Word of the Year: Gaslighting
Merriam-Webster says ‘gaslighting’ is the word of the year.
Searches for the word on merriam-webster.com increased 1,740% in 2022 over the year before. But something else happened. There wasn’t a single event that drove significant spikes in the curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year.
The gaslighting was pervasive.
Gaslighting can occur in unique ways in some of the most damaging, unhealthy relationships, where the other party manipulates conversations to minimize your feelings. But there are hallmark expressions and tactics that most can learn to associate with this toxic practice once they’ve learned to do so — “You’re blowing things way out of proportion.” “You’re misunderstanding what I’m saying.” “You’re just crazy.” If you’re catching yourself recognizing these phrases while confronting your partner, sibling or your boss, all while constantly second-guessing yourself or apologizing for things you can’t recall, you’ve fallen victim to gaslighting.
Gaslighting takes place when someone tries to get another person or a group of people to question or doubt their own beliefs or their own reality. It is a manipulation tactic many people use because it works for them!
These well skilled “gas-lighters” accuse their victims of exaggerating or misunderstanding a situation and sometimes deny that an event ever happened. This leaves victims of gaslighting questioning a past or present situation, as well as the intentions of others’ statements or actions and whether they’re reacting appropriately.
Here are 18 common phrases gaslighters often use when confronted, and more information below about how you can empower yourself to respond to gaslighting. You can also use the details below if you find yourself gaslighting others.
1. “You’re crazy.”
This is a common phrase that gas-lighters use to avoid taking responsibility or being accountable for their actions. It leads the victim to self-doubt and question the reality of the situation, and worry about their own judgment and sanity.
2. “So and so thinks you’re crazy, too.”
Since isolation is a key tactic of gaslighting, perpetrators try to make you feel alone or powerless. Usually, instead of using specific names, gas-lighters will use general terms like, “everyone thinks there’s something wrong with you” or “all our friends know you have problems”.
3. “It didn’t happen that way.”
Telling a victim that something never happened or that it occurred differently than how they remember is a covert form of gaslighting. It causes someone to doubt their perceptions and feel confused. It can be very traumatic, and can be a very negative experience when you’re trying to express something that happened and someone is repeatedly telling you, ‘No, it didn’t happen like that at all.’”
4. “That never happened.”
Making you doubt your memory or reality is a covert, passive-aggressive tactic of gaslighting. Telling someone that something didn’t happen is a common phrase that downplays someone’s experiences and feelings. This comment can be especially harmful if it revolves around a traumatic event.
This statement enables a gas-lighter to avoid taking responsibility. Discrediting a person’s opinion, personal experience, credibility or intelligence are common gaslighting tactics.
5. “If you cared about me, you would ___”
In romantic relationships, a gas-lighter may use their partner’s love against them as a way to excuse their own bad behavior. They may also incorrectly accuse partners of cheating or causing problems in the relationship. So, they’ll say things like, “If you cared about me, you would let me look through your phone”, forcing a victim to break down their boundaries. The purpose is to undermine your sense of reality and to make you feel like you can’t trust yourself.
6. “You always blow things out of proportion.”
Absolutisms like always, never, everyone and no one are “red flags” of gaslighting. Accusing someone of overreacting trivializes a victim’s feelings and makes them feel like their judgment of the situation is skewed.
7. “This is why you don’t have friends.”
This statement is meant to attack someone’s self-worth and alienate them from others — so they’re more dependent on the gas-lighter. Perpetrators may also attack your friends or families or suggest that you stay away from certain people.
8. “Don’t get so worked up over this.”
Similar to telling someone that they’re crazy or overreacting, this statement discredits or minimizes a victim’s intelligence, emotions, or credibility, Douglas says. It’s essentially telling someone how they should feel, possibly making them worry that they aren’t reacting appropriately.
9. “You can’t take a joke.”
Gas-lighters often say this to get away with hurtful comments. They may also start saying hurtful things in a joking way to normalize the situation. Hearing this phrase might lead you to second-guess your reactions and perceptions.
10. “You have no clue about ____.”
Manipulators often blame someone else for a problem in a relationship, while taking the attention off of themselves. For example, Sarkis says, gas-lighters might say, “You have no clue how to manage money. We’re in debt because of you.” When in fact, the gas-lighter is the one who’s overspending or hiding what they are spending.
11. “You made me do ___.”
Deflecting and confusing a victim are hallmarks of gaslighting, and perpetrators often refuse to take responsibility for their actions. NONE. Gas-lighters might accuse their victim of deliberately provoking them and then blame the victim when they get angry. Victims might feel the need to apologize even when they know they haven’t done anything wrong. It is never a gas-lighters fault.
12. “I’m the only one who’s responsible in this relationship.”
This is generally used by idealizing themselves and trying their best to make you feel you are not as invested in the relationship.
13. “The kids know you’re a bad parent.”
This remark aims to cause “parental alienation, which causes victims to second-guess their actions, diminishes their self-esteem, and makes them believe others think badly of them. They want you to get upset so you align more with the gas-lighter
14. “Who are they going to believe?”
Gaslighting usually features an unequal power dynamic. This snarky comment might come from your boss or a spouse who may have more clout in the community in an attempt to make you feel powerless. They might say, ‘If you say something, who are they going to believe, me or the crazy person?’’ They love to make you feel like you are the ‘crazy” one.
15. “You’re too sensitive.”
If you try to express hurt or other emotions, a gas-lighter may say this to minimize and invalidate your feelings. Trying to drive home the point that you are way too sensitive or carry your stupid feelings on your sleeves.
16. “Just don’t worry about it now.”
Once a gas-lighter gets their victim upset, and then wants the conversation to be over. They will discount your feelings or comments especially if you take them to task. They want to discount you more by walking away from the conversation.
The goal is to minimize someone’s feelings so that they doubt their emotions or worry that they’re being too sensitive. The core idea to look out for is the discrediting or discounting of one person’s opinion and personal experience.
17. “You’re gaslighting me.”
Shifting blame is a common gaslighting tactic. Accusing the victim of being the gas-lighter causes confusion, makes them question the situation, and draws attention away from the true gas-lighter’s harmful behavior. Projection at is finest!
Being in a relationship with a gas-lighter, you more than likely relate to any or most of these beliefs or thoughts:
- Question your perceptions and judgment
- Doubt your feelings, beliefs, thoughts and reality
- Feel alone, powerless, or inadequate
- Feel confused
- Question if you are “crazy”
- Apologize frequently – way too much
- Second guess your feelings, memories and decisions
- Worry that you’re too sensitive or that’s something wrong with you
- Have trouble making decisions – don’t trust yourself
- Think others dislike you without cause or reason
Communicating with a gas-lighter can prove to be pure hell!!! They’re likely to get defensive, angry, lie, or twist things around so you feel confused or doubt your feelings about the situation. Still, it’s important to note that gaslighting is happening. They despise to be called out and will always have a quick comeback. Keep documentation as proof, such as text messages or emails…in case you need this in the future.
We may not be able to keep the person from gaslighting us, but we may be able to make sure that they hear our case!
- When you confront a gas-lighter, be prepared that they usually don’t own up to it!
- You can’t win an argument with somebody who has this level of manipulation.
- Sometimes, setting boundaries, walking away, and ending the relationship is the best approach.
- If you feel like the situation is making you uncomfortable, making you doubt yourself, and it’s impacting your self-esteem and confidence, walk away from the situation. Have a safe plan upon your exit.
- You don’t have to engage – much easier said than done.
- You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or log on to thehotline.org. The hotline is open 24/7, 365 days a year — and all calls are anonymous and confidential.
- If you need more info about the warning signs of abuse, or the best way to reach out to someone, log on to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) website at womenslaw.org.
It might also be helpful to talk to a mental health professional about the experience.
If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit. Together, we will navigate the deep waters of gaslighting.
Email or call anytime to schedule an in-person or virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | email@example.com
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Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.