These 6 Gaslighting Phrases Are the Markers of True Toxicity

Gaslighting is a communication technique in which someone causes you to question your own version of past events. Most times, it’s meant to make you feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. In its milder forms, gaslighting creates an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. But at its worst, gaslighting can actually be a form of mind-control and psychological abuse.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are five distinct gaslighting techniques:

  1. Withholding: The abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”

  2. Countering: The abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”

  3. Blocking/Diverting: The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”

  4. Trivializing: The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”

  5. Forgetting/Denial: The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

Though gaslighting can occur in any kind of relationship (parent/child, boss/employee, etc.), we’re focusing here on gaslighting in romantic relationships. If you suspect your partner is gaslighting you, it’s important to be aware of common tactics and words used by gaslighters, which is why we tapped Dr. Amelia Kelley, a trauma-informed therapist who’s also the co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship, for six common gaslighting phrases to look out for.

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1. “It's not my fault.”

Kelley tells us that gaslighters tend not to take responsibility for their own actions, preferring to deflect blame on others at all costs. “To avoid taking responsibility, a gaslighter will use deception to support their innocence, even if they are the one to blame,” she adds.

2. “You’re crazy/unstable/too emotional, etc.”

“Exaggerated criticism is a common tactic used by a gaslighter, and is often centered around the emotional health and wellbeing of the person they are trying to harm,” Kelley notes. “The more the gaslighter can make their victim feel they are crazy or unstable, the more effective their gaslighting tactics become.”

3. “Your parents/friends/co-workers also think you’re crazy or unstable.”

In addition to telling you you’re unstable, a gaslighter will often take things a step further and try to make you believe other people feel the same way. Kelley explains that the goal with this tactic is to isolate the victim from their loved ones while further confirming the altered reality the gaslighter is trying to create.

4. “You need help.”

Help meaning medication, therapy or some other kind of evaluation, that is. “Gaslighters blame their victim's perceived issues for all of the problems in the relationship,” Kelley tells us. “The gaslighter will rarely accept that they may be the one in need of help and will often refuse individual therapy.” She adds that sometimes the gaslighter will even agree to participate in therapy with their partner, but will end up spending most of the session shifting blame onto them.

5. “You are never going to change.”

“A gaslighter will minimize or refuse to see any positive growth or change their victim is making,” says Kelley. In fact, they will often tell their victim that therapy (or whatever work they’re doing) isn’t working when their partner starts to speak up for themselves or call attention to the gaslighting that has occurred.

6. “I just want you to be the best version of yourself.”

This one is a bit tricky, as it can seem like an expression of care or love. Kelley stresses that victims of gaslighting shouldn’t fall for it. Why? “The problem is when it is meant to control someone and negatively impact their sense of self,” she explains. “If this type of ‘support’ is coupled with constant criticism, it is likely that gaslighting is occurring as opposed to genuine support.”

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