7 Phrases Gaslighters Often Use

Have you ever heard of the term “gaslighting”? Do you know what it means to be “gaslighted” by someone?

If you’re the type to frequent self-help blogs and read up on mental health articles, then you’re probably already familiar with the term. Just like with “toxic relationships”, “social anxiety”, “mental health stigma”, and the like, gaslighting has found its way into our mainstream vocabulary. But not a lot of people actually know or understand what it is, making a lot of us more likely to fall victim to it. 

Which begs the questions: what does gaslighting really mean? And how do we protect ourselves from it?

Simply put, gaslighting is a subtle and often overlooked kind of psychological abuse. It is a form of emotional manipulation meant to deceive us and make us doubt our own sanity and perceptions of reality. And because of its insidious nature unfortunately, gaslighting can be difficult to spot, especially up close. But you can better protect yourself against gaslighting by learning how it works and becoming familiar with how gaslighters operate.

With that said, here are 7 common phrases gaslighters often use to manipulate others:

1. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

This is how it starts: you confront them about something and they say, “What? What are you talking about?” You’re speechless, taken aback. You start to explain yourself but they deny knowing anything so unrelentingly that you feel like you should just shake your head and brush it off instead. “Oh, sorry, I must’ve just gotten confused,” you’ll say with a hesitant smile. And just like that, they’ve done it! They’ve planted the seeds of self-doubt that will make it easier and easier for them to gaslight you each time they do — all by simply denying what they’ve done and acting so sure of themselves that they’ve convinced you, too.

2. “You’re overreacting” or “You’re being too sensitive/emotional!”

Has anyone ever told you that maybe you’re “just overreacting and not thinking clearly” when you were upset with them? Or that you “need to lighten up” and “stop being so sensitive” when you called them out for something they said or did to hurt you? Don’t let those people get to you! Invalidating someone’s feelings by treating them as if they’re in the wrong to feel that way is a manipulation tactic gaslighters often use to pin the blame on you instead of themselves (Portknow, 1997). 

3. “You’re imagining things” or “That’s not what happened at all!”

You know what makes gaslighting so dangerous and psychologically damaging? The fact that it can make us doubt our own memories and experiences, sometimes even to the point where we don’t know what to believe anymore. And it all starts with this deceptively simple phrase! “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me tell you what really happened.” People who talk down to you like this are most likely trying to gaslight you. So be careful and always remember: there’s a difference between letting someone tell you their side of the story and letting them feed you lies.

4. “You’re not making any sense!”

Whenever you argue with a gaslighter, it’s hard to come out on top because they’re always going to try and turn the tables on you. “You know you sound crazy right now, right? Can you even hear yourself?” Yeah, that’s emotional manipulation 101: tearing someone down so they can be vulnerable enough to believe you and buy into your nonsense. Gaslighters are experts at making you feel paranoid and crazy, especially when they know you’re in the right and have no other way to gain the upper hand in an argument  (Hightower, 2017). 

5. “Stop exaggerating the situation!”

Are you starting to notice a pattern in the phrases gaslighters often use to try and manipulate you? They usually start with the word “you,” as in you’re the one who’s always in the wrong, you’re the one who must be mistaken, and you’re the one causing the problems. Not them. Never them. Why? Because gaslighters will do everything they can to convince you that you’re wrong. And they will often do this by tricking you into thinking that you are simply imagining all these problems, that you’re “just being paranoid”, and that your concerns are all exaggerated or unfounded.

6. “If anything, I’m the one who should be mad at you!”

Remember what we said about how gaslighters love to turn the table on you? Well, this is a classic example of that. They will often act as if, by calling them out and making them take responsibility for their actions, you’re the one hurting them! “Why are you mad?” They might ask. “I’m the one being wrongfully accused! I’m the one getting dragged even though I did nothing wrong! I’m the victim here, not you!” See what we mean? They are deflecting responsibility by manipulating your perception of the situation and rewriting the narrative (Sarkis, 2018). 

7. “Don’t listen to anything they tell you. You can’t trust anyone but me!”

Yikes! Out of all the words and phrases gaslighters tend to use when manipulating us, this might be the worst one of all. “Why would you listen to them? They’re just trying to manipulate them” or “You’d believe them over me? This isn’t even any of their business!” are just a few of the ways a gaslighter will try to alienate you from anyone who sees there’s something wrong and wants to help you. They want you to think that there isn’t anyone else you can trust but them, when the awful truth is, they’re the one you never should’ve trusted in the first place.

So, do you relate to any of the statements we’ve mentioned here? Have you ever been gaslighted by someone?

Although a lot of people are still unfortunately unaware of what gaslighting is or how dangerous it can be, it’s important that we take the steps to educate ourselves enough to be able to recognize it when it happens, whether it’s towards us or someone we know. 

When another person undermines your sense of reality, it threatens your sense of safety, security, and self-trust. It can leave you spiraling in a sea of your own helplessness and self-doubt. So if you or anyone you know has experienced gaslighting for a long time, please do not hesitate to seek professional help from a therapist or a guidance counsellor and open up to them about your struggles. 

References:

  • Portnow, K. E. (1997). Dialogues of doubt: The psychology of self-doubt and emotional gaslighting in adult women and men.
  • Hightower, E. (2017). An exploratory study of personality factors related to psychological abuse and gaslighting (Doctoral dissertation, William James College).
  • Sarkis, S. M. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

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