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The term “gaslighting” is frequently used in our culture. But what does it really mean? Gaslighting is a term for a form of emotional abuse that can be hard to recognize. It’s not always readily apparent, even though it often occurs in abusive relationships.
Yet, unfortunately, gaslighting can have serious consequences for your mental well-being if it continues over time. So it’s important to spot the signs of gaslighting. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at what gaslighting is, why it’s so harmful, and some common gaslighting example phrases.
What Is Gaslighting?
Have you ever been around someone who made you question your own sanity or perception of events? If so, it’s possible you were a victim of gaslighting. This subtle form of bullying is a way to gain psychological control over another person. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, but a very subtle one. Consequently, you might not even realize its happening.
Many people experience gaslighting in romantic relationships. However, it can come from anyone. Your family, friends, or even your coworkers can be guilty of the tactic. Sometimes people in positions of authority, like doctors or politicians, are guilty of gaslighting others.
Gaslighters say things that make you feel like you’re going crazy or that an event didn’t happen the way you remember it. They might unfairly shift blame onto you or shut down what you’re saying altogether.
Gaslighting statements can make you question the validity of your feelings, thoughts, and memories. Over time, you might even start doubting your own mental stability. So, gaslighting is nothing short of psychological manipulation.
Gaslighters make insidious statements that may not seem like abuse on the surface. But these statements gradually lead you to question your own reality and worth. Over time, gaslighting harms your self-esteem and confidence. Gaslighting is a means of validation for the abuser, as it makes them feel powerful and superior in the relationship.
The term “gaslighting” harkens back to an Alfred Hitchcock film, “Gas light,” which was based on a play. In the movie, an abusive husband seeks to control his wife. He does things that make her think she’s losing her mind.
He cuts her off and isolates her. Ultimately, she comes to question her reality. Psychologists soon began using the term “gaslighting” to refer to this behavior.
The Harmful Effects of Being Gaslighted
Someone’s words might not seem like a big deal. But when it’s gaslighting, the effects are all too dangerous. Over time, gaslighting wears you down, knocking out your confidence and self-esteem. Worse, you may not even realize it’s happening to you. Or you may come to think everything is your fault.
Gaslighting affects your psyche in a number of ways:
Types of People that Use Gaslighting
As we’ve seen, gaslighting can happen not only in romantic relationships but also in any type of relationship. Friends, family members, or coworkers might be guilty of gaslighting.
It can even occur in medical settings when a doctor minimizes your health complaints, dismisses them, doesn’t take them seriously, or suggests that you’re just imagining things.
Some people gaslight others because it gives them pleasure. It may be a power play, enabling the abuser to control you at the core of your identity. On the other hand, some people may gaslight others without even realizing it.
The person may have grown up in an abusive home atmosphere. They may have witnessed gaslighting between their parents and now do it automatically.
Gaslighting can be a defense mechanism, a way of exerting control over a situation when the gaslighter feels threatened. By disempowering you with their words, whether intentional or not, they keep the balance of power on their side.
Gaslighters often suffer from mental health disorders. The behavior can manifest in pathological liars or in people with psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder, or other personality disorders.
This is not to say that all gaslighters have a personality disorder — but the behavior is commonly seen in people who do.
Whether or not the person gaslights you intentionally, it’s not ok — and it’s not your fault. Gaslighting can be devastating to the mental health of the victim. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize when gaslighting occurs and understand what to do about it.
Common Gaslighting Techniques to Watch Out For
Emotional abuse and manipulative behavior can take many forms in a relationship. And when you’re in the eye of the storm, it’s hard to realize it’s happening to you. It’s all too easy to doubt your own perceptions. And when you love someone, it’s even harder to see through abusive behaviors.
After all, you want their approval and love. You want to trust them — and you should be able to. But it may not be the case.
There are many manipulative phrases that people employ to maintain the upper hand. Therefore, it’s helpful to arm yourself with knowledge.
Even though you may not realize you’re being gaslit, you may feel anxious or worthless around the person. Fortunately, you can learn to recognize the signs of gaslighting.
Gaslighters may display a number of unhealthy communication tactics:
Trivializing your feelings
Not only do gaslighters fail to take your concerns or feelings seriously. They also paint a twisted picture of the situation. They might claim that you’re the one overreacting or being too sensitive.
So instead of being able to freely communicate, you start feeling like you don’t even have a right to be upset. The gaslighter makes it seem like you’re flying off the handle for no reason.
On top of this, you can start feeling vulnerable and alone when someone doesn’t respect what you’re thinking and saying. You start to lose your internal compass because the gaslighter just brushes off your feelings and makes it seem ridiculous that you even bring them up.
Putting the blame on you
Gaslighters often don’t take responsibility for their behavior. They frame the situation like you’re the one to blame. They shut down any suggestion that they were in the wrong, instead making it seem that whatever happened was your fault.
So even if you feel upset by the person’s behavior, it does no good to talk to them about it because they just shovel the blame onto you.
Creating their own version of events
Gaslighters can make you question your own reality and memories by describing an event differently than it happened. They may even deny it altogether. As a result, you start to wonder if your perception is wrong.
Diverting attention from the issue at hand
When you try to have a serious conversation with a gaslighter, they might just change the subject entirely. They won’t give your concerns the time of day. They might divert your attention from the issue by asking an unrelated question.
The gaslighter brushes off the validity of your feelings altogether. So you might think you should never have brought it up. Or you might be confused about what to say next.
Talking badly about you to others
Gaslighters might go as far as talking down about you to your friends and family. They can get these people to side with them by telling them that you’re crazy or overreacting. They may lie or tell exaggerated stories about you to make it seem like you’re in the wrong.
The gaslighter may deny wrongdoing and put on a charismatic face to the world, so other people have no idea what’s happening below the surface. The abuser might even claim that you're lying if your story disagrees with theirs. All of this makes you feel isolated and unhinged.
Smooth over insults with loving words
After a gaslighter says or does something hurtful, they might say nice things to show they care. However, their caring is disingenuous. For instance, if you bring up their hurtful behavior, they start saying how much they love you and that they wouldn’t intentionally hurt you.
But if they truly regretted their actions, they wouldn’t do them anymore. Still, you might end up forgiving them and sweeping bad behavior under the rug because of their kind words.
37 Gaslighting Examples & Phrases That Manipulative People Use
Here are a few examples of what gaslighting can sound like:
- “You’re too sensitive.” The gaslighter minimizes your feelings and shuts you down with statements like this. They make it seem like you’re in the wrong for feeling hurt by them.
- “You need to calm down — you’re overreacting.” Again, this type of statement minimizes how you feel. The gaslighter may have said something that made you upset, but they act like you’re being unreasonable and blowing things out of proportion. They make you feel ashamed for bringing it up.
- “You need to grow a thicker skin.” The gaslighter might prod you with an insult framed as a joke, and when you get upset, they flip it around, saying you need to toughen up and can’t take a joke.
- “You’re just paranoid.” The gaslighter doesn’t take your suspicions or concerns seriously. They make you feel like your mind is spinning tales and playing tricks on you.
- “There’s something wrong with you.” Over time, you may start to feel insecure, believing that maybe there really is something wrong with you and not the abuser. When a gaslighter says phrases like this, they put themselves in a position of superiority and cause you to question your mental stability.
- “I’m really worried about your sanity.” This may be another way a gaslighter makes you think you’re losing it. They undermine your ability to trust your judgment and your gut. And consequently, the gaslighter maintains power, making it seem like they’re just looking out for you.
- “Don’t you remember you said you would do this?” Sometimes a gaslighter might report things differently than they actually happened. A phrase like this lays a guilt trip on you. And it makes you question your own memories.
- “How dare you accuse me of that!” When a gaslighter says this, it distracts you from the hurt they caused. It reverses the blame and puts the spotlight on you. In this way, the gaslighter switches the victim and offender roles. They put themselves in the shoes of the victim, making you feel bad for hurting them.
- “You’re just insecure.” With a statement like this, the gaslighter is once again invalidating your concerns and making you feel like it’s all in your head.
- “I was just joking.” While it’s normal to joke around with your friends, family, or partner, it shouldn’t make you feel bad. You could be gaslit if you feel like you can’t speak your mind about being hurt without hearing a statement like this.
- “It isn’t a big deal.” This is another way for the gaslighter to trivialize what you’re thinking or feeling. You might start to question if you truly are overreacting.
- “Why are you always like this?” The gaslighter makes you feel ashamed for the way you are or how you react. Plus, it isn’t fair to tell someone they are “always” a certain way. This statement undermines your self-esteem and perception of what’s happening.
- “That’s not what happened.” Sometimes gaslighters lie about an event. They might tell the story differently, flat-out denying they did or said something. This can make you second guess the soundness of your own mind.
- “You’re just clueless about this.” This statement could be a way of shifting blame onto you. The gaslighter’s words make you feel small and guilty, and you start thinking you’re incompetent. This also elevates the gaslighter’s position of power as it seems like they’re just looking out for you.
- “Everyone else agrees that you’re crazy.” This type of statement isolates you. It takes away your power in the relationship, making you feel alone and even more dependent on the abuser. The gaslighter manufactures social proof by saying that “everyone” agrees you’re crazy.
- “If you loved me, you’d let me do it .” This statement is like turning love into a weapon. The gaslighter makes you feel guilty for not letting them do something they want to do. Rather than respecting healthy boundaries, the gaslighter tries to break them down and get away with their actions scot-free.
- “You’re always exaggerating things.” Again, the word “always” can be a red flag since it’s not fair to say you’re always one way. And saying that you’re exaggerating makes you doubt your own thoughts and reality. So you might start to think that you’re overreacting after all.
- “It’s all your fault.” A gaslighter will place the burden all on you. They might twist things around, making it seem as if you have somehow caused their hurtful behavior.
- “You don’t have friends because you’re like this.” By making you feel like an island, the gaslighter lessens your sense of power and self-esteem. Then you rely on them even more on the gaslighter as you feel you have nobody else. This type of statement can be damaging to your self-confidence and self-worth because it suggests there’s something fundamentally wrong with you that drives other people away.
- “You’re imagining that.” This dangerous phrase contradicts your reality. The gaslighter denies that an event happened when you clearly remember otherwise.
- “You made me do this.” Blame shifting is a common tactic for gaslighters. If they do or say something hurtful, they just say it’s your fault.
- “Why can’t you be like —?” This phrase makes someone feel like they’re inferior to the person they’re being compared to. This undermines a person’s self-worth, making them feel they can’t do anything right.
- “Why are you dredging up the past all the time?” A gaslighter may say something like this, accusing you of rehashing old wounds and invalidating your version of events.
- “I can’t express any opinions around you.” This type of statement creates guilt when you express any negative reaction to the abuser’s tirade. They immediately shut you down by claiming they can’t speak their truth at all, distracting you from the issue at hand.
- “I can’t believe you’re treating me like this after all I’ve done for you.” An abuser shifts the blame onto you, making you feel like a bad person. You then feel like you’re treating them badly and have no right to bring up their bad behavior because they’ve done so much for you. So you feel guilty or even like a burden, just for trying to communicate.
- “Stop worrying about that anymore.” A gaslighter might say this when you get upset about what they said or did. Instead of discussing the issue, they brush it off like no big deal. They tell you to stop worrying about the issue as if you’re wrong for being upset about it.
- “I don't know what you expect me to say after that.” This may come up in a premature attempt to shut down a conversation about their inappropriate behavior. However, it is a gas lighters typical response when you have tried to be reasonable and calm in discussions.
- “Are you ok?” A gaslighter insists on something always being wrong with you if communication changes. It could be that you needed to take a breather from them, or you have been too busy with work to reach out. But a gaslighter will always assume that something is wrong with you at the slightest change.
- “The Bible says that we need to….” Unfortunately, many use the bible as a way to gaslight another. Especially if you and the gaslighter seek to practice Christianity. It is a way people use God to benefit themselves and their agenda. This is common among parents to their children, husbands and wives, and close friends or relatives. Furthermore, it is a form of mental and spiritual abuse that is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances.
- “So, when did you become so perfect?” When you bring up an issue that needs to be discussed, gaslighters may bring up past mistakes that you have made to change the discussion of the current topic. This puts you on the defensive rather than being on the offensive and requiring change.
- “You're supposed to forgive and forget.” This could also be biblically based, though it is a common tradition that we forgive and forget. However, you can forgive someone for hurting you without allowing them to continue hurting you in the same way. It is called setting healthy boundaries, and gaslighters simply don’t like that.
- “You think you are so smart, don't you?” This is a gaslighter's way of belittling you and making you feel insecure. They are intimidated by your intelligence, so they use a juvenile phrase to bring the conversation down to their level.
- “I think you need some professional help.” This is the gaslighter's last-ditch effort or “Hail Mary” effort to get you to break down and feel like you are completely “losing it” mentally. They are trying to convince you that you are having a mental breakdown. Sadly, this is one of the more effective seeds they try to sow into your mind to get you to break.
- “You are being jealous.” This is a gaslighter's way of getting you to doubt what you may have seen or sow seeds in your mind that there are flaws in your personality. It can also be an attempt of a gaslighter to draw attention away from their behavior and the underhanded things they may be doing behind your back.
- “You don’t really feel that way.” This is a way to quickly invalidate your feelings and question if you are being reasonable in your current thought pattern. You have taken a position concerning a situation, and the gaslighter hopes to weaken your resolve. For example, it is as if you built a brick wall of defense that you are standing behind in your argument. Yet, playing off your emotions, the gaslighter takes a sledgehammer to the bricks to knock them down piece by piece.
- “Am I the only responsible person in this relationship?” This happens when a gaslighter is dishonest and deceitful. For example, they borrow or even steal things from their partners and then accuse their partners of being careless or forgetful. This is an attempt to cause the person to feel they can't trust themselves and make them lose some sense of reality.
- “Even the children know you aren't being a good parent.” This is an attempt to get you to feel that the people that you value the opinion of the most (your kids) are disappointed in you. It is also a way of getting you to second-guess your efforts and deflate the tire of your self-esteem. The gaslighter hopes this will align your thoughts and actions with theirs rather than being on opposing sides.
What to Do If Someone Is Gaslighting You
These are just some examples of what gaslighting sounds like. Over time, these seemingly small statements can shake you to the foundation of who you are. Whether or not the gaslighting is intentional, no one deserves emotional abuse.
So what can you do if you suspect you’re in a manipulative relationship? The first step is recognizing that it’s happening to you. Remember that it’s not your fault, even if you feel like it is. Talking to someone you trust, like a close friend, can help you see things more clearly.
It may be helpful to keep a record of your interactions with the gaslighter. Jot down what happened and how it made you feel.
This way, you have a means of maintaining clarity. Keeping a journal allows you to review hurtful events once you’re safe from the heat of the moment. Looking back, you might realize you weren’t being unreasonable after all.
You may also need to distance yourself from an emotionally tense situation, both physically and mentally. Getting grounded is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress after a heated exchange.
You could go for a walk or practice deep breathing exercises. Listen to music or feel the grass beneath your feet. These calming activities can help you stay centered amidst emotional turmoil.
You need to have strong boundaries with a gaslighter. If you can be aware of when a person is trying to shut you down, make it clear you won’t be dismissed. Don’t let them deny the validity of your feelings.
If gaslighting continues, you may need to leave the relationship altogether. Sometimes this is the only way to get away from the abuse. While it may be painful to leave someone you care about, it’s more painful and damaging to stay in a toxic relationship. And if you ever feel threatened or unsafe in a relationship, you should reach out for help right away.
It may take time to heal after getting out of a bad relationship. It can be helpful to talk to a friend or therapist or use healing affirmations.
Final Thoughts on Gaslighting
Ultimately, gaslighting is a subtle form of abuse that can slowly erode your self-worth and mental health. It’s never ok for someone to make you feel like you’re less than. Gaslighting isn’t ok, whether it comes from a romantic partner, a family member, a coworker, or a friend.
By getting familiar with some common gaslighting phrases and tactics, you can better protect yourself and your energy from its harmful effects. Learn to recognize the signs of emotional abuse and know that it’s not your fault.
Be patient and loving with yourself, and know that you deserve good things. Healing is possible, and you deserve to be treated with love and respect.