28 Examples Of Gaslighting + Phrases To Look Out For, From Relationship Experts
Gaslighting can happen in relationships, within families, and even in the workplace—but it can also be hard to spot in the moment. So, we asked experts what gaslighting really looks like so you can identify when it happens, see some concrete gaslighting examples and phrases, and know how to respond.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of abuse in which someone denies your reality, which makes you question your own experiences or beliefs. As psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P., explains, "It's a manipulation where someone (the gaslighter) dismisses your perception of reality or causes you to question your judgment or perception of reality."
She notes that gaslighting can be small or it can be extensive; however, "whether small or large, there can be a snowball effect where it impacts your sense of judgment, daily life decisions, and negotiations." And even when it's unintentional, it's still damaging.
As therapist Aki Rosenberg, LMFT, previously told mbg, "Gaslighting at its core is always about self-preservation and the maintenance of power/control—namely, the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the 'right' and their partner in the 'wrong.'"
Who uses gaslighting?
Gaslighting can take place in both personal and professional relationships, and it can also happen by public figures, according to Spinelli. "In personal relationships, it can take place with a parent, sibling, friend, and significant other. In professional relationships, it can take place with a colleague or boss," she says. "We also see gaslighting in family dynamics where the family manipulates a family member to doubt their own belief system or views on an unhealthy situation taking place in the family."
And relating to Rosenberg's previous point, Spinelli notes that gaslighting is often part of a power dynamic where the manipulation is "an intent to control an individual, or when by a public figure, the entire mindset of a community at large."
11 examples of gaslighting:
One main way people gaslight is by shifting blame to another person in order to avoid accountability, which is also known as deflection. For example, Spinelli says a gaslighting parent might blame their child for their own mistakes, or an abusive partner could somehow blame the victim for the abuse.
Find your match today with eHarmony. Free to join.
Denying the truth
Denial of the truth is textbook gaslighting, according to Spinelli. She notes that by denying obvious truths, the victim begins to lose sight of what is right and wrong, and they begin to question their own reality.
Minimizing or dismissing someone's needs
Spinelli says minimizing or dismissing someone's needs is another example of gaslighting in relationships. "This is where the gaslighter makes the victim's needs feel unimportant," she says. For example, they may say things like, "Why do you keep asking me for things?" or "You are so needy," which are intended to make the other person question and doubt themselves.
Constant disapproval can be a subtle way gaslighters control their victims. As Spinelli explains, a parent constantly disapproving of their child's decisions and questioning their judgment will eventually be internalized by the child, to the point that they, too, question their own judgment.
Alienation or isolation
It's not uncommon for gaslighters to isolate or otherwise alienate their victims from their support systems, in order to gain more control. As clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, previously explained to mbg, a gaslighting person may say phrases like, "I don't think your family has your best interests at heart," for example. She notes that what's really happening here is, "by making verbal abuse look like support, they are isolating the victim from their own discernment."
Using love as an excuse
Some gaslighters will use "love" as a justification for their behavior, saying things like, "I only did that because I love you," Spinelli notes. Not only is this an attempt to alter the way the victim perceives the situation, but in the future, it can discourage them from voicing their concerns.
"This is an example of gaslighting where the gaslighter pretends to have forgotten what took place or denies it ever happened," Spinelli says. This one can be particularly tricky because there's no way to really prove whether someone actually forgot something—but nevertheless, if you didn't forget, you'll know it.
On a basic level, simply invalidating someone else's emotions is gaslighting, according to Spinelli. They may say something like, "You don't really feel that way," or "It's not that big of a deal." These phrases are an attempt to make you question your own truth.
This example of gaslighting may be particularly more common in the workplace, though it can certainly take place within relationships. "A boss or co-worker may intentionally keep information withheld, and as a result, the employee is set up to fail," Spinelli explains, adding, "The victim fears asking for clarification so not to appear incompetent. If they do question their boss or co-worker, they are dismissed, blamed, or met with defensiveness."
Accusations that the victim is paranoid is another common example of gaslighting. Spinelli notes that this can sound like "You're crazy," or "You're just being paranoid," which comes back to the gaslighter seeking to control the victims' perceptions.
This example ties back to the use of disapproval as a way to control someone's behavior, but this is a bit more extreme. When someone is constantly disapproving or outright criticizing someone, the victim can internalize these criticisms, feel invalidated, and potentially begin to neglect their own wants and needs, denying their own reality.
Common phrases gaslighters may use:
- "I never said that."
- "I did that because I love you."
- "I don't know why you're making such a huge deal of this."
- "You're being overly sensitive."
- "You are being dramatic."
- "You are the issue, not me."
- "If you loved me, you would..."
- "You are crazy."
- "You're being delusional."
- "You are just insecure."
- "You are so selfish if you don't do this for me."
- "You're imagining things."
- "You made me do that."
- "You don't really feel that way."
- "That never happened.
- "It's not that big a deal."
- "You're just being paranoid."
How to respond to gaslighting.
Hopefully, if you have been gaslighted, the aforementioned examples will help you get clarity on what's happening. As Spinelli tells mbg, "It's important to remember that if you are constantly experiencing confusion, guilt, shame, uncertainty, and self-doubt, you may be experiencing gaslighting in your life."
Once you've identified it, Spinelli suggests showing yourself self-compassion first and foremost, and reminding yourself that you are not at fault. She adds that seeking the insight of a mental health professional can also help you identify if you are a victim of gaslighting, as well as better understand and implement coping mechanisms and ensure that you receive an objective view of your situation.
"When we have experienced gaslighting, we lose a sense of our own emotional barometer," Spinelli says. "Give yourself permission to feel your feelings."
Take one step at a time in the process to disengage and set boundaries with the gaslighter, and surround yourself with people you trust who can validate your experience, she recommends.
As therapist Alyssa "Lia" Mancao, LCSW, previously told mbg, "When we reach out to our support system to share with them our reality; what is happening; what we know; and what we've seen, witnessed, and experienced; we are further integrating our truth into our minds."
Mancao also has a few helpful phrases you can keep in mind for handling gaslighting in the moment.
What to say when someone is gaslighting you:
- "My feelings and reality are valid. I don't appreciate you telling me that I am being too sensitive."
- "Don't tell me how to feel. This is how I feel."
- "I am allowed to explore these topics and conversations with you. Do not tell me I am being dramatic."
- "I know what I saw."
- "I will not continue this conversation if you continue to minimize what I am feeling." (Then, implement the boundary.)
If your attempts to enforce healthy boundaries with the gaslighter are not honored, from there, it's up to you to decide whether the relationship is worth continuing, whether it be a romantic relationship or within your family or workplace.
For more info on how to handle a gaslighter in your life, check out our full guide on how to deal with gaslighting.
The bottom line is, gaslighting is a huge red flag that a relationship is not in a healthy place. Even when the gaslighting is unintentional, it's still harmful to the receiver, and the behavior always comes from a controlling place on the part of the gaslighter. It is, at the end of the day, a form of manipulation and abuse, and it doesn't have a place in a supportive and loving relationship. When we can identify when it's happening, however, we're better able to handle it, honor our own needs, and protect our boundaries.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For anonymous and confidential help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) and speak with a trained advocate for free as many times as you need. They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also speak to them through a live private chat on their website.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.