Classic gaslighting, also known as intentional gaslighting (as opposed to unintentional gaslighting), is a type of mental abuse in which the abuser gradually convinces the victim to doubt their own memories and statements.
The gaslighter keeps denying, omitting, and falsifying facts and narratives around the victim, telling them repeatedly, “You’re imagining things.” Over time, it erodes the victim’s self-confidence and self-esteem, causing them to question their own perceptions, judgments, and beliefs.
The gaslighter’s hidden ploy is to create a power imbalance in the relationship. They want the world to accept that the victim suffers from false illusions and delusions, and therefore, is mentally unsound.
Ultimately, they want their victim to ask themselves, “Am I going crazy?”
What Is An Example of Gaslighting?
In gaslighting, a person conspires to mind-control a weaker person in a relationship by distorting their perception of reality. A classic example of gaslighting is when the offender gets caught in an immoral act, like cheating, they deny it, stating, “You saw it wrong!” Gaslighters typically isolate their victims from other people by saying, “They are feeding you lies; stay away from them.”
How Do Gaslighters Manipulate Their Victims?
The term “gaslight” is not descriptive in the least. It comes from a 1938 play Gas Light, later made into the movie Gaslight in 1944 featuring an Oscar-worthy turn by Ingrid Bergman.
In both, the plot had the husband secretly dimming the gaslights in the house. When his wife complained of it, he refused they were dim, to convince her that she was becoming insane.
Any gaslighter’s ultimate goal is to take control of their victim’s mind, making them dependent on them for each and every decision. Though it takes time, once successful, the victim becomes fixated on the gaslighter for emotional support and intellectual approval.
The classic gaslighter works his/her way through the victimization process as:
- Insisting that the victim repeatedly makes the same mistakes (when they don’t).
- Labeling their victim’s emotions as inappropriate, irrational, and out of the place.
- Branding their feelings as overreactions and dramatization of the situations.
- Isolating them as the main part of the problem when they are confronted.
Gaslighting Phrases Used By Classic Gaslighters
A gaslighter will use a variety of phrases to psychologically manipulate their victim. Some of these phrases a gaslighter will use to make the victim question their reality are:
I never said that.
The denial statements by a gaslighter mean to plant a doubt in the victim’s mind. They want to impress upon their victim that they are “putting words into their mouth” and imagining things they never said.
You’re too sensitive.
This kind of shifting the blame to the victim is a clever ploy to make them believe they feel hurt by what they heard or saw because they are overly sensitive to negative viewpoints from others. They should not feel derogated, but accept those criticisms as other “normal” people, and change themselves.
That never happened.
This again is a denial statement, which is often expressed with surprise and anger. These statements intend to make the victim doubt their own eyes and ears.
Stop being so insecure.
In a classic case of being caught in cheating, the gaslighter flatly denies their involvement and transfers the blame to the victim, saying it’s their insecurity that’s making them imagine the act as cheating.
Stop being so paranoid.
It strengthens the gaslighter’s argument that the victim is losing touch with reality.
Stop being so dramatic.
Gaslighters use this phrase to help convince victims that their concerns and reactions are overblown, while the issue is trivial. This is a direct assault on the reasoning capacities of the victim.
You’re imagining things.
A victim may get to hear their partner repeat this (“You’re imagining things” or “You’re making this up”) if they have narcissistic personality traits. This is one of the most frequent expressions used by narcissists.
They may be prone to using their denial as a means of defense. As a result, they may coerce the victim to change their view of a situation.
Just stop thinking about it!
That phrase openly accuses the victim of overthinking and being unable to stop the train of thoughts in their mind.
Another variation of that phrase could be, “Why do you keep overthinking so much?”
It sounds like you don’t trust me.
It is one of the more direct gaslighting phrases used by abusers to shift blame away from themselves and onto the victim.
They will frequently claim that the situation was a misunderstanding because of a lack of trust by the victim in them, and this phrase is their way to get away with it. They may add that the victim needs to rebuild trust in the relationship.
Stop trying to act like such a victim!
It tells the victim that they are acting like a victim!
What this statement does is make the victim being reluctant to share their doubts and ordeals with others, since they may start to think she/he is behaving like a victim while they are not.
Calm down and just drop it already!
This aims to underplay the surge of emotions the victim is experiencing. This negates the emotional climate in the victim’s mind, and asks them to do the same.
It tells them that they are unnecessarily making mountains of a molehill by overreacting, such as getting angry or aggressive.
Why are you always so angry at me?
To be honest, that can be an accurate statement, because the victim spends much of their day confused about what is right and wrong, causing them to have a constant low level of anger.
That sentence makes the victim realize that being angry all the time is wrong. If they are not angry, they will hold themselves accountable for angry reactions even before they occur.
Here are some more gaslighting phrases (most of them are self-explanatory):
- How many times do I have to tell you?
- What do you want me to do about it?
- Stop exaggerating. It wasn’t all that bad.
- You’re not allowed to have your own opinion!
- Your mind seems off. You desperately need help.
- What are you talking about? That never even happened!
- I was joking. Why can’t you take a joke like a normal person?
- I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It upsets you too much.
- After all, it’s entirely yours doing. When are you going to get this?
- You know that’s not what you meant, so stop pretending like it is!
- You can’t do it on your own anymore. You must ask me before making any decision.
- You don’t even know how to feel an emotion properly. You should be feeling sorry, not angry.
Many modern movies have been made on the theme of gaslighting. The 2016 film “The Girl On The Train” had the wife being gaslighted by her husband for so long that she cannot trust her own judgment if she has murdered someone. Another similar-themed film was 2014’s “Gone Girl,” which had the wife hauntingly gaslighting the husband.
Gaslighting is common among sociopaths and narcissists. They are masters at convincing their victims into believing their version of the events.
As the victim steadily loses autonomy (free will) and agency (empowerment), it becomes more difficult for them to realize that they are in a toxic relationship.
Gaslighters can be a single person or a large group working in tandem. Edward Snowden and Aaron Swartz are modern-age victims of coordinated gaslighting by several governmental agencies.
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Boundaries define the limits of our acceptance and tolerance in a relationship. They can prevent us from becoming victims of gaslighting. Learn how to set these six boundaries for healthy, long-lasting relationships.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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