Sam Holstein

6 Manipulative Phrases You May Be Using to Get Your Needs Met

6 Manipulative Phrases You May Be Using to Get Your Needs Met

There are a few bad people like this, but most people who say manipulative things are not bad people.

People don’t manipulate others because they’re bad people. People manipulate others because they don’t know how to get their needs met any other way.

They also manipulate people because they don’t trust them. For instance, someone who tries to manipulate you into loving them is doing so because they are afraid that if they merely ask, you will say no.

At least, that was the case for me. In my late teens and early twenties, I was manipulative to romantic partners and friends simply because I was never taught a better way.

Thankfully, as I got older and became aware of how my actions affect others, I learned better ways to get my needs met.

I’m far from the only person who’s experienced this. In The Character Gap, Professor of Philosophy Christian Miller explains that despite the fact that most people see themselves as good (as in, not manipulative) people, the reality is that most of us fall in a decidedly gray area.

He isn’t speaking from opinion. He backs up this assertion with a variety of studies from clinical psychology that observe and influence ethical behavior in participants. What he found was that most of us do a mix of very good, very bad, and decidedly lukewarm things.

So while you read this article, don’t just be on the lookout for what your mean ex-boyfriend or boss has said to you. Be on the lookout for ways you may have treated others poorly too.

1. “You made me do this!”

This manipulative statement is easy to deconstruct.

Unless you’re holding a gun to someone’s head, you don’t have the power to make anyone do anything. People make their own choices.

It’s true that what other people do influences our emotions. That’s not under our conscious control. Therefore, it’s okay to say someone made you feel something.

Sally: “I’m not going to do the dishes tonight even though I promised.”

Steve: “That makes me feel very angry. You promised, and I was depending on that promise.”

In fact, sharing your emotions this way usually improves communication, because the listener is now clued in to what you are experiencing.

But most people don’t share their emotions. They skip that step. They feel their emotions, they react to their emotions, and then they blame the other person for their reaction.

Sally: “I’m not going to do the dishes tonight even though I promised.”

Steve: (Feels angry, says nothing)

Steve: (Decides he wants the dishes done anyway, decides to do them himself)

Steve: “Oh, so now you’re making me do the dishes tonight!?”

Woah there. Hold up. Sally is not making Steve do the dishes. Steve could ask her to do them tomorrow morning instead, or Steve could do nothing and just leave the dishes right where they are. The fact that Steve is doing the dishes tonight is Steve’s choice, not Sally’s.

The reason people blame others for their actions instead of their feelings is that in their mind, the feelings and actions are one.

For instance, many people with anger issues will react to anger by punching walls or breaking objects around them. They will then say that whatever made them angry made them do so. That’s because in their mind, their anger and their reaction to their anger are one.

This is usually the result of an unwillingness to accept emotions as they are.

The person with anger issues hates feeling anger — the feeling of anger causes him to suffer — so he lashes out. Someone with no anger issues can accept their own anger, and because they accept their own anger, they can communicate their anger constructively.

So, the cure for this manipulation is to accept your own feelings and communicate them clearly.

Next time you feel the temptation to tell someone they made you do something, ask yourself what feeling inspired your action. Then, don’t tell them they made you do something. Tell them they made you feel something instead.

“Hey, you didn’t do the dishes, and that made me feel angry.”

“What you said just now really hurt my feelings.”

“When you stood me up last week, I felt so betrayed.”

This style of communication encourages vulnerability and openness, not hostility and blame.

2. “I said I was sorry, what more do you want from me?”

People tend to use this phrase when they feel pestered by someone else, usually a romantic partner. In my experience, people using this phrase are typically men who are feeling pestered by their girlfriend or wife’s desire to repeatedly talk about a conflict.

The feeling that inspires this phrase is a legitimate exasperation. After all, if you’ve done something wrong and you’ve already apologized, it’s tiring to have that wrong brought up again and again.

But this phrase is still manipulative because it implies that once an apology has been given, there’s nothing more the injured party should want.

That’s blatantly not true.

  1. First, not all apologies are made equal. Some apologies are not apologies at all. In a real apology, the person apologizing takes responsibility for their behavior. So for example, “I’m sorry you’re pissed at me!” is not an apology. “I’m sorry I snapped at you,” on the other hand, is.

    I’ve never met someone who was not placated by a true apology. If you issue an apology and the other person doesn’t seem to be satisfied, chances are you have used the word “sorry” to disguise something that was not an apology.
  2. Second, true apologies are helpful, but they don’t erase the injury. If your spouse cheats on you, it doesn’t matter how many times they sincerely apologize; that wound is still going to hurt like hell. The person who wronged their partner is obligated to continue to support them for as long as necessary.

Also, the phrase “I’m sorry, what more do you want from me?” in itself communicates a lack of concern about the other person’s experience. It says to the other person ‘I see you’re hurt, but I already apologized, so I’m done caring.’

Some phrases that communicate genuine concern are:

The important part about these phrases is that they offer help to the other person. Instead of treating the other person’s hurt feelings as an annoyance, these responses acknowledge the importance of their emotional experience.

3. “Don’t be dramatic” / “Stop overreacting”

Any time someone shames you for having an emotional experience, they are manipulating you.

This is not to say that people are never irrationally upset. Everyone has hot button issues that make them irrationally angry or sad at the drop of a hat.

But when confronted with this situation, someone with healthy communication patterns will not dismiss your emotional experience. They will validate it, with a phrase like…

These responses do not shame the listener for having emotions. They acknowledge the sudden intensity of the emotions while also respecting them.

That’s what’s key here. Telling someone they’re overreacting is shaming them. Asking them why they feel so strongly is respectful.

4. “I’m not going to reward this behavior.”

People typically say this when they are trying to set a boundary with someone else who is also doing something manipulative. Used in a conversation, it looks like this:

“Well, if you don’t want to go with me to the movies, I’m not going with you to the store!”

“You’re throwing a fit because I don’t want to go see a particular movie with you. Fine, don’t go to the store with me if you don’t want. I’m not going to reward this behavior.”

At first blush, it seems like a healthy thing to say. You’re not enabling the other person’s overreaction! You’re defending your boundaries! Healthy, right?


This statement is manipulative because it makes it about their failures, not your boundaries.

This is wrong because you’re in no position to judge whether what they’re doing is a failure. To think you are is arrogant.

Who are you to reward or punish someone else? We punish and reward children and dogs, not other fully grown adults.

The good news is, you can defend your own boundaries without being condescending.

Instead of…

“I’m not going to reward this behavior”


“I don’t want to be treated this way.”

Don’t make it about a judgment of the other person and their behavior. Make it about what you are and are not willing to accept.

5. “If you understood what I was saying, you’d agree with me.”

This is something I said a lot in romantic relationships when I was young. I sincerely believed that if two intelligent and calm adults put their heads together, we could come to a meeting of the minds on any topic under the sun. As a result, my goal in any fight was to reach some kind of “agreement.”

But there is a gigantic assumption buried in here: That the other person doesn’t understand.

It doesn’t allow for the possibility that the other person fully understands… and just disagrees.

We all have different values, backgrounds, and cultural experiences. Two people can have the same facts and still come to drastically different conclusions. Healthy relationships expect, respect, and celebrate these differences.

That doesn’t mean these differences won’t upset us from time to time, though. Here are some healthy phrases you can use to handle them:

6. “I’d do the same for you.”

At first, this sounds like an expression of reciprocal camaraderie. I’d do what I’m asking of you, so why not you do this for me? But often the listener feels a little manipulated, the way you do after listening to a used car salesman.

This is because it implies that the values of the person who’s trying to manipulate you are the same as yours.

For instance, if someone is trying to convince you to hang out with them while they smoke marijuana, and you refuse because you don’t want to be around drugs, and they say “ I wouldn’t care if you smoke,” what they are telling you is that they don’t respect that you don’t want to be around marijuana.

If your pot-smoking friend respected your boundaries, they would say “Hey, I understand man, no problem,” and either decline to smoke while hanging out with you or say maybe another time would be best.

This kind of lack of respect often comes from a lack of perspective. The one saying “I’d do the same for you” finds it difficult to imagine that anyone else would not be willing to do what they’re asking for any reason other than to hurt them.

If you feel tempted to say this yourself, remember that other people have reasons for what they do besides to hurt you or make your life difficult.

The best thing to do in this situation is let their choice be. But if you are still struggling, here are some things you could say instead:

If you’ve been honest with yourself, you’ve probably used phrases on this list before. But that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Remember, people don’t manipulate others because they’re bad people. They do it because they don’t know how to get their needs met any other way.

The good news is, you can learn how to get your needs met in a healthy way. You can meet your needs in a way that builds other people up, not tears them down.

All you have to do is learn.