24 phrases ‘gaslighters’ use against you

These word pairings can do a lot of damage to trust and office morale. Make sure you avoid these tell-tale signs of manipulation and coercion, no matter who is in your audience.

If you’ve ever spent time around a gaslighter, you know what they’re capable of.

Gaslighters engage in the manipulation technique of distorting known facts, memories, events and evidence to invalidate a person’s experience. The idea is to make those who disagree with the gaslighter question their ability, memory or sanity. (See it in action in the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.)

Gaslighters use lies, false promises and personal attacks to make those around them doubt themselves. For example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss says, “You can all leave at noon on Friday.” When Friday comes along, your boss indignantly says, “I would never say you could leave early. You weren’t paying attention.”

When it comes to politics, gaslighting is all around us. Gaslighting also occurs in personal relationships, though it is often subtler, but gaslighting in the workplace can be especially destructive—particularly if your boss is the culprit.

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting typically begins gradually, with a snide comment or critical remark disguised as a joke. The gaslighter may then deny having said or done something, tell blatant lies and eventually project his or her bad behavior or traits on you.

The more aware you are of a gaslighter’s techniques, the better you can protect yourself. The following are phrases to look for if you suspect someone is trying to gaslight you.

1. “If you were paying attention…”

2. “If you were listening…”

3. “If you knew how to listen…”

4. “We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”

5. “I guess I’ll have to repeat myself since you can’t remember.”

6. “You need to learn to communicate better.”

7. “You’re being irrational.”

8. “Don’t you think you’re over-reacting?”

9. “You’re just over-sensitive.”

10. “Stop being so sensitive.”

11. “You’re too emotional.”

12. “You can’t take a joke.”

13. “You’re so thin-skinned.”

14. “You always jump to the wrong conclusion.”

15. “Stop taking everything I say so seriously.”

16. “Can you hear yourself?”

17. “I criticize you because I like you.”

18. “You’re the only person I have these problems with.”

19. “You’re reading too much into this.”

20. “I’m not arguing; I’m discussing.”

21. “I know what you’re thinking.”

22. “You should have known that this was not a good time to talk.”

23. “Why are you upset? I was only kidding.”

24. “Why would you think that? What does that say about you?”

What experiences do you have with gaslighting, PR Daily readers? Are there phrases you would add to the list for conscientious communicators to avoid?

Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life at impertinentremarks.com.


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22 Responses to “24 phrases ‘gaslighters’ use against you”

    Ron Curtin says:

    “What did I do, Ron?” when someone knows what they did to harm you and pretends that they don’t know.

    Yasmin says:

    Discussion gives them an opening. When you get questions like “What did I do, what do you mean, I don’t understand they are not listening or trying to understand you, they are waiting for your reply so they can either; attack you personely or when you answer they start denying everything you say. Making you the insane sounding person. When you have a gaslighter in your life I would recommend you (out of my own experience) First to stay at a far distance from this person don’t let them get close to you, if it means cutting of contact than I am afraid you have to do so. Always keep distance so you can minimize contact and you have control over when they can speak to you (I only talk over the phone twice a year). Second you have to accept that this person will never acknowledge the harm they have caused you. Logic and reason doesn’t work on these people, you will only go insane trying to convince them. The sooner you accept this, the faster you can move on with your life. It is hard to accept escpecially when it’s a relative, but it is your only way out of this misery. Stick to the facts in your life and know that you are not making things up, if it really happened and they deny or go around it they are gaslighting you. (The relative in my case is my father)

    Some Guy says:

    One frequent statement I continue to see is “if everyone around you is a problem, the problem is you.” It instantly shuts down any dialogue for whatever issue is happening. I’ll use my own experience as an example. I have brought up to many people my past and how I have been bullied for my looks all my life. So having gone through this kind of treatment from people for a good chunk of my life, it leads me to believe that most people are assholes. Anyone I ever mention this to says the above statement. I must be the problem. Yeah…Aren’t I so intolerable for simply existing? I know now that its just gaslighter language. Victim blaming. I hope this crappy sentiment of “if everyone around you is the problem..” gets studied and hopefully it will finally come to light what a horrible and victim blaming statement this is.

    Mary canary says:

    I’m gaslighted daily . Partner said you can’t trust me instead of you don’t trust me. That was an admission in my opinion

    Wendy Schmidt says:

    After they hurt you they say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It’s not an apology, it’s a means of making you feel like you’re the problem.

    Jimilla Holt says:

    When your partner tells you that you make up thoughts in your head.. When your trying to discuss a a problem or a feeling..

    Cheshire says:

    If they make snide comments like “I better do this so you don’t yell at me later” or “If I let you do it instead of doing it myself I’ll never hear the end of it” considered gaslighting?

    Patrick says:

    @wendy Schmidt – Right there. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Or, even worse iteration of that would be, “I believe that you believe that.” I had a counselor/social worker do that to me for a year. I have had people speak to me in that way in life. I think that you can read into what the implications are. There are some cues, verbal, facial expressions, body language, that also seem to be tangentially related from these types of comments and sayings. You just know, when someone says these things that they mean you no good. It is covert, under the surface. Parsing words, providing examples (“well if you don’t give me examples, how am I supposed to…”), slow-walking, delaying, evading, countering, avoiding, not providing a direct answer…. I have a universe of thought behind what the phrase, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” truly means.

    Cory says:

    @ wendy…

    “I’m sorry you feel that way”

    I can never ever get an apology, even for something extremely simple but would still warrant an apology.

    @ patrick..—- the slow walking…omg. im so glad someone else recognizes this in people. When I’m trying to get my partner to hurry up because of a time crunch. There is never ever a “move faster” effort. Not once. have I been like “can we move a little faster, we ave people waiting on us.” there is never not once in fouhr years been a time where I actually witnessed a sense of urgency, hustle. etc. “hey come on, we got to go ! we are late ” replies with ” I AM MOVING AS FAST AS I CAN” when there is no change in effort.

    I think all in all, I hahve witnessed gaslighters to be people who silently mooch there way through life, they pretend to be stupid or not understand what you are saying.

    I’ve been in arguments where for at least 3 hours I was screaming “stop talking to me, STOP replying to me, PLEASE DONT SAY ANYTHING”

    first thing that I hear is “I didn’t do anything”, “I was sitting silent”, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, ” I– I– I don’t understand what your mean?!”.

    covering their ears pretending that they can’t hear you…

    “are you doing having a temper tantrum”

    “I didn’t say anything, you must be hearing voices”

    vial insanity

    I think gaslighting has become more prevalent because people don’t understand the etymology behind many words they say, even if he words are common.

    Brittany Yerden says:

    So, my sister, mother and sister in law all blame things on me that they actually do themselves. They have put me down for years and I absolutely hate myself. I have always blamed myself and posted all my insecurities on social media(big mistake) and they tell people that I’m the issue and I’m at fault and always denying that they hurt me. They fabricate stories to others and now, I have no one. I feel so alone and hopeless. I feel like I will never love myself. They know how much I hate myself, unfortunately my own fault, but they would lie and say I’m arrogant,so I had to prove myself and defend myself to them. I feel like I’m always defending myself. I feel like I will never escape this cycle of abuse. How can I just “ignore” them? I have been through this my whole life practically and even told myself how I must be the issue. I told myself i needed to respect them just as much because all their cruel words and actions must be true and I must deserves it. I really need some advice. Thank you so much!

    Anna H. says:

    My ex used to refuse to discuss anything after the first time if I couldn’t repeat the high points of our conversation word-for-word. For instance, we’d had a discussion about taking equal turns vacuuming, but he liked to vacuum first thing in the morning and I worked late nights and slept in. He was angry at me for not waking up at the time he dictated to do my share of the work, but we discussed changing the appointed time to vacuum so it was more fair to me. Sure enough, though, a few weeks later he got pissed at me again for not vacuuming on time. I pointed out that we’d already discussed this and came to a solution (or so I’d thought), and he asked me to repeat to him word-for-word what we’d said. I couldn’t, but I could paraphrase and tell him the date that we had the discussion, as well as where we were standing in the room while we were talking, etc. He told me that unless I could give him the entire unedited conversation, I was lying, and he wasn’t talking about this anymore. With that as an intimidation technique, over eight years of dating he effectively tailored all of my actions to meet his exact requirements. I didn’t realize the extent of the manipulation until we’d broken up and I was in therapy. Never again.

    JUNO says:

    Brittany, hard as it may be, we sometimes need to cut people out of our lives. Specifically people who are destructive versus supportive of us. Oftentimes, this will include family members. In your case, they may see you as possessing some unique talents, skills , personal characteristics, etc. they are jealous of so, they demean you. In what you wrote, you demonstrated good insight and an accurate read of what has been going on. You are smart!

    The next step is figuring out how to distance yourself from those who are harming you. That is, determine how you can largely eliminate them from your life. If you live with these family members, find your own place. Also, eliminate your psychological reliance on them. You can find useful guidance for this on line.

    Rely on your own good judgement to quietly plan this out. Keep your plans to yourself unless you have a VERY trustworthy friend you can confide in. The act of planning will give you strength! By breaking away, you’ll gain a fresh and positive self-outlook. Your confidence will grow.

    Do not look for ANY help, support, guidance, etc. no matter how small, from those who are harming you. The above will take some time. Be patient. In the meantime, let their abusing words turn into motivation to continue planning and gaining your freedom.

    Families are sometimes known to gang up on members who are unique, different from them as they find such individuals to be threatening. I suspect you have a talent(s) they are jealous of and do not wish you to become successful or happy in your life.

    Mary canary says:

    I’ve found out last week that my gaslighting partner has lied about an issue for the 22 year duration of the relationship .now I’m staying in the bedroom I can’t bear to look at him because he said , he lied to protect Me !!

    Mary canary says:

    He also says why would you think that about me , I’m sitting here minding my own business and you love arguing . I had a meltdown 2 days ago and he seemed to go quit , until , why aren’t you sitting next to me watching the television . I don’t understand what’s happened !!!!!!

    Mary canary says:

    First time ever I’ve witnessed the pacing thing . He stood up calmly and started walking very slowly from room to room and turning to grin at me to mock my anger . Then accused me of being violent because I tore up my teatowel in frustration . Yesterday he urged me to go in the lounge after I’d spent 4 days in the bedroom . He even trivialised the time in there and said it was 2 days yet claiming I’ve ignored him for 4 days . B…… 😠

    Samuel Braun says:

    Not much dissent among these comments. Why? I use probably a third to a half of these phrases on a regular basis, and they’re used on me in return. No harm, no foul. That’s just the way it’s always been. Just a normal part of conversation. Maybe there is a valid point to be made about manipulation, but most of these examples are crazy. Take the first three examples (above). I use them when the person I’m talking with comes back at me with a statement that DOES NOT FOLLOW at all from what I just said. That, and the fact that many (most? me included) people don’t really listen that well, instead they are often already thinking about what THEY will say next, is ample justification. (Granted, number three sounds a little snarky. I actually DON’T say that one) Number 7. Exactly how is that different from “that’s irrational.” Jeez, if you can’t say that, you may as well stop talking. What else CAN one say when the other person is not being rational. Number 16. When someone says something absurd, this is exactly the correct thing to say. Number 19. This is often well meaning and helpful advice that makes the other person feel better about himself or at least provide a little reassurance. Number 21. Often used in a self-disparaging way. Look, if you’re going to put us in a verbal straightjacket then what’s the point of even having a discussion.

    Scott says:

    None of those quotes are gaslighting. The only reason you believe that is because your victim mentality knows no bounds; you want to play victim in a pathetic attempt to avoid having to swallow your pride and admit your mistake.

    Honestly, I don’t think gaslighting is even a legitimate term. It’s just a verbal device “victims” use as an excuse not to accept responsibility.

    Nina says:

    I think JUNO gave Brittany excellent advice.
    What do you do when you are victimized by a gas lighter all your life before you even knew what that means?…I finally realized that I had to completely separate myself from the perpetrator if I was ever going to have any peace. My life improved THE MINUTE I WALKED AWAY FOR GOOD. I rarely communicate and if I do it’s briefly on my terms…always careful not to backslide into the trickery. Jealousy, Manipulation and Sabotage is real …And Sometimes being with Family is completely Over rated. Stick with people who genuinely give their support.

    Christy Fortier says:

    I got into a relationship with a 57 year old- I’m 28. The first time I ever heard the word gaslighting was a couple weeks ago when my friend told me I’m missing dangerous red flags about being undermined and manipulated… I ignored that advice and kept seeing this older guy. He through his cellphone at me to ‘prove’ that he doesn’t talk to any other women but me and family.. well while entertaining his request I read a text message he sent to a friend basically saying I was t doing much for him in anyway- I brought this up with him and his response was, “it’s guy talk! This is bullshit we’re not in high school I didn’t effing do anything! You’re impossible to please; no one will put up will put up with you like I do!” (Screaming at the top of his lungs- face as red as one can get). Anyways.. that made me question wether or not I was overreacting..
    Moving onto his comments about my sanity… “do you hear yourself? I mean really. You have a split personality and need to accept help”
    He would also touch my sides and pull on me telling me, “this is where all your food is going- you really should take a picture of yourself eating that bagel”
    — now I was uncomfortable eating around him—
    The first night I refused to put up with the manipulation bullshit and threatened to leave- as I planned on it- he told me “IF YOU LEAVE ILL END IT! I’ll fucking end it!” I said “Martin.. what do you mean?” He said, “if you leave I’ll kill myself” I said I wouldn’t leave… but at 3 am I was in the next room with my heart in my stomach wondering what he was gna do to me if he heard me packing my things.. talk about a bad GUT feeling.. I couldn’t even catch my breath. But I got the courage to pack my things and I left in the middle of the night—
    — he also pushed me so hard out of nowhere that I stumbled across the kitchen into his sink— and he laughed like he was joking- I couldn’t even look him in the eyes at that moment bc I didn’t want to see what pleasure that gave him— he started scaring me but in the most twisted way I felt like it could still work— until
    I thought to myself oh God.. if I see his face again- I will be terrified…
    he contacted my family tonight to tell them I was ‘on drugs’ and ‘drinking alcohol’ and that I needed help… Which was just the weirdest twisted lie (HE EVEN TOOK A PICTURE OF HIS BEER AND SENT IT CLAIMING I BROUGHT IT TO GET DRUNK!!!)NOW at this moment in time After he made contact with family bc he’s blocked on my phone— I’m literally scared for my life. I’ve been open eyed all night into morning worried that he’s going to show up here he made a comment that he’d either “love” me “to pieces” or “chop” me “up into pieces”
    I don’t know how it got this bad— but he’s doing a job on my mental state and well-being..that’s for sure.
    There’s so much more.. but I’ll leave it at that bc I’m exhausted.

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