Has someone ever made you feel crazy for sticking up for yourself? Well, there’s a name for that: gaslighting.
It’s a way that people abuse others through manipulation, distraction, or distortion of reality. Whatever the technique, gaslighting makes you doubt what you know is true.
The basis of gaslighting is always convincing someone that their memories, emotions, or beliefs are wrong. The worst part is that it can be hard to recognize and cope with especially when it’s happening.
Gaslighters brainwash their victims and control them through coercion making it extremely difficult for the victim to resist or question the abuse. And it can happen anywhere: at work, at home, or with friends.
Most often, though, gaslighting occurs in romantic relationships, especially where there is a power imbalance.
If gaslighting could be happening to you, the tricky question is: how can you identify it? Well, there are certain red flags to look for, starting with what the gaslighter is saying.
So we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common gaslighting phrases to be aware of.
1. “It’s your fault.”
Gaslighters are terrible with accountability. No matter what happens, even when they’re clearly in the wrong, a gaslighter will shift the blame onto someone else.
They’ll say that it’s your fault for what happened, how you feel, or even how they feel. And they won’t stop pushing the blame onto you until you cave in and accept it.
If they’re unhappy, it’s your fault. If you’re unhappy, it’s also your fault. You just can’t win.
2. “I’m not angry. What are you talking about?”
When a toxic person is upset, they often use nonverbal cues like indirect aggression or silent treatment to communicate their feelings and even punish you.
But when you ask them why they’re upset, they act as if they have no idea what you’re talking about. This behavior is meant to make you question yourself. As doubt fills your mind, you end up feeling even more confused.
3. “I think you need help.”
Phrases that gaslight you often come in a nice package that looks genuine on the outside but insidious on the inside. This is one of them.
Although it can seem sincere, when you’re gaslighted, the phrase “you need help” is meant to manipulate, twist, and deceive.
The abuser is really claiming that something is wrong with their victim, hoping this sparks a chain of self-doubt and concern, not really help. Don’t be fooled. When gaslighters say this, it is always deliberate and usually meant to distract you from their behavior.
4.”You’re imagining things!”
This dangerous phrase is a direct attack meant to cause severe cognitive dissonance or doubt in one’s own thoughts. Saying that you’ve perceived something entirely wrong can make you doubt your memories and feel insane.
When this phrase or this idea is repeated, it can be very toxic. When you lose trust in yourself, it often pushes you to rely more on your abuser.
5. “You are just misconstruing my intentions.”
Gaslighters will never understand the concept of impact over intent and they don’t intend to. Instead, they will deflect responsibility by blaming it on a misunderstanding, and claiming they had only positive intentions.
This is a classic tactic for abusers to divert attention away from their flaws and toward self-assurance. They’ll use the excuse that they “didn’t mean it that way” to avoid apologizing.
And don’t be surprised if they indulge in a few lies, too. Instead of respecting your feelings, they’ll lean on the idea that “it was all a misunderstanding.” Like that excuses their behavior.
6. “You always read too much into things.”
Gaslighters enjoy making “you” statements that will stop you in your tracks. These words indicate that you’re onto something.
When you communicate that you’re bothered by your abuser’s behavior, they often worry that you’ll keep looking into it. So, they say you’re overthinking, overanalyzing, over-anything – to get you to stop.
This is an extremely toxic and insensitive thing to say, but it’s also a phrase that can validate your suspicions if you know what it means.
7. “I never said that or did that. You have a terrible memory.”
While this gaslighting phrase is one of the most common, it’s also the most sadistic. It attacks your sanity and shows that they don’t trust or believe you.
While it might make sense for someone to forget something they’ve said or done, it’s ridiculous to think that you hallucinated a whole memory.
A gaslighter might even warp your memory, convincing you to actually believe a made-up version that they crafted just for you at that moment.
8. “The problem isn’t with me. It’s with you.”
If you haven’t guessed by now, gaslighters are experts at evading responsibility. This phrase is especially harmful though because it attacks your self-esteem with psychological torture.
These words can lead you to believe that you’re not good enough or that you’re not worthy of love and respect.
Abusers tend to project their own insecurities and problems onto their victims, and this can make you question yourself, your emotions, and your behavior. It can even make you deescalate situations and take on the blame for fear of being in the wrong.
9. “Just forget about it.”
When a toxic person tells you to “forget about it,” it’s a strong deflection that basically translates to “shut up.” Instead of exploring and resolving conflict, people who say this, want to practice avoidance, which is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
The truth is that no one is going to forget, and the wound is only going to fester. And, as time goes on, you’ll probably become less and less inclined to talk about the problems in your relationship until they’re too much to bear.
10. “You are the only person that I have problems with.”
Abusers love to invalidate you because it makes you less likely to stand up for yourself. When they say this, they’re implying that they’re perfect and any issues you have with them are your fault. The saddest part is that they really believe this and are unlikely to change.
11. “You’re abusing me!”
Gaslighters will often accuse their victims of abuse. It might sound ironic, but it just feels painful. As you defend yourself and cope with the distress of this statement, the actual abuser enjoys the success of diversion from their abusive behavior.
12. “If you’re lucky, I’ll forgive you.”
Toxic people who gaslight, often get off on power trips. They want you to feel as if you’re the one in the wrong, and then they make you apologize and beg for their forgiveness even when they should be the ones saying sorry.
When this happens, you might not even be sure what you’re sorry about. Your only goal might be to calm them down or reconcile. Then, once you’re in the clear, your abuser will make it a point to remind you how lucky you are for your forgiveness.
In addition, they might not let go of the fact that they’re always putting up with you, which is not the case at all. So, if you hear these bitter phrases, what should you do?
First, recognize and name them as gaslighting, whether it’s happening to you now or happened in the past. Before you vocalize it to anyone who might gaslight you more, validate yourself about what is happening to you.
If you’re struggling to process your toxic relationship, talking to friends, family, or even professional therapists can help you work through the emotional abuse you’ve experienced and re-establish your reality.
When gaslighting happens, be prepared to set your boundaries. Instead of letting your emotions overcome you, keep a calm and steady tone and say something like, “You’re speaking to me in an aggressive and abusive way. If you continue, I will not engage in this conversation anymore.”
Being direct and standing up for yourself can be very hard, and many gaslighters respond poorly to boundary-setting. They don’t want a healthy relationship. They want control. And if you want to stop being controlled, you may need to exit the relationship.
If you know that it’s time to leave, be careful and safe about how you break the news. It’s not uncommon for emotionally abusive relationships to become physically abusive ones.
So, create a safe exit plan with the help of a therapist or your trusted loved ones. Then, be sure not to get lured in by false promises or gifts.
Going no contact is best after ending an unhealthy relationship.
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