Gaslighting is a form of abuse and it’s very common in unhealthy relationships.
According to Psychology Today, “Victims of gaslighting are fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.”
Gaslighting definition and origin
As explained in Vox, the phrase to gaslight refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or even their feelings.
The term gaslighting comes from the 1938 play Gas Light — which was later turned into a movie, Gaslight, in 1944 — which is a story about a man who manipulates his wife into believing she is going completely insane and can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality.
As explained in The World, “Gaslight also refers to one of the ways in which the man manipulates his wife. Throughout the film version of the story, the woman, Paula, sees gaslights dimming and brightening for no apparent reason. Her husband, Gregory, convinces her that it’s all inside her head. In reality, he was switching the attic lights on and off to create the gaslight flickers.”
Examples of Gaslighting
As counsellor and author Mirlo Liendo mentions,
“Gaslighting comes with the intention to displace blame, make you question your own recollection of an event, and to even reconsider your own integrity and ability to make sound decisions. Individuals who gaslight are those who are silently and intensely critical of themselves. The only way they know to manage these big feelings is to manipulate others into believing they are the cause of the problem.”
Here are some examples of the most common phrases used by a gaslighter.
1. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”
Gaslighters use this phrase to trivialize anything their victim is concerned about and is trying to understand or fix. They invalidate their victim’s emotions because they’re unable to process and deal with them.
Here’s an example of what a conversation between a gaslighter and their victim looks like:
Victim: “You were clearly flirting with that lady at John’s party, and that didn’t make me feel good. Is there anything I should know?”
Gaslighter: “You’re making things up. As always, you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Now leave me alone, I need some peace.”
[Enters another room and closes the door.]
Instead of listening to you — like a normal person would do — the gaslighter intentionally shuts down and refuses to communicate in a healthy way.
Here are a few similar phrases:
- “You’re so sensitive!”
- “You always nag for everything,”
- “You’re overreacting,”
- “You’re crazy,”
- “You’re losing your mind,”
- “You’re exaggerating.”
2. “No, you!”
Blame-shifting is one of the most common manipulation tactics gaslighters use.
If you call a gaslighter out on something they did, they will blame you for whatever happened in order to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior.
For example, they might do or say something unacceptable and then blame you for reacting like any other human being would do. And they might even focus the argument on your reaction to minimize and make you forget about their behavior.
Or they might blame you for their bad behavior. An extreme example would be someone cheating on their partner and blaming them because they were working too much.
Here are a few similar phrases:
- “It wasn’t me, it was you,”
- “I didn’t start this argument, you did,”
- “I didn’t ruin this relationship, you did.”
3. “This is not true, you’re lying”
The typical behavior of a gaslighter is denying something that happened — because they can’t handle feedback.
For example, picture this. You are in a relationship with a gaslighter and live with them; most of the time you’re the one cleaning the house — because otherwise it would be a mess, since they never take the initiative to clean.
One day — walking on eggshells — you try to ask them to help you more around the house. They become furious and start saying they do things around the house as often as you do — while you know they do something only once every two weeks.
Then they start minimizing all your continuous efforts to keep the house clean saying you actually don’t do much, and that you’re the one who should help them more around the house.
In a situation like this, they might use phrases like:
- “It’s not true you’re the one always cleaning the bathroom,”
- “You’re not the one always sweeping the floor, that is me.”
4. “It didn’t happen that way”
Another thing gaslighters do very often — usually when they can’t deny facts — is twisting things to make you question your own reality, to avoid responsibility, and to have control.
For example, a friend of mine, Sarah, recently had an argument with her boyfriend Marc. The following day they were talking about their argument trying to clarify what happened and resolve the conflict.
Marc claimed Sarah shouted at him and that was how everything started. However, that was not true. Sarah clearly remembered she tried to ask him a favor — almost walking on eggshells because she knows how he usually reacts when he’s tired — and that he became furious because she knew he was exhausted and shouldn’t have asked him that favor.
Long story short, he couldn’t admit he had lost his temper the night before, so he twisted the facts blaming Sarah for their argument.
Some phrases gaslighters use to twist things are:
- “You clearly don’t remember what happened,”
- “You’re twisting things,” [If they use this phrase, they’re projecting their behavior onto you]
- “That’s not what I said, you misunderstood everything I said,”
- “That’s not how I said that,”
- “I didn’t flake on you, it wasn’t clear we had a date because you hadn’t replied to my last message.”
How to Respond to Gaslighting
As Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo explains, “When coping with gaslighting, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions.”
“Anger, discomfort, worries, grief, fear, and other emotions are all normal, but don’t let them make you act right away. Do not let them make you act in a certain way right away. The more you keep your cool, the easier it will be to deal with the problem. Keeping your cool can help you focus on the truth, making it less likely that their (wrong) version of events will shake your self-assurance and faith,” says Lombardo.
Phrases that can help you respond to a gaslighter:
As Keischa Pruden explains, here are two simple, effective phrases you can use when dealing with a gaslighter:
- “That was not my experience or recollection.”
When a person attempts to gaslight you regarding a past behavior/event, this response is helpful because you are being assertive in not agreeing with their narrative. Which will ultimately upset them, but your emotional state is far more important than catering to a gaslighter and ignoring your truth.
- “I don’t receive that.”
When a person attempts to gaslight you by attributing a certain personality trait to you that is false, this response is appropriate because it affirms your knowledge of self and strengthens your ability to rebuff another person’s perception of you.
Some other phrases that can help you respond to a gaslighter are:
- “I’m not going to take responsibility for something I didn’t do,”
- “That’s your opinion,”
- “I don’t agree.”
Dealing with a gaslighter can be emotionally draining and exhausting. This is why it’s essential that you take care of yourself mentally and emotionally.
Here are a few things you can do if you are experiencing gaslighting:
- Distance yourself from the gaslighter (this sound obvious, but it’s worth mentioning as it’s the most important step),
- Start journaling,
- Consider therapy,
- Don’t isolate yourself from friends and family, you need a support network.
Remember — these suggestions apply to adults in safe situations. If you feel unsafe, or think you may be in an abusive relationship, seek professional help.
Article originally published in The Truly Charming