Ever felt like your reality was being questioned and over time you started to feel, well, crazy? You may have been a victim of gaslighting or recognized one of many gaslighting phrases. The term gaslighting, coined by a 1938 movie, is defined as form of emotional manipulation or psychologically abusive dynamic that forces an person to doubt their thoughts, memories, and eventually, their perceptions and sanity.
Make no mistake, gaslighting is a form of abuse.This type of abuse is harder to spot because it relies on secrets and destabilization. The gaslighter engages in a world of deceptions and lies so an individual starts to question their perception of reality.
This might look like partner A cheating and partner B finding an item of clothing that isn’t theirs. Partner A will insist that the item of clothing is from a work friend and how dare you doubt their love. Partner B succumbs to the lie and starts to wonder if they are overthinking things. This technique shows up frequently with betrayal, domestic violence, and narcissists.
It thrives in relationships that exist in isolation, where there is low self-esteem, and codependency. Over time individuals who are gas lit might feel confused or start to believe something is wrong with them. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with them. Gaslighting is insidious and incredibly painful to undertake.
Gaslighting Phrases + Signs
Gaslighting is about power and control. The perpetrator uses gaslighting phrases in an attempt to alter reality in order to maintain a position of power. This is the definition of a destructive, toxic or abusive relationship. Narcissists are some of the top culprits.
Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by feelings of grandiosity, lack of concern and empathy for others, and a sense of entitlement.These individuals aren’t worried about how their behavior may affect a loved one or family members, instead they are solely concerned with meeting their needs, often at the expense of others.
Codependency and idealization are characteristics that make individuals more susceptible to this level of manipulation. When there is a lack of differentiation, or separateness from a partner, and they become omnipotent, it’s tricky to challenge them.
If you pay attention to the red flags, and look out for phrases like these, you will start recognizing the signs of gaslighting more readily:
- “That didn’t happen, your crazy”
- “Why are you getting so upset?”
- “You are too emotional.”
- “I didn’t say that, you’re imagining it”
- “What are you talking about, I told you already”
- “I’ll tell you exactly what you said.”
- “If you were listening…”
- “I only have these problems with you.”
- “I can’t believe you are second guessing me.”
Stages of Gaslighting + Common Gaslighting Phrases
Gaslighting isn’t always always premeditated, but it may follow a gradual build up of intensity. It starts with creating a lie and exaggerating. This might look like a partner telling you they have no feelings for someone whom you expressed concern over.
Lie and exaggerate.
“Of course I don’t like her, why would you say that.”.
The lie is repeated. If a lie is heard enough times, it starts to become believable and the gaslighter is beginning to control the narrative.
“I told you already, there’s nothing there, it’s all in your head.”
Escalate when challenged
When gaslighters start to be challenged, they will deny, deflect, blame, anything to defend their position. This stage is imperative for the gaslighter. If they are doubted, the manipulation can’t proceed. Here is where they may try to isolate their victim and demand trust and attention.
If you are fearful for your safety, get help immediately. To learn more about identifying domestic violence, go here.
“She invited me because we’re friends, other people were invited too, it’s not just me. Why are you getting so mad, you hang out with other guys at work?”
Wear out the victim
The victim begins to doubt their reality, shifting from an internal knowing to constant questioning. The wear down has begun and the perpetrators rein grows stronger through increasing gaslighting phrases and emotional abuse. The victim may start to think:
“Maybe it’s not such a big deal, I mean it’s okay to have other friends, I am really sensitive.”
Form Codependent Relationships
Codependency is an overreliance on one person to meet all of needs. This is markedly different from forming interdependent relationships where partners exhibit healthy reliance on one another while maintaining a sense of personal identity. Low self-esteem is recognized as a major contributor to codependent relationships.
When experiencing gaslighting, individuals are at risk for additional slumps in self confidence via manipulation and control. The perpetrator has the power to leave a codependent individual in a state of hopelessness and confusion. The victim is left feeling as though without their partner, they couldn’t exist. A victim might start to defend their partner in the face of criticism:
“No it’s okay, he didn’t do anything wrong, it’s me. I overreacted.”
Give False Hope
Moments of false hope and connection can be sprinkled in, especially if gaslighting phrases seem to be losing their grip. An attempt to keep the victim close and waiting for a return to normalcy. This can feed into the cycle of abuse where a partnership goes from pretending everything is normal, a build of tension, the perpetrator acting out, and a period of rationalization and justification for the behavior.
The cycle reverts back to pretending when the perpetrator and victim pretend nothing is wrong. Love bombing, or an intense period of adoration and remorse might highlight this period. The victim starts thinking:
“He isn’t that bad, I’m sure it was just a bad time to talk about that subject. He really loves me”
Dominate and Control
Eventually there is total control. The gaslighter has won when the victim lives in a constant state of doubt, insecurity, and fear. This is the ultimate prize, they have dominion over another human being, truly a pathological state. Please note, not all incidences of gaslighting go this far.
A less intense example includes a boss bullying you into thinking you’re wrong. They might use circular conversations, or deviate from the points being discussed in an attempt to divert attention.
It could occur in friendships where an individual attempts to seek an apology and ends up apologizing themself, the friend has convinced them they are wrong.
How to Stop Gaslighting in its Tracks?
If you learn to develop a strong sense of inner knowing, you can’t be manipulated. Build up your reality, have a level of resistance, and own your truth. Understand gaslighters will never accept your reality. It’s futile to use logic and facts with someone who distorts it.
Develop a level of healthy detachment with relationships. Practice letting go of your desired outcome. If a relationship is causing undue stress and chaos, instead of fighting, let go. Detachment is often the compassionate alternative to codependency.
Truthfully, people get hurt in relationships, but you can protect yourself by learning not to expect others to behave the way you want, or the way you do.
If you sense gaslighting might be happening, start writing things down to fact check. This may seem ridiculous, because in part it is. Trust comes from feeling safe, secure, and heard, having to reconcile your reality undermines stability. Once you see the truth, remember, this is emotional abuse, and it’s’ time to walk away.
How to Recover From Gaslighting?
Start by acknowledging you have been hurt and it will take time to heal. You are not weak or stupid, you did not bring this upon yourself, and you are not at fault. Share your story and feelings with trusted friends or family.
If you believe you are still at risk, it may be wise to work with a professional therapist to build a safety plan. Your mental health matters and gaslighting may have left you feeling helpless and confused. Try focusing on rebuilding your sense of self and worthiness.
If you start to shift into self doubt start practicing redirecting. Engage in positive self-affirming thoughts and behaviors. No one deserves to be treated this way, and if you take the time to reflect and heal, it never needs to happen again.