9 phrases that sound kind on the surface but are actually manipulative

Lucas Graham by Lucas Graham | February 7, 2024, 7:38 pm

We all know that words have power.

They can sway, convince, motivate…

But they can also manipulate.

Now, manipulation isn’t always as obvious as you might think. In fact, some manipulative phrases come disguised as kindness.

You see, there’s a fine line between being genuinely kind and being manipulative.

The difference? Intent and effect.

Genuine kindness uplifts and inspires, but manipulation subtly controls and influences another person’s thinking or actions, often for one’s own advantage.

In this article, we’re going to pull back the curtain on seemingly kind phrases that are actually manipulative.

By the end of it, you’ll be better equipped to spot these sneaky tactics in your daily conversations.

1) “You should…”

Life is full of choices, and we all value the freedom to make our own decisions.

But sometimes, people use certain phrases that subtly strip us of that freedom.

That’s how saying “You should…” can sound harmless, but it often comes across as a well-meaning suggestion or a piece of friendly advice.

The problem is, we rarely realize how it’s not always as innocent as it seems.

When someone tells you what you ‘should’ do, they’re indirectly imposing their beliefs or standards on you.

Whether they realize it or not, they’re attempting to control your actions or decisions to align with their perspective.

2) “I’m only saying this because I care about you…”

This one’s a classic.

“I’m only saying this because I care about you” is often used to mask criticism or unsolicited advice, making it seem like it’s coming from a place of concern and love.

Let me share a personal example.

A few years back, a friend would often say things like, “I’m only saying this because I care about you, but you really need to lose weight.”

On the surface, it seemed like he was just concerned about my health. But over time, it started to feel more like a judgement disguised as care.

The truth is, genuine concern doesn’t need a disclaimer. If someone truly cares about you, they’ll express their concerns in a way that respects your autonomy and feelings.

3) “Don’t you trust me?”

Trust is a critical component of any relationship. However, the phrase “Don’t you trust me?” can sometimes be manipulative, especially when it’s used to avoid accountability or dodge questions.

Because when someone asks, “Don’t you trust me?” they’re essentially trying to divert attention from their actions and put the focus on your level of trust.

In fact, this phrase is a classic example of diversion and evasion—manipulative techniques that shift the focus from the issue at hand to something else entirely.

It’s a technique that can make you feel guilty for questioning them and may even discourage you from seeking the truth.

4) “I was just kidding!”

Humor is a wonderful thing. It can lighten your mood, strengthen bonds, and even help us cope with tough situations.

But sometimes, it’s used as a shield to hide hurtful or manipulative comments.

That’s why the phrase “I was just kidding!” is often used to backtrack on a harmful statement when it’s met with resistance or offense.

It’s a way for the speaker to avoid responsibility for their words by framing them as a joke.

5) “I don’t want to hurt you, but…”

“I don’t want to hurt you, but…” is a technique that manipulators use to make their criticism or negative comments seem less harmful. It’s as if by acknowledging the potential for hurt, they’re absolved of the impact of their words.

This is a classic prelude to something potentially hurtful or offensive. It’s often used as a disclaimer of sorts, aiming to soften the blow of what’s about to be said.

However, genuine feedback or criticism can be given without such disclaimers. Criticism can still be constructive without being mean.

6) “I’m sorry you feel that way…”

Apologies are more than just words. They’re a way for us to express regret and take responsibility for our actions.

But not all apologies are created equal.

Take “I’m sorry you feel that way…” for instance. It may sound like an apology on the surface, but it’s really not. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, the person is essentially shifting the blame onto your feelings.

This phrase can be particularly hurtful because it invalidates your feelings and experiences. It can make you question whether your reaction is justified, which is a common manipulation tactic.

Remember, your feelings are valid and you deserve genuine apologies when someone has wronged you. Don’t settle for less.

7) “If you really loved me, you would…”

Love is a powerful emotion. It can make us do things we never thought we could.

But it can also be a powerful tool for manipulation.

“If you really loved me, you would…” is a phrase that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s used to guilt someone into acting in a specific way by questioning their love and commitment.

I’ll never forget the time when an old friend used this phrase to convince me to lend him money. It made me feel obligated and guilty, even though I was not comfortable with the situation.

In hindsight, I realize how manipulative this phrase can be.

But genuine love is about respect and understanding, not manipulation or control. If someone truly loves you, they won’t use your feelings as a bargaining chip.

8) “It’s for your own good…”

This phrase is often used to justify actions or decisions that may not necessarily align with your own interests or desires. It’s a way of imposing someone else’s judgement or decision on you under the guise of concern.

“It’s for your own good…” can leave you feeling as though your emotions or opinions aren’t being considered. It might also make you question your own judgement, which is a classic manipulation tactic.

Always remember, you have the right to make decisions for yourself based on what you believe is best for you. Don’t let anyone else dictate what’s ‘for your own good’.

9) “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but…”

This is often a precursor to bad news or harsh criticism. It’s a way for the speaker to position themselves as a reluctant messenger, supposedly sharing unpleasant information out of necessity rather than desire.

“I hate to be the one to tell you this, but…” can make the subsequent information seem more palatable and the speaker less culpable.

But don’t be fooled.

This phrase may be used to soften the blow of criticism or shift blame, not out of genuine regret.

The most important thing to remember is that manipulative phrases often come disguised as kindness or concern.

Always trust your instincts and remember, it’s okay to set boundaries and protect your emotional wellbeing.

Final thoughts: Words are powerful tools

Our daily interactions are filled with words, phrases, and expressions that have the power to shape our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

But as we’ve seen, not all words are as innocent as they may seem.

Manipulative phrases often come cloaked in kindness or concern, subtly influencing our decisions or making us question our judgement. But remember, it’s okay to protect your emotional wellbeing and set boundaries.

As they say, the most personal is the most universal.

So if you’ve ever felt manipulated by these seemingly kind phrases, you’re certainly not alone. Many of us have been there, too.