Recognizing Gaslighting: 5 Common Phrases

Of all the tactics in the narcissistic abuse playbook, gaslighting has to be one of the most effective. It can be used against unwitting victims in a wide range of relationships, settings, and specific situations. It is hard to call out, because the very nature of the beast is to confuse and disorient victims. The whole point of gaslighting is to make victims question their judgment, senses, and sanity. So of course, trying to name this abusive behavior in the moment can lead to more and more manipulation and confusion.


But for many, the hard part begins farther back. What if you can’t call out gaslighting because you can’t tell when it’s happening?


Some forms of abuse are overt and easy to spot. Others are subtle and sneaky. Gaslighting is one of the latter. Today, I am going to help you learn to spot the signs of gaslighting more quickly by examining five common gaslighting phrases. These phrases are taken from Chapter 2 of The Gaslighting Recovery Workbook.


Phrase #1: “I wouldn’t have said that if you hadn’t provoked me.”


What is happening here: With this phrase, the gaslighter claims that it was the victim who provoked the abusive behavior. They do not actually deny behaving in a harmful or hurtful way, but they absolve themselves of fault by pointing the finger at the victim. If the victim had not argued/disagreed with/acted/breathed that way, the gaslighter claims they would not have lashed out. Therefore, the responsibility for being hurt falls upon the victim. We call this victim-blaming, and it is widely used to discredit victims who attempt to assert themselves.


Phrase #2: “That never happened.”


What is happening here: A gaslighter may flat out deny having said or behaved in the way the victim claims. Regardless of the victim’s memories, or even physical evidence, the gaslighter may simply refuse to acknowledge an event. This can be maddening for victims, who now suffer from both the original hurtful behavior as well as the gaslighter’s refusal to admit or acknowledge having done anything wrong.


Phrase #3: “You sound crazy.”


What is happening here: Many gaslighting victims fear that they are losing their minds. Gaslighting is confusing and disorienting, and the intent is to make victims question their senses, perceptions, and judgments. By inferring that they are losing touch with reality, victims of gaslighting become more vulnerable to anxiety and isolation.


Phrase #4: “You’re remembering it wrong.”


What is happening here: This phrase is particularly sneaky, as it does not always sound overtly abusive. It could be an innocent misunderstanding, the gaslighter implies. But the misunderstanding is always on your part, and always in their favor.


Phrase #5: “You’re too sensitive.”


What is happening here: Perhaps one of the most insidious phrases in the gaslighting catalog, the thinking behind these words calls into question the victim’s right to their own feelings. If the victim is “too sensitive,” the onus is on the victim to learn to tolerate the abuse, rather than on the gaslighter to stop what they’re doing.


The lingering effects of gaslighting


As you look more closely at these common gaslighting phrases, some of them may sound familiar. Where have you encountered these or similar phrases in your life?


Pay attention to how you feel as you remember past experiences of gaslighting. Do you still question yourself? Wonder if you read too much into a situation, or exaggerated it? Do you feel foggy and confused when you try to recall what, exactly, felt so awful about a situation? If so, you may still be experiencing some lingering effects of having been gaslit.


Take heart: Recognizing an abusive behavior is only one step in the process. Recovering, and healing, are also possible. Join me at The Gaslighting Recovery Workshop to learn more about how to recognize gaslighting, resist its effects, and recover from the pain. Your experiences are real and valid, and you are not alone.