Verbal abusers, manipulators, those with strong narcissistic tendencies, and otherwise toxic people wittingly or unwittingly use language to hurt and exploit others. Sometimes it’s because they feel insecure and want to attack others to feel better about themselves. Other times they just want something from you and say untrue and hurtful things to get it. Or sometimes they want to justify their abusive behavior or shift responsibility.
In these cases, along with many others, they use words to manipulate you. In a previous article, titled Things Abusers and Manipulators Say to Their Victims, we looked at common things abusers and toxic people say to their victims and what it actually means. In this article, we will take a few examples and explore possible reactions to them.
It’s worth noting that “response” doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually say it to the person, just because the best strategy to deal with verbal abusers, like with any abuser, is often to ignore them or go full no contact.
However, people who are the most affected by it are frequently the ones who suffer from severe self blame and self-doubt, therefore they tend to doubt it and give weight to the words that shouldn’t even be seriously considered. For such a person, the battle happens internally, or they can’t stop thinking about it, or they sink into a deep depression or experience uncontrollable anger outbursts. So the response often is more internal rather than external.
So let’s look at some more common things toxic people say and how you can look at the situation and examine the words without getting too overwhelmed, confused, or manipulated by them.
It’s for your own good
Similar examples: You’ll thank me for it / I did it for you / You’re ungrateful / You know I love you
Here, the person has hurt you and are now justifying it by saying that you should be grateful, not upset, because it will lead to something positive. It is exceptionally common in a parent-child relationship where the child is neglected or physically abused or forced to do something or hurt in some other way and then told not to be upset because “it’s for their own good.”
Now, whether it’s true or not that there could be some positive outcomes of it, ends don’t justify the means. Abuse is abuse. Hurt is hurt. It is unfair to hurt someone and then brush it off by saying that it’s okay because maybe someday you will experience something positive as a result of it.
Because of teachings like this, people grow up justifying and normalizing their traumatic childhoods by saying that they are grateful for all the painful things because it made them stronger. How many of us have heard people say, “My parents beat me and I turned out just fine,” not realizing that the very fact that they are saying something like this indicates that something here is very “not fine.”
And sadly, then such a person traumatizes their own children in a similar fashion. This is called intergenerational abuse or the cycle of violence.
When someone, after hurting you, says that “it’s for your own good,” you don’t have to accept it. You can say (to them or to yourself): “No! I don’t like it. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t deserve it. This is not a loving or caring behavior, and I don’t accept it.”
It’s your fault
Similar examples: You made me do it / Things just happened / You provoked me / You deserve it
Here, the person clearly did something wrong but they are trying to justify it by saying that it was your fault they acted that way. Their hurtful action was merely a response to your behavior and they carry no responsibility; all responsibility is on you.
For example, you left a glass on the table and the other person yelled at you for it.
Now, by their own logic, if they are not responsible for yelling at you, then you are not responsible for leaving the glass on the table, and nobody is responsible for anything. But that’s not how it works. They want for you to accept responsibility for leaving the glass on the table, AND to take responsibility for their reaction to it.
The truth is that an adult is responsible for their actions and reactions, and yelling at someone is not a mature reaction to such a situation. A more mature and healthy reaction would be to express a request not to leave stuff on the table after you’re done eating.
“You are an adult who is responsible for their actions. If you don’t like something I’m doing, you can bring it up and we can talk about it. It’s not fair nor healthy to react this way in this situation. I don’t accept yelling or intimidation in my relationships, and it doesn’t matter if you’re my boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, parent, or a family member.”
Don’t play a victim
Similar responses: You’re too sensitive / You’re hurting me / You’re exaggerating / Why are you punishing me?
The mechanism here is to try to convince you that you should feel guilty or ashamed for feeling angry or upset by their hurtful actions.
This happens when a person learns more about healthier boundaries and tries to assert themselves or stand up for themselves. The other person is used to getting more from you and getting away with more unhealthy behavior, so in their mind now by refusing to submit, self-sacrifice, and give in you are violating them.
This reaction is quite common among narcissistic people because they feel entitled and special. As a reaction to that, they will project and say that they’re the victim here, that you are being unfair and ungrateful, that you’re overreacting, that you are cold, mean, unfair, selfish, or heartless—all while they themselves have been acting in a cold, mean, unfair, selfish, and heartless manner.
Sometimes these epithets are pure attempts to insult: You’re crazy / You’re so manipulative / You’re an abuser. Or threats: I will destroy you / I’ll give you something to cry about / I am in charge here / I will turn people against you / You’ll feel my revenge.
“How you are describing me doesn’t quite fit, but it actually describes you pretty accurately. I refuse to accept that description because it’s not true. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed because I did nothing wrong. I don’t owe you anything. You are not entitled to my time, money, labor, or attention. I recognize your behavior as toxic and abusive and I refuse to tolerate it.”
Summary and Final Words
When people treat us unfairly, sometimes it is difficult to evaluate the situation accurately. And even if we do, sometimes we still feel unpleasant emotions, even if objectively we shouldn’t.
In situations where we clearly did nothing wrong and were mistreated it is important to remember that there’s never an excuse for abusive and toxic behavior. Seeing the situation objectively is important. We don’t have to tolerate and accept destructive or immature behavior. Perhaps as children we couldn’t do that, but as adults we can assert ourselves, set healthier boundaries, or leave the unhealthy situation because we love and respect ourselves, even if the other person doesn’t.
What are your experiences with this? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or in your personal journal.
For more on these and other topics, check out the author’s books: Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults and Self-Work Starter Kit.