5 Gaslighting Phrases Abusive People Use to Control You

Gaslighting is abuse. It is a form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims are fed lies and false information under the guise of truth, which makes them question their sanity and beliefs. Over time, the manipulations become so complex that the victim can no longer identify the truth. 

The term gaslighting comes from a play-turned-film of the same name– Gas Light. The story is set in the 1880s and revolves around a “delicate” woman named Bella who marries debonair Paul. They buy a multistory house in London that once belonged to a well-off lady. The old lady was murdered in her home, and since then, no one has bought it.   

Bella and Paul move in. Once they do, Bella seems to be having a hard time. She misplaces things, imagines events that are not real, and takes things though she claims innocence. As the movie develops, Bella questions her sanity, and so do the other characters. It turns out that Bella is not crazy. She finds evidence that implicates her husband in the old lady’s murder, but her husband finds out and tries to get her committed. The term gaslighting comes from the scene when Paul prowls the attic to look for the rubies the old lady left behind. Each time he goes up, the lights throughout the house dim and flicker. The film ends on a positive note: Paul is caught, and Bella gets a happy ending.  

The 1944 film version of the play highlights the characteristics of a manipulator by playing up the narcissism and lack of empathy.  

While the film depicts gaslighting in a romantic relationship, gaslighting can happen in all sorts of relationships. It could happen between you and your boss, your friend, and even your family member. 

But, a modern-day manipulator may not be as blatantly dismissive or selfish. They make take on a more subtle approach. However, interaction with them will always leave you feeling insecure. 

Below are some common phrases an abusive person might use to control you.

  • You are so sensitive!

This one is so obvious. If you hear this one, run. Or calmly disengage from the conversation and acknowledge that you are not sensitive. An abusive person resorts to this line make themselves not accountable for their actions.  

Additionally, this statement minimizes your feelings by making you think that your feelings are inappropriate or wrong. Thus, you end up feeling guilty. 

  • I was just joking!

I am sure you have heard this phrase, especially when someone says something deliberately cruel. This is the classic back-peddling go-to remark. Again, a way to remove accountability for their actions. It also serves to downplay your emotions and make you feel bad about calling out their behavior. They use this phrase to try to normalize cruel comments. 

  • It is no big deal!

This statement evidences another tactic manipulators often use–deny wrongdoing. Like the previous statement, this one also tries to normalize cruelty and verbal violence by trivializing their abuse and minimizing your pain.  

It is also a blatant attempt to shirk responsibility themselves and onto you–making you responsible for “misunderstanding” them. This statement is aimed to make you feel unseen and unimportant. 

  • You are imagining things.

This is another classic gaslighting phrase. It is perhaps the only phrase that comes directly from the film. The purpose of this phrase is to discredit you and make you doubt your sanity.  

This phrase is effective because it makes others side with your abuser and reinforces the statement. What makes this phrase particularly nefarious is that it is often sugarcoated with concern and worry. Your abuser may approach you and express concern while also dismissing your emotions. They may say: “I am only telling you this because I’m worried about you…” or some derivative of that. When this phrase is expressed as a concern, it makes it harder to see the manipulation. 

  • I am sorry you think that I hurt you.

A common tactic that an abuser might use is shifting blame. This statement is an apt example. 

The phrasing of this statement is clever because it makes you think the abuser is apologizing. In reality, they are placing the blame on you. They are also making you feel like you misinterpreted them or judged them unfairly. This statement makes you feel like you are the cause of their bad behavior or bad relationship. As a result, your self-esteem suffers, making you more dependent on them. 

Abuse, verbal or otherwise, should never have a place in your relationships. If you see it or experience it, call it out. Let the other person know that it is not right. If you are struggling with abuse, please reach out to a licensed medical professional for help. 

Take care!


Borresen, K. (2021, April 27). 6 phrases gaslighters use to manipulate you. HuffPost. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gaslighting-phrases-people-say-manipulate_l_6086e9f3e4b09cce6c14a351. 

Gordon, S. (2021, July 2). Ways to tell if someone is gaslighting you. Verywell Mind. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/is-someone-gaslighting-you-4147470. 

Huizen, J. (2020, July 14). What is gaslighting? Examples and how to respond. Medical News Today. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting. 

Sarkis, S. A. (2017, January 22). 11 red flags of gaslighting in a relationship. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-red-flags-gaslighting-in-relationship. 

Stern, R. (2018, December 19). I’ve counseled hundreds of victims of gaslighting. Here’s how to spot if you’re being gaslighted. Vox. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/12/19/18140830/gaslighting-relationships-politics-explained. 

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