Saturday, 11 November 2023 04:40

Psychologist shares 9 toxic phrases 'gaslighters' always use—and how to respond

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Gaslighting," or the experience of being manipulated into doubting your feelings and perceptions of reality, can happen to anyone.

This behavior is often used to gain power and control in relationships. Being on the receiving end of it can be damaging to your self-esteem, and can even lead to anxiety or depression.

As a Harvard-trained psychologist who specializes in trauma and relationships, I've observed this firsthand. If someone uses any of these nine phrases, they may be gaslighting you:

1. 'You're being crazy.'

Gaslighters will try to manipulate you into questioning your sanity. Making direct comments that undermine your perspective or rationality is a common tactic. 

How to respond:

"Please don't question my ability to think clearly."

"Even if we don't agree, this is what the reality looks like to me."

2. 'You're overreacting.'

By accusing you of being dramatic, the gaslighter is attempting to dismiss your concerns as irrational and unfounded.

How to respond:

"Whether or not you agree with me, this is how I feel right now."

"I would appreciate it if you didn't judge my feelings. They are mine and not up for debate."

3. 'I was just joking!'

Gaslighters often downplay their mean-spirited comments or criticism. This can cause you to wonder if you're being overly sensitive, even when you're not.

How to respond:

"That comment might have been funny to you, but it hurt my feelings."

"It didn't seem to me like you were joking, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk to me that way."

4. 'You made me do it.'

When something doesn't go as they had planned, gaslighters will often try to avoid taking responsibility by shifting any criticism and blame onto you.

How to respond:

"I actually can't make you do anything."

"Your behavior is a reflection of your choices, not mine."

5. 'If you loved me, you'd let me do what I want.'

When you try to set boundaries with a gaslighter, they may feel wronged and try make you feel guilty by saying you don't care about them.

How to respond:

"My boundaries are a reflection of my values and how I choose to live my life."

"I don't feel comfortable doing this. I am telling, not asking, you to respect my boundaries."

6. 'I'm only telling you this because I love you.'

Gaslighters justify making rude — sometimes abusive — comments by saying they come from a place of love. This can make it harder for you to trust your gut feelings and set healthy boundaries.

How to respond:

"I appreciate that you love me, but I'm not okay with the way you're talking to me."

"That's not how I want to be shown love."

7. 'This is all your fault.'

A gaslighter may try to accuse you of harmful actions even if there's clear evidence that they're engaging in similar behaviors.

How to respond:

"I'm sure that I contribute to our relationship struggles in some ways, but so do you. We both have to be willing to change if we want to make this better."

"I'm willing to take responsibility for my role in this, but I'm not taking responsibility for yours."

8. 'Everyone agrees with me — you're just difficult.'

By falsely aligning themselves with others, gaslighters may try to manipulate you into believing that you need them. Their goal is to make you think you're alone and that no one else will put up with you.

How to respond:

"I would appreciate it if you speak for yourself, and not for other people."

"I hear that you find me difficult. Let's stay focused on that."

9. 'The real problem is…'

When they're called out, gaslighters may try to divert attention away from themselves. This makes it easier to stay focused on what's wrong with someone or something else.

How to respond:

"Please don't change the subject."

"It seems like you don't want to acknowledge how you're contributing to the problem."

** Cortney S. Warren, is a board-certified psychologist and author of "Letting Go of Your Ex." 

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