Common Gaslighting Phrases and How To Respond To Them

By Danielle Boland, LCSW

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is defined as the psychological manipulation of someone over a period of time that causes the victim to question their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The victim can begin to lose confidence and become emotionally unstable with repeated manipulation. 

Gaslighting is used by someone — the perpetrator — who’s trying to gain control over someone else — the victim. This behavior can be incredibly difficult to identify because it causes the victim to doubt themselves and their own reality. Gaslighting can occur in many different environments, but learning to identify the signs of gaslighting can help you determine if it is happening to you. 

Types of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is typically found in interpersonal relationships, specifically romantic relationships. Gaslighting also occurs in the workplace, friendships, politics and other circumstances where there can be an inequality of power. 

Gaslighting in a Relationship

When we hear the term “gaslighting,” it is most commonly associated with romantic relationships. Research has shown that gaslighting happens more often in heterosexual partnerships, with the perpetrator being the male counterpart and female as the victim. Gaslighting in romantic relationships can look like one partner commenting or weaponizing the other partner’s appearance, to make them feel insecure, in order to control other aspects of their life. 

Gaslighting at Work

Gaslighting can also happen in the workplace, when someone is trying to avoid blame for a mistake and therefore makes another person question their actions and take the blame, for example. Whistle-blowing gaslighting is another occurrence, where someone reports a complaint, but their reaction is diminished. 

Gaslighting in Politics

Gaslighting in politics can be incredibly confusing for people when they are trying to figure out the truth behind national and worldwide events. This is also referred to as post-truth narratives and counter narratives in politics, which occurs when political parties spin the truth to benefit their own belief system. 

For example, one political party may say that global warming is caused by gas emissions, while another says that global warming is not real and their opponent does not know what they are talking about. This can cause confusion for consumers who are trying to learn about events, but don’t know who or what they can trust as a source of truth.

Why Is it Called Gaslighting?

The term “gaslighting” was originally coined by a 1938 play called Angel Street, later turned into a film called Gaslight by Alfred Hitchcock. The plot of this movie describes a husband attempting to make his wife believe she is crazy so he can take control of their money. 

The specific name refers to a part in the film when the husband dims gas lights in their home, but tells his wife she’s only imagining it. 

Effects of Gaslighting

The effects of gaslighting can take a toll on mental health and self-esteem. Being told that your thoughts and feelings are invalid can lead to long-term effects. Continued gaslighting can also make the victim feel powerless. The symptoms of gaslighting can include:

  • Second-guessing yourself
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior
  • Having trouble making simple decisions
  • Self-doubt
  • Apologizing when you did nothing wrong
  • Feeling on-edge 
  • Feeling isolated or lonely
  • Feeling as though you’re walking on eggshells 
  • Questioning your own judgment of situations and people
  • Feeling trapped

Long-term Effects of Gaslighting

In the short-term, gaslighting is detrimental to a persons’ mental health and wellbeing, but long-term exposure can lead to distressing consequences. The long-term effects of gaslighting can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
  • PTSD
  • Codependency
  • Trouble navigating social situations
  • Domestic violence 

Examples of Common Gaslighting Phrases

Common phrases can help you identify if someone is gaslighting you. These phrases are hurtful, and many times there are better ways to communicate. We’ve included an example of a phrase, how it makes the victim feel, and a phrase that can be used instead.

You’re acting crazy!

How it feels: This indicates that a person is not mentally sound or a good judge of character.

What to say instead: I don’t agree with how you see it, but I respect your opinion.

You’re too sensitive.

How it feels: This dismisses and invalidates a person’s feelings or reaction to a situation. 

What to say instead: I can see you’re having a strong reaction; do you want to talk about it?

I was just joking.

How it feels: This feels like the person is trying to get away with saying something hurtful, or avoiding acknowledging that it was mean.

What to say instead: I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I’m sorry. 

Was it really that bad?

How it feels: When a perpetrator says this, the victim is made to feel like their reaction to the situation was over-exaggerated.

What to say instead: I can see that was difficult and I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?

Calm down.

How it feels: The person who’s upset is being made to feel irrational or hysterical. 

What to say instead: Let’s take a minute to re-evaluate how we’re having this conversation. 

You’re the one who’s upset.

How it feels: This could feel like someone is trying to put all the blame on the other person. 

What to say instead: This is upsetting for both of us. Let’s take a breath and see if we can come together on this. 

Stop being so insecure.

How it feels: This takes the focus away from the perpetrator and onto the victim of gaslighting.

What to say instead: I’m sorry I made you feel that way. 

That never happened!

How it feels: The perpetrator is completely dismissing someone’s experience. It can make the victim begin to doubt themselves. 

What to say instead: Can you explain your point of view or perspective to me?

You need help.

How it feels: This is dismissive and indicates someone may have a mental health issue that requires professional assistance.

What to say instead: Is there someone else you trust that you can talk to about this?

I’m not angry; stop asking me.

How it feels: Using the silent treatment to get back at someone is manipulating them without being honest about how you feel.

What to say instead: I need some space before we talk about this. 

It’s your fault that I ______.

How it feels: The perpetrator says their partner did something, rather than taking responsibility, causing the victim to feel guilty.

What to say instead: I’m sorry I did that. Can we talk about how I got to this place?

I don’t have time for this.

How it feels: This is dismissive and insinuates the victim isn’t worth their time.

What to say instead: Can we pause and come back to this? I need some time to process.

You did that to yourself.

How it feels: This is blaming the victim for something happening to them, like being catcalled because they wore certain clothes. 

What to say instead: You did not deserve to have that happen to you.

Are you sure you want to do _____?

How it feels: This can make someone question their decision-making, leading to insecurity.

What to say instead: Even if I don’t agree, I support your decision to do that.

Just let it go.

How it feels: This is dismissing a person’s feelings about a situation that they don’t think is resolved. 

What to say instead: It sounds like you don’t have closure; do you want to talk more?

It’s always about you.

How it feels: It can make someone feel guilty for sharing their thoughts and experiences.

What to say instead: You can always share how you’re feeling with me. 

You always/never do ______.

How it feels: Generalizing someone’s behavior can make them feel like, no matter what they do or don’t do, they are never good enough. 

What to say instead: I think there’s a misunderstanding about expectations; can we talk more about it?

I do _____ because I care.

How it feels: It’s telling someone that, as long as intentions are good, the behavior doesn’t matter.

What to say instead: I thought what I did was helpful, but I’m sorry that it wasn’t. What can I do to help?

How to Respond to Gaslighting

If you’ve recognized that someone has been gaslighting you, there are techniques to help you respond. By responding appropriately, you can help discourage it moving forward.

Keep Track of Patterns

Identifying a problem is the first step to solving it. If you don’t know if you are being gaslit, keep track of the interactions you have with that person and any patterns in their behavior and communication.

Talk to a Manager

If you are experiencing gaslighting in the workplace, document all incidents and let your manager know. 

Tell People

It can be important to tell people in your life that you are experiencing gaslighting. It can help you keep track of reality and feel less isolated. 

Set Boundaries

If you are experiencing gaslighting, you can set boundaries with people, such as letting them know you are not going to participate in a conversation in which they are manipulating you. 

Don’t Argue

When someone is gaslighting you, engaging in their behavior or becoming defensive can make the situation worse. 

Know all the Information

Being gaslit in political situations can be difficult to navigate. Being informed with reliable sources on both sides of an issue can help you make appropriate decisions.

Talk To a Therapist

If you are experiencing gaslighting and feel like you need support, talking to a therapist can help build coping mechanisms to handle gaslighting.

Find Professional Help

Gaslighting can happen in all kinds of relationships, dynamics and situations. Finding a professional counselor can help you navigate gaslighting, and couples counseling can help partners learn to communicate without gaslighting. 

If you are looking for easy-to-access support, the Nobu app is for you. The Nobu app is free to use and provides mindfulness tools, mental health lessons, journaling, goal-tracking and more. If you are looking for a licensed mental health professional, the Nobu app offers online therapy sessions with licensed professionals for an additional fee. 

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Edited by – Erica Weiman

Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master’s in Publishing and has been writing and editing ever since. She has written and edited content across many niches, including psychology and mental health, health and wellness… Read more.

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Written by – Danielle Boland, LCSW

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.