self and a lot of practice self-reflecting to be able to draw boundaries between what you know is true about yourself, and what is simply someone else’s projection.

If you hear one of the phrases below, take a moment and think: do I identify with this, or is it just manipulation?

Examples of projecting phrases:

  • “You’re just trying to manipulate me.”
  • “You must be jealous of my success.”
  • “You’re always trying to control everything.”
  • “You’re just pretending to care about others.”
  • “You’re always so [negative trait they possess.”

3) Undermining your achievements

Manipulative individuals often resort to belittling your achievements to keep you in a state of self-doubt.

Picture this: you share your successes, big or small, and instead of celebration, they downplay your accomplishments. 

They might write it off as luck, or try to find flaws in what you achieved, or just brush it off and try to ignore it altogether. 

The truth is, none of this reflects in any way on you. But we are social creatures, and so it’s understandable that this type of manipulation may diminish your sense of pride and even make you question the value of your achievements.

Always remember: not everyone will appreciate or care about what you do. But the most important thing is how you feel about yourself. 

Examples of belittling phrases

  • “Anyone could have done that.”
  • “It’s not that impressive, really.”
  • “I’ve seen better.”
  • “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
  • “That’s nothing compared to what I’ve done.”

if someone uses these phrases they might be subtly manipulating you 7 phrases manipulative people use to undermine your sense of self-certainty

4) Sowing seeds of doubt

Do you know someone who never seems to agree with you? Someone who is always there to analyze, nitpick, and look for holes in the things you say, as if they are an auditor waiting for you to slip up?

This person might try to pass off as your friend, but really they are trying to undermine your self-certainty by creating doubt. 

It might be when you express excitement about a new project, and they immediately question the feasibility of your ideas. Or when you share a personal achievement, and they subtly suggest it’s not as remarkable as you think. 

In conversations, they might consistently challenge your opinions or subtly imply that you’re overlooking crucial details.

Of course, we can all make mistakes, and in certain situations, it’s good to have someone to check the facts. 

But this shouldn’t follow you around in your daily life — keep an ear out for phrases like these.  

Examples of doubt-inducing phrases

  • “Are you sure you remember it correctly?”
  • “That doesn’t sound right.”
  • “I don’t think you understand the situation.”
  • “You’re not seeing the bigger picture.”
  • “Maybe you’re not as good at this as you think.”

5) Playing the victim

And then there’s the person who always seems to be battling some injustice.

They do this to get attention and make people feel sorry for them — but it can start to have an effect on you if they place you in the role of villain to their victim.

Maybe you express your concerns about a shared project, and they make it sound like you’re unjustly attacking them and not appreciating their effort. 

Or, as you’re talking excitedly about your achievements, instead of celebrating with you, they subtly shift the focus to how your success overshadows their struggles. 

Suddenly, your accomplishments become a source of guilt, as they paint you as insensitive to their ongoing challenges.

Even if you don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong, being constantly painted as someone who’s hurting others starts to damage your emotional well-being. 

It’s important to keep in mind that this tactic and the phrases that express it are about them and their inner insecurity — not yours. 

Examples of playing the victim 

  • “You’re always against me.”
  • “Nobody understands what I go through.”
  • “I thought you were on my side.”
  • “You’re making me the bad guy.”
  • “You never consider my feelings.”

6) Implying superiority

One of the 6 main human needs is significance — in other words, feeling important.

Unfortunately, some people try to gain this not by working to better themselves, but by trying to diminish others. 

They can’t put in the work to build up their worth independent of others, so they have to do it through comparison. 

Part of this is making you feel like you’re falling short in their eyes. It can come in the form of condescending remarks, puffing up their own knowledge and achievements, or even just body language like a smirk or raised eyebrows. 

They can also never admit to a mistake, instead looking for some way to twist the situation to make it out to be your fault. 

This does nothing to actually change your worth — but it sure can make you feel insecure, if you let it. 

Your best defense is to know who you are, so you don’t let anyone else’s inflated ego make you feel any different. 

Examples of superiority-imposing phrases

  • “That’s an interesting approach, but let me show you the right way.”
  • “I’ve always thought about it this way; I guess not everyone sees the bigger picture.”
  • “You did well, considering your limitations.”
  • “I’ve been doing this for years, so I understand if you struggle to grasp the concept.”
  • “I would have done it differently, but I suppose everyone has their own methods.”

7) Backhanded compliments

Compliments are usually a great thing — but sometimes, they leave you feeling uneasy instead.

These are the backhanded compliments — seemingly positive remarks that carry a hidden layer of criticism. 

It could happen when you achieve something remarkable, and instead of genuine praise, you hear a comment that subtly undermines your success. 

Or it makes it sound like what you did was somehow very surprising — as if they would never expect you to do something well. 

The tricky thing about these remarks is that they are still disguised as compliments. So the person can always pretend “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it! It was a compliment!”

But if people use these phrases, they usually know what they’re doing.

The best response? Play happy and stupid, and tell them “That’s so kind, thank you so much!”

And rest assured in the knowledge that nothing they say can erode your own self-certainty.

Examples of backhanded compliments

  • “You’re surprisingly good at this; I didn’t expect it from you.”
  • “It’s great that you’re trying new things, even if it’s not your strong suit.”
  • “Your presentation was interesting; I didn’t think you had it in you.”
  • “You look good today; did you finally start taking care of yourself?”
  • “I love how you embrace your unique style, even if it’s unconventional.”

Protecting your sense of self-certainty from manipulative phrases

With these 7 types of phrases in mind, you’ll be able to keep an eye out for manipulators — and neutralize their effect on you.

Because let’s be real. Manipulators often stand on shaky ground. They rely on your vulnerability and growing insecurity.

But if you have genuine self-certainty that stands strong no matter what? Nothing can ever get to you. 

Picture of Silvia Adamyova

Silvia Adamyova

Born in Slovakia, raised in Canada, with a translation degree from University of Ottawa and an editing certificate from Simon Fraser University. Now based back in Slovakia (if you’re wondering why - have you seen Canadian winters?). Full-time freelance English teacher, translator, editor, and copywriter. Part-time avid reader, self-development junkie, and cake addict. I hope my writing inspires you in some way — if it does, find me on LinkedIn or Instagram and let me know!

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.