10 phrases manipulators use to gain control, according to psychology

Almost everyone engages in manipulative behavior at one time or another. Then there are those people for whom manipulation is par for the course. They’ll deliberately try to influence your perception of events or your reaction to them. 

Some folks manipulate people in order to gain control over others, get their needs met, or just for the ego boost.

People will utilize manipulative phrases to intimidate you or gaslight you into questioning your own mental stability instead of theirs. The goal is to forge a power imbalance in their favor.

Narcissists use manipulation to stir up conflict, cause emotional harm, or damage your self-esteem.

Manipulative people typically target people they have a close personal relationship with, including their significant other or children. 

Manipulation can be tricky to recognize, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the common phrases manipulators use to set their traps. So, to that end, let’s explore some classic phrases manipulative people use to achieve their objectives.

1) “I never said that”

A manipulator, particularly a narcissist, has elevated denial and gaslighting to an art form. They are masters at distorting reality and deflecting blame. 

If they are ever confronted with their own actions, a manipulator will deny any wrongdoing even if the facts say otherwise. 

They are firm believers that the best defense is a good offense, so a manipulator will insist that you’re mistaken hoping that you’ll back off and let them win to get some peace. 

When this happens often enough, you may even begin to question your mental fitness.

You might wonder if you really are exaggerating or distorting the truth. 

Are you making them out to be worse than they truly are?


You’re doing exactly what the manipulator hoped you would – doubting your perception of reality and buying into theirs. The more you question yourself, the easier it is for them to exert further control over you.

2) “You misunderstood me”

Everyone is entitled to their interpretations of anything that’s said to them, whether the intent was to hurt them or not. 

When a manipulative person says something hurtful, they’ll immediately justify their actions and turn it back on you, insisting you misunderstood their meaning.

This manipulation tactic makes the victim feel like they’re wrong for simply expressing their opinion. 

3) “If you really cared about me, you’d …”

Manipulative people will try to make you prove your love for them by submitting to their wishes. They hope that by appealing to your conscience they can send you on a guilt trip for not wanting to please them, even if it’s not the best thing for you.

Empaths and people-pleasers are particularly susceptible to this sort of manipulation. Please don’t fall for it. It’s an abusive tactic as old as time. 

I had a ten-year relationship with someone who successfully manipulated me because I didn’t realize he was a narcissist and a master manipulator

In hindsight, I can easily identify his pattern of deception and gaslighting, but at the time I believed any issues we had were because I was self-centered and didn’t love him enough. 

That wasn’t the case. 

It was a gradual process, but eventually, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I barely noticed as my demeanor changed from confident to confused. I even began to question my own sanity.

If you are ever on the receiving end of this phrase, walk away and don’t look back.

4) “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you”

So your new love interest proclaims they’ve never loved anyone as much as you.

Aw, isn’t that sweet? 

No, actually it’s not.

While this may seem heartwarming, it’s usually a huge red flag in reality. 

This is called love bombing, a technique manipulators use to reel you in and breach your defenses, especially at the start of a relationship.

My ex had this down to a science. I thought I’d landed a caring and loving partner when all he wanted was to gain my loyalty and “earn” my trust just so he could betray it. 

Manipulative people are weak people, so they like to play with other people’s emotions by swearing their undying love, even though they always have a self-serving motive for doing so.

pic2090 10 phrases manipulators use to gain control, according to psychology

5) “Don’t you trust me?”

Manipulative people like to pull this old standby phrase when they’ve got something to hide. This is one way they back their victims into a corner.

It’s a lose/lose situation for the manipulator’s target. You probably feel pressure to respond with, “Of course I trust you,” because we’re taught that love and trust are intertwined. 

All you’ve done is give the manipulator permission to continue the behavior that’s making you doubt them in the first place. 

Now, if you respond with, “No, I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you,” this puts your relationship in jeopardy even though your doubts are completely justified. 

So when someone asks, “Don’t you trust me?” they’re actually saying, “I’m going to lay a guilt trip on you by requesting your reassurance so I can go ahead and tap dance all over your boundaries.” 

6) “I’m always there for you”

Ah, more guilt-tripping.

This phrase is often said by a manipulator when they need your support even though they don’t deserve it. 

A manipulator doesn’t see the difference between taking you to a doctor’s appointment and expecting you to reciprocate by paying their credit card off. 

But it’s often enough to instill a sense of guilt and make you believe that you must mirror their actions even if it’s not a proportional response. 

7) “You’re paranoid”

Paranoia isn’t an accusation to toss around lightly. It’s a symptom of serious mental illnesses like paranoid personality disorder (PPD) and schizophrenia

If someone is accusing you of being paranoid it’s a gaslighting tactic along the lines of calling you crazy or delusional.

Gaslighting makes you question whether the emotional abuse you’re experiencing is truly happening and causes you to doubt your valid worries. 

For example, suppose your manipulative partner does something to deliberately cause you pain and you confront them about it later. In that case, their response will be to deny it ever happened and call you crazy.

They fully intend to make you question if the incident really happened and your own sanity to boot. 

8) “Why are you such a drama queen?”

When a manipulator accuses you of being a drama queen, that’s their attempt to deflect attention from their own dramatic behavior that precipitated the problem and project it onto you.

This is a tactic they’ll use if you have the nerve to hold them accountable for their behavior. 

They’ll brand you as a toxic person or accuse you of stirring the pot. Speaking of pots, this is akin to the pot calling the kettle black.

Because most people who claim to hate drama are usually sowing the seeds of conflict and are notoriously hard to get along with.

9) “Stop overreacting!”

This is a manipulative tactic tailored to trivialize your emotions and shut you up. 

The person intends to deflect from their bad behavior while casting you as unreasonable and incapable of regulating your emotions.

So when a manipulator accuses you of overreacting it’s their toxic way of trying to control your behavior, probably because you’re holding them accountable for something.

10) “Look what you made me do”

This is a classic blame-shifting maneuver used by those who refuse to be accountable for their behavior. 

It’s a go-to phrase for manipulators and narcissists who want you to believe that everything is your fault. The point is to convince you that you’re the villain and not the victim. 

You can’t force a grown adult to do anything they don’t want to do. Sure, you can influence other people positively or negatively, but the power still lies within each of us to make our own decisions.

If you get fed this line of nonsense, inform the person that they and they alone are responsible for their actions, and therefore any negative consequences. Refuse to be their handy-dandy whipping boy or girl.

Make it crystal clear that you know they’re blame-shifting and that their refusal to face reality is on them, not you.

Final thoughts

It’s true that some of these phrases may not always be malicious. Manipulative tactics and the people who use them reveal themselves over time.

Make sure you’re on the lookout for patterns.

In the end, it’s best to avoid highly manipulative people altogether to protect your peace. 

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

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