9 phrases manipulators use to chip away at your confidence

Tina Fey by Tina Fey | July 7, 2024, 4:47 pm

There’s a thin line between being persuasive and downright manipulative.

Manipulation is all about control – using sneaky tricks to get what you want, often at the expense of others.

Unlike influence or persuasion, where the person still has the liberty to choose, manipulation creeps in and slowly chips away at your confidence, making you doubt your own judgement.

The scary part? Manipulators are often so subtle that it’s hard to recognize their tactics. They use certain go-to phrases that seem harmless but are designed to undermine your confidence.

Here, I’ll share these phrases to help you spot and protect yourself against manipulation.

1) “You’re being sensitive”

One of the most common phrases manipulators use is “You’re being too sensitive” or “You’re overreacting”.

By nature, it’s a very subtle method. It’s designed to make you question your own feelings and reactions. It’s as if your emotions are not valid and you’re blowing things out of proportion.

The cunning part about this phrase is how it shifts the blame from their actions to your reactions. If you feel upset about something they’ve done or said, they turn it around to make it seem like the problem lies with you and not with them.

This is a classic technique known as gaslighting – making you question your reality and causing you to doubt yourself.

Keep in mind, everyone has the right to feel and express their emotions. Don’t let anyone undermine that. Validate your feelings, trust your judgement, and be aware of this classic manipulative phrase.

2) “I was just joking”

I once had a friend who had a knack for making snide remarks and passing them off as jokes. The phrase “I was just joking” was his constant disclaimer.

Whenever he said something that made me uncomfortable or hurt my feelings, he’d quickly follow up with, “Can’t you take a joke?” or “I was just kidding, don’t take it so seriously”.

This is another way that’s used to belittle or demean you, while dismissing any negative reaction you might have. It’s their way of avoiding responsibility for their hurtful words or actions.

The truth is that jokes shouldn’t make you feel bad, they should make you laugh. If someone makes you feel lesser under the guise of humor, it’s a red flag. It’s not about not having a sense of humor, it’s about respect and kindness – which are never a joking matter.

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

This is manipulation at its finest, exploiting your care and concern for the person to get what they want.

The phrase “If you really cared about me, you would…” is often used to guilt-trip you into doing something you may not want to do or even agree with.

Psychologists refer to this as emotional blackmail. It’s a powerful form of manipulation because it taps into our human desire to feel loved and valued. By questioning your care or love for them, manipulators can often make you bend over backwards to prove your feelings.

Be aware of this phrase. Genuine love and care should never be used as bargaining chips to fulfill someone else’s agenda.

4) “I never said that”

This is a classic move in the manipulator’s playbook. “I never said that” or “You’re remembering it wrong” are often used to twist reality and make you second-guess your own memory.

Denying their words or actions, even if you clearly remember them, is also a gaslighting tactic. It’s designed to make you question your own memory and perception, thereby chipping away at your confidence.

When faced with this strategy, it’s essential to trust your memory and instincts. Don’t let someone else’s denial shake your self-assurance or alter your perception of reality. You know what you heard and experienced, so hold onto that.

5) “You owe me”

Manipulators use this to make you feel indebted to them for something they’ve done for you, and then use that perceived debt as leverage to get what they want.

Whether it’s a favor they did for you, a gift they gave, or even just their time and attention, they’ll make it seem like you’re in their debt and need to repay them.

But remember, a kind gesture or favor doesn’t obligate you to fulfill someone else’s desires or demands. 

If someone genuinely does something good for you, it should be without strings attached. Don’t let anyone use their kindness as a tool for manipulation.

6) “No one else will ever love you like I do”

This statement can cut deep. It’s designed to make you feel like there’s no one else in the world who could possibly care for or understand you the way they do.

Manipulators use this to make you feel trapped and dependent on their love or friendship, making it harder for you to leave a toxic relationship or situation.

The reality is, this is not a declaration of love, but a scare tactic designed to control you.

Everyone deserves respect and love that uplifts them, not one that makes them feel small or trapped. 

Never settle for a love that makes you feel less than. You are enough, and you are worthy of a healthy, supportive relationship.

7) “You can’t do it without me”

I remember a time when I was preparing to start a new project, and someone close to me said, “You can’t do it without me”. 

At first, it seemed like they were trying to offer support, but I soon realized it was a way to make me feel dependent and less confident in my abilities.

These are words designed to undermine your self-confidence and make you feel incapable. The manipulator wants you to believe that you can’t succeed or accomplish anything without their help or presence.

It’s a way for them to maintain control and make you feel reliant on them. But don’t fall into this trap. 

Trust in your abilities and remember that you are more than capable of achieving your goals on your own.

8) “It’s all your fault”

Blaming is a common tool in the manipulator’s arsenal. When something goes wrong, they’re quick to point fingers and say, “It’s all your fault”.

This phrase is used to make you feel guilty and responsible for the problems at hand, even when it’s not warranted. It can also be used to distract from their own shortcomings or mistakes.

We’re all responsible for our actions, and it’s unfair and unhealthy for one person to shoulder all the blame. 

If anyone uses this to escape their responsibility or make you feel unwarranted guilt, don’t fall for it.

9) “You’re just not good enough”

Finally, this might be the most damaging of all the manipulative phrases. Hearing “You’re just not good enough” can really shake your confidence and cause you to question your value.

This is a direct attack on your self-esteem, designed to make you feel inferior and inadequate. Manipulators want to keep you under their control, to make you strive harder for their approval, and to keep you in a constant state of self-doubt.

But here’s the truth: You are good enough, no matter what anyone says. Stand tall in your worth and never let anyone belittle your capabilities or degrade your self-esteem.

Final thoughts: Knowledge is power

Figuring out how people trick others can feel tough, especially since it’s often sneaky and goes unseen.

The techniques that manipulators use to slowly make you lose self- confidence are subtle but damaging. They are designed to make you question your self-worth, decisions, and feelings.

Use this guide as a way to identify, understand and counteract them. It empowers you to stand firm in your truth and not allow anyone to undermine your confidence or dictate your emotions.

You have the right to voice your feelings, stand up for yourself, and refuse to be manipulated. You are enough just as you are, and no one has the right to make you feel otherwise.

In the face of manipulation, hold on to your self-assurance. Your worth is not defined by someone else’s words or actions. Trust yourself, be kind to yourself, and never let anyone make you feel less than what you truly are – priceless.

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