9 phrases manipulators use to shift blame, according to psychology

Amy Reed by Amy Reed | May 1, 2024, 6:08 pm

Manipulators: you might be friends with one. You might work with one. You might even be dating one!

While you feel like something feels off, it’s hard to know for certain whether your gut instinct is right.

That’s because it’s hard to see through a manipulator’s tricks.

They’re insanely good at understanding your thoughts, feelings, and even your insecurities to help them shift the blame away from them (and onto you!).

Usually, you just end up feeling bad about yourself or even apologizing – when it was you who was hurt by them to begin with!

If you’re dealing with a manipulative person, watch out for these 9 phrases they might use to shift blame, backed by psychology.

Up first:

1) “It’s not my fault you’re so sensitive”

Unless it’s a trusted friend who’s clearly trying to help you, no one should ever say you’re being “too” sensitive!

This is a classic phrase of a manipulative person – prying on your emotions to shift blame from them to you.

Some people are indeed more sensitive than others.

Like if you’re a highly sensitive person, you have more empathy and feel everyday things more intensely.

But even so, just because you’re sensitive, that doesn’t mean something is your fault.

If someone tries to say you’re “just being sensitive” and “it isn’t their fault you’re so sensitive” – be careful.

They might be trying to use your empathy and self-awareness against you!

If you know you’re a sensitive person, consider getting a second opinion on what they’ve done before sticking up for yourself further.

2) “You’re just damaged”

Ouch! Sadly, a manipulative person will say anything to shift blame away from them.

Experts say that manipulative people tend to pry on those with low self-esteem or insecurity issues.

Why? Because these people are generally easier to manipulate.

It’s common for people who lack self-esteem to feel damaged, problematic, or like there’s something wrong with them compared to everyone else.

So when a manipulative person says this, it fuels that inner belief and makes you more likely to believe that you are the problem, instead of them.

An example is if a manipulator does something to hurt you, like ignoring you all night at a party.

When you ask them why they did it and tell them it upset you, they deny it.

They say “You’re just damaged” and that’s why you think bad things are happening when they aren’t.

3) “You’re just paranoid/seeing things”

Experts say this is a common phrase used when gaslighting someone else – a tactic often used by a manipulative person.

Gaslighting happens when someone tries to convince you something didn’t happen – like they didn’t say or do something.

They try to make you doubt yourself and lose trust in yourself.

Say you saw your partner kiss someone at the bar or receive a flirty text. When you confront them about it, they say you were just seeing things.

Unless you’re prone to random hallucinations, or they can show you what they were really sent, you’re probably not just seeing things.

What you saw really happened, and they’re just saying this phrase to get themselves off the hook and shift the blame onto you!

4) “You just have a problem with everything”

Are you sensing a theme here?

Basically, a manipulative person won’t hesitate to pull you apart to avoid admitting their wrongdoings!

If you keep calling someone out on their poor behavior, they probably won’t like it.

As a defense mechanism, they’ll try to make you think you are the problem, not them.

Of course, it might be true that you do have a problem with a lot of things they do.

Which might mean it’s time to take a step back from the friendship or relationship with this person, since all they’re doing is hurting you!

But even so, just because you’re calling them out on their poor behavior all the time, that doesn’t mean their behavior isn’t poor to begin with.

5) “No one else has a problem with it”

Another tactic of a manipulator is isolation!

When they feel cornered, they’ll try to shift blame by making you feel alone with how you feel.

They might say the above phrase or things like, “Everyone else agrees with me” or “[Person’s name] also thinks you’re in the wrong”.

If you already suspect foul play, they probably aren’t being genuine with these statements.

I.e., they probably haven’t even confided in a friend about it or have any evidence for why they think you’re the only one who finds fault in what they’ve done!

Instead, they might be saying this to make you feel wrong or to blame for being hurt by something they’ve done.

6) “I’m not going to apologize for who I am”

I’ve heard people say this many times in my life, and I’m not sure why they think you want them to apologize for being themselves!

In my experience, most people who say this are being manipulative in some kind of way.

Experts agree that people who struggle to apologize will try to shift blame. 

Like I caught an ex texting other women once.

When I confronted him, he claimed he was “just a flirty person” and he was “not going to apologize for being himself”.

When people say things like this, they’re trying to make you feel bad for calling them out on their poor behavior.

They’re trying to make it sound like just because you’re questioning what they did, you’re questioning who they are. Which isn’t the case!

7) “I only did [this] because you did [that]”

Picture this: you’re out with your friend.

You were supposed to get the train back to your partner’s house, but she gets sick, and you end up crashing at hers.

Your partner gets annoyed about the change of plans, goes out himself, drinks lots, and ends up kissing someone else.

Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he tells you that he only went out because you didn’t come home – so it’s your fault he cheated, not his.

Of course, this isn’t true.

But when you’re a compassionate person, it’s hard not to feel responsible for the chain of events that happened from something you did!

Yet this is straight-up manipulative behavior.

The person who did the thing is responsible for doing the thing – not anyone else.

8) “Does that sound like me?”

Say you call this person a cheater because you heard they kissed someone else.

Or say you confront them about ignoring you at a party.

Instead of owning up to what they did and apologizing, they might ask you if that really sounds like something they’d do.

If they’re a manipulative person, they’ll only say this in an attempt to confuse you!

By making you doubt yourself or what you saw, they can shift the blame from them to you.

That way, you’ll have to apologize for misinterpreting things, rather than them apologizing for what they did.

Of course, they may have a point in asking you this.

If you know you have some trust issues or past traumas, someone might genuinely not have done anything wrong – and they’re asking this to help you see the truth!

But few people are so kind and genuine.

So if you feel like something is up with their behavior, keep your wits about you when you hear this phrase!

9) “I don’t understand you”

Again, this one might be genuine!

Someone genuinely might not understand where you’re coming from, and you might need to explain things further.

But don’t always be so trusting.

A manipulative person will use this phrase to get you to explain yourself over and over and over…

While you’re constantly explaining yourself, they don’t have to apologize or admit any fault.

It’s hard to be angry at someone who doesn’t understand what you mean or why you feel the way you do.

Which is why it’s easy to get sucked into this phrase from a manipulator!

It’s a conversation ender, in most cases, that often leads to them shifting the blame onto you for being “difficult” or “impossible”, than them for what they did…

Final thoughts

The thing to remember about people who say these phrases is this.

They might be saying something manipulative, but that doesn’t mean they’re a manipulative person.

Some people just need to be called out on their behavior to realize how bad the thing they said is!

If you recognize yourself saying any of these phrases, I’m sure you get what we mean by that.

Yet be wary of being too understanding towards people you suspect are manipulating you.

Give them the benefit of the doubt once, but don’t keep giving it.

A truly manipulative person will have no qualms about continuing to shift the blame onto you if you let them get away with it!

So don’t judge too quickly and always hear them out if they try to explain.

But stay alert and on guard – and if something doesn’t seem right, make sure you’re looking after yourself with what you do next.