12 phrases manipulators use to gain the upper hand in a conversation

When insecure people feel powerless, they’ll try to take yours by minimizing your intelligence and stability.

It’s not easy dealing with people like this so I don’t want you to blame yourself if you’ve found yourself feeling inadequate in the presence of their words.

It’s not a sign that you lack anything, that’s just what they want you to feel.

Time to call it how it is! Here are 12 phrases manipulators use to gain the upper hand in a conversation.

1) “I don’t remember saying/doing that”

This is a classic way for manipulators to play victim and feign innocence.

It’s a form of weaponized incompetence where they are insinuating that they can’t be held responsible for something that they did because they can’t remember.

Sure, not every person who can’t remember is trying to evade accountability. 

But if someone is confronting you and your first response is to say that you can’t remember, that says a lot about them, don’t you think?

2) “I’m drawing a boundary”

Psychology and psychotherapy becoming more accessible to the public has its pros.

But I’m learning that there are many cons as well. Like people weaponizing therapy-speak to gain the upper hand in situations.

Usually to avoid accountability by becoming avoidant in order to “protect their peace” after they ruined someone else’s.

While you should always give space for people to process their thoughts and emotions, you should never be made to feel guilty for expressing yours.

Finding solutions takes time and effort! 

So if someone refuses to do so and shuts you out, that just means they lack the emotional maturity to hold space for complex emotions.

3) “You’re the only person who thinks that”

This one’s used to further undermine your intelligence by making you feel like you’re on your own.

It’s a huge manipulation tactic when people want to “humble” you and make you second guess yourself because they took something you did personally.

Your initial reaction might be to list off a bunch of people who agree with you but don’t waste your energy on that. 

There’s no real way to argue with someone who wants to gaslight you into questioning your reality.

4) “You’re just like everyone else”

Similar to the previous one, this is just a reflection of a person’s limited point of view regarding the world and relationships.

Which results in them having very little emotional intelligence to view every person as an individual.

It’s hard because if you’re a human being with empathy, your initial reaction will be to prove them wrong. To show them the care that they seemingly lacked in the past.

But that’s just the manipulation tactic working its tricks. And it’s likely they treat everyone like this.

5) “You owe me”

Oh no you don’t.

Unless it’s something like paying someone back, or you both mutually agree to something beforehand, this is just another way for someone to make you feel inferior to them.

To keep you in an inferior position so you can be easily controlled.

Observe the tone of their voice, as well as how they treat you in other settings. Is there always a one-sided power dynamic that they try to push onto you?

Depending on the relationship, it may have seemed funny at first. But when it’s done consistently, it’s just a sign that they feel intimidated by you.

But the truth is that no one who genuinely loves you would hold something over your head like you’re a horse and they got a carrot.

6) “You’re not special”

These kinds of manipulators like to think of themselves as a source of your importance. 

When they’re the ones that are dependent on your reliance on them. The manipulation tactics make an appearance every time you display a sense of empowerment.

And I think the fear of being insignificant is something every human possesses.

So while you might feel triggered and feel like you want to agree with them and play yourself small, don’t.

Instead, opt for a better group of people who won’t antagonize you for feeling special.

As long as you treat people with kindness, there’s literally nothing wrong with believing in your own magic.

7) “You’re lucky that I’m even _____”

pic1404 12 phrases manipulators use to gain the upper hand in a conversation

This one’s just pure aggression and not even true in the slightest.

Why would I be lucky to be dealing with someone who has to tell me that I’m lucky? Make it make sense!

Similarly to the previous one, this is a sign a person is intimidated by your autonomy in the relationship.

And when someone says this, it usually means they keep score in their relationships as well. That you have to somehow “earn” their love, respect and understanding.

Just know that there are better ways of communicating frustration than minimizing them or questioning their choices.

8) “Are you okay?”

This one doesn’t always mean someone is trying to gain the upper hand. 

It’s one of those cases where you should take inventory of how the person treats you on other occasions.

But I once had a terrible roommate who couldn’t take accountability for anything. She also had a hard time forming healthy relationships.

What would end up happening is that every time I set a boundary with her, she would ask me if I was “okay.” 

As an effort to make me question myself for noticing her problematic behavior.

So if you have someone in your life who makes you question your reality every time you want to call them out, that’s a sign they’re trying to manipulate you.

9) “I thought you could handle it”

Ooooooo, this one is Subtle with a capital S.

It’s another way to evade accountability by saying how it’s somehow your fault for not meeting their expectations.

It doesn’t seem outrightly harmful at first. But turn it around and ask if someone who truly loves you would ever blame you for having feelings.

They wouldn’t!

When someone says something like this to you, respond that you would like to be treated with more compassion.

I can’t guarantee that they’ll get it, but it’s how you can hold your ground and not fall into the trap of second guessing yourself

10) “I did it for your own good”

These are what I like to call, “the intentions people.”

They’ll usually say how you shouldn’t be hurt by them because it was never their intention to. And I’ll admit, I was like this when I was younger.

But it was something I grew out of once I realized the point of communication when you’ve hurt someone isn’t to make them understand your perspective.

That’s just you trying to absolve yourself of your guilt.

Instead, it’s time for you to empathize and offer them comfort because they’re allowed to feel hurt by something you did!

Not to mention, the only person who can say that they know what’s best for themselves, is that person themselves.

11) “You’re so naive, you wouldn’t understand”

I really despise this one.

People who have some kind of authority over you like age or experiences will use this to keep you from questioning them.

Usually because they lack the ability to healthily convey what they’re thinking. So it’s just projection.

And that sense of authority is merely an illusion that they create. Anyone who respects themselves knows everyone is deserving of respect no matter what social standing they have.

You could even say something like, “help me understand.” And if they still insist you wouldn’t, you can rest easy knowing it’s not you.

It’s them.

12) “You’re being irrational”

The world is built on a foundation that caters to logic because people are more likely to trust “tangible” evidence than emotional ones.

A balance is required but when people don’t value emotions, what ends up happening is that they start calling everything related to that, “irrational.”

May as well call you crazy for having feelings!

This is also used to turn others against you by questioning your credibility. Just remember that if you feel something, it is worth exploring.

Even if you come to the conclusion that you misunderstood something, making someone question their intellect doesn’t help solve anything.

It’s just exhausting.

I used to avoid setting boundaries and cutting these kinds of people out of my life. 

Because it felt like having to confront their existence was such a nuisance. And not to be grim but emotional maturity isn’t exactly taught in our society.

So running into people like these is unavoidable. Making you think that the best way to combat them is to put up with it.

And you know that if they treat you like this while they’re in your life, they’re not going to leave it peacefully.

But that kind of passive behavior is actually going to attract more of these people into your life. The truth is that dealing with them is to not deal with them at all.

So start being a little more selective and don’t worry about the consequences of creating distance. That one moment of discomfort is just a blip in the grand scheme of things.

As a living and breathing example of someone who overcame these dynamics, I can assure you that you’ll meet better suited people who don’t treat you like an extension of themselves.

You just have to find a way to regain the upper hand in your own life.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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