5 phrases manipulators use to shirk responsibility, according to psychology

I remember way back when I worked for a luxury travel company in Asia.

The allure of jetting off to far-flung travel destinations and curating dream vacations for other people like me seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

Plus I knew it would look great on my CV, which at the time was teeny tiny—I was at the very start of my media career.

I didn’t know this at the time, but realistically speaking, the job would be more so about navigating my absolute nightmare of a boss! Perhaps you can relate.

I know many of us have had truly horrible bosses, but in my experience, I had one of the worst ones.

They were so, so manipulative with me, trying to avoid responsibility in all areas of work.

Despite being paid three times what I was (I know right?!), and having been in the game for two decades, they were forever dodging responsibility with lines like, “That’s not my problem.” Major yikes.

In the 18 months I stayed there (looking back, I genuinely cannot believe I survived that long) I felt like I was losing my mind trying to work under their manipulation. 

If you have ever dealt with a toxic person on this level, in work or in your personal life, you will know just how much it can get to you on a deep, emotional level.

If you are seeking out a few classic lines manipulators use to avoid taking responsibility, I have compiled five psychology-backed ones. Starting with: the disappearing act.

1) “You’re just going to leave me, aren’t you?”

A study in the journal Phenomenology of Social Impairments tied high levels of manipulation to personality disorders. In this case, some folks might purposely use “manipulative strategies to ensure that their needs are met.”

“You’re just going to leave me, aren’t you?” is a classic line they will drop—usually more than once.

This one is such a sneaky one! Seriously, if you hear it, please know that this manipulator knows exactly what they are doing.

They are not saying this in order to open up the floor for you, more so, they are flat out making baseless assumptions.

They are also trying to bring the two Vs into it: the victim and the villain. Wanna take a guess which one they are?

By hinting at your departure, they are straight up attempting to make you feel personally responsible for their wellbeing.

They basically want you to prove your undying loyalty.

Remember to pay attention to the guilt trip and the mind games—and be prepared.

2) “You think you’re so good, do you?” 

Oh, I truly despise this particular one. But I had to throw it in the ring.

I have heard it a lot in the past—I think because I have always been a super confident person, which can tend to attract manipulative people who fancy feeding off that. Yep, it is almost parasitic.

Research backs this up. A joint study from two British universities peeked into the fascination area of emotional manipulation, specifically in woman-to-woman friendships.

“Women’s manipulation is reported to require more subtle methods,” said researchers. 

And one specific “strategy” used in manipulation was labeled as a  “worsening strategy”.

Essentially, this can include “using criticism” and “undermining another person’s confidence”.

This whittling down of confidence might involve them throwing phrases like this at you: “Oh, do you think you’re so good?”

Every time I hear this I pause and spiral a little, thinking: “Wait, am I not good? Like, at all?”

But I learned from that, and you should, too. By deploying this phrase, they are aiming to make you doubt yourself, and all your amazing qualities.

If you lean into this, which I certainly hope you don’t, don’t question your self-worth. That’s exactly what they want—to make you end up feeling alone and like you are responsible for your feelings of inadequacy.

3) “You are so awful to me. I hate you.”

This same study on female friends looked into another manipulative tactic.

This time, it was from another stream: “inauthentic strategy”. 

This includes a surprising one: sulking. Namely, “sulking to get [their] own way.” 

It’s a classic tactic of deflection, in that they get to shirk responsibility by playing the victim.

Of course, there are many, many ways to have a good sulk. But I find one of the most common ones is them saying something along the lines of: “You are so awful to me. I hate you.”

Childish, right?

Straight away, they are blaming you for everything with a phrase like this. 

Ultimately, it messes with your emotions and makes you an easier target for manipulation.

4) “I am not speaking to you right now.”

An American study on manipulation in close, personal relationships found that someone not saying anything at all might be a sign of manipulation.

They might say “I am not speaking to you right now,” but more often than not, they may not give you a heads up at all.

Researchers concluded that silence was often used to influence spouses and prospective partners.

It’s a way for them to avoid responsibility to manage conflict healthily or to even listen to your feelings, and adapt their behavior accordingly.

This maneuver is all about control. With tactical silence, they are keeping you in emotional limbo.

And you begin to feel ultra guilty and uncertain about where it is that you stand. In this way, it’s also a manipulative play for attention.

5) “We really couldn’t do this without you, you know that right?”

An Australian study which explored the strategies of manipulation in the workplace concluded that classically manipulative individuals tended to offer “reassurance and compliments to influence people’s behavior.”

“We really couldn’t do this without you, you know that right?” is one thing they might hurl at you.

This phrase is not just praising your skill set and experience.

Rather, it is them trying to make you feel like the office would fully cave in without you—essentially rendering  you as the office lifeline.

If a coworker is offering up an abundance of praise on a platter, you might like to consider the idea that they are hoping to set a pattern of dependency.

In this dynamic, you become almost addicted to their praise.

The timing can be interesting too, with a tendency to peak during periods of increased tension at work. In this way, they might be shirking responsibility by building you up to do their job for them. 

Sneaky, huh?

Final thoughts

By being able to recognise the classic lines of a manipulator, I hope you can be better armed to be in control of your own narrative.

Manipulators tend to have a real flair for implying you’ll abandon them or saying you think you’re better than you are—but really it’s all an act to avoid taking any responsibility whatsoever.

And this can be a responsibility for a number of things, like doing actual work or managing emotional conflict they have themselves caused. With these types of people, it can get very messy indeed.

In the end, when manipulators try to shirk responsibility, don’t let their act mislead you. 

Strand strong and don’t let them get to you.

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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