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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4 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.

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