5 Gaslighting Phrases Used to Manipulate You

Has someone said you're too sensitive, you can't take a joke, or you're overreacting? Here are 5 gaslighting phrases people casually use to manipulate you—and how to outsmart them.

WRITER
May 13, 2022 UPDATED
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You may suspect you know the meaning of being gaslighted. Perhaps you recognize some of the gaslighting phrases people casually use to manipulate you?

If you find yourself asking: "Am I overreacting?" or "Am I crazy?" it's possible you're being gaslit.

Maybe you've heard the term on social media or in conversations with friends, and you're wondering how to tell if someone's gaslighting you.

If you find yourself asking: "Am I overreacting?" or "Am I crazy?" it's possible you're being gaslit or gaslighted.

These are the 5 gaslighting phrases people casually use to manipulate you. Recognize any of them?

What are key gaslighting examples, tactics, and behaviors to watch out for in friends, romantic partners, and coworkers.

Read on to find out the definition of gaslighting and why people do it.

We'll also share some of the phrases gaslighters casually say and the key tactics they use, so you'll be in-the-know about what they're up to and what you can do to outsmart them and put their gaslighting in check.

Gas light being turned on and off.

What does it mean to gaslight someone?

The term gaslighting may seem new, but it's actually from back in the day. It came from the 1944 movie Gaslight.

This Ingrid Bergman and Angela Lansbury film tells the story of a woman whose husband psychologically manipulates her and tries to convince her she’s going insane.

Gaslighting's a form of emotional and psychological abuse that creates doubt in the mind of the victim.

His primary tactic is isolating her and secretly dimming and brightening the gas lamps in their home.

When the woman asks her husband if the lighting has changed, he says nothing has changed, and she must be paranoid and delusional.    

The film's title—and the meaning of being gaslit—describes situations when someone's trying to distort your perception of reality. 

Gaslighting's a form of emotional and psychological abuse that creates doubt in the mind of the victim.

As soon as I hear these phrases, my gaslighting detector is on high alert.

The intention is to make us believe we're going “crazy.”

And, let me tell you—it works!  

As a therapist, I've heard countless times from clients: “Am I the crazy one?” or “My partner told me I'm the one with the problem.” 

As soon as I hear these phrases, my gaslighting detector is on high alert.

Examples of gaslighting

When thinking about gaslighting, the most common examples that come to mind are situations in romantic relationships.

However, gaslighting also occurs in other types of relationships.

For example—in the workplace— toxic bosses and coworkers may use gaslighting to harass employees who pose a threat to them.

Medical doctors may even use gaslighting tactics to make patients believe their symptoms are normal or that they're overreacting about their pain levels.

Man getting bombarded with common gaslighting phrases.

Gaslighting phrases people casually use to manipulate you

These sayings and behaviors are red flag examples of gaslighting.

On the surface, they might seem innocuous. But they can be emotionally abusive and used by the gaslighter to wield and maintain power.

#1 gaslighter saying: “You can’t take a joke!”

Have you ever been the recipient of a cruel comment masquerading as humor?

You know, the comment that feels judgmental, and stings.

When you ask what the person meant by it, they make you feel bad for questioning them. 

These sayings and behaviors are red flag examples of gaslighting.

“You can’t take a joke!” is a classic phrase gaslighters use to manipulate you and downplay the harm they’ve caused.

This phrase also enables them to avoid taking responsibility for what they've said. 

#2 gaslighter phrase: “You’re too sensitive”

A therapy client I worked with years ago told me her father would always say she was “too sensitive” whenever she cried as a child.

This client frequently became angry with herself, in later years as an adult, because she'd been told she was doing something wrong by showing emotion.

Questioning another person’s perception of reality and replacing it with a false version gives the gaslighter the illusion of power.

Gaslighters will discount and trivialize the feelings of their victims to maintain power and control. So, be on the lookout for this example.

#3 gaslighter tactic: “You have it all wrong—again”

A key gaslighting technique is to create doubt in the mind of the victim.

Questioning another person’s perception of reality and replacing it with a false version gives the gaslighter the illusion of power.

They frequently tell you that there is something wrong with your memory.

This, in turn, may cause you to question your perception and even your sanity.

#4: “I have no idea what you want from me”

Gaslighters also favor a behavior known as “stonewalling.”

When they do this, they plead ignorance and act as if they have no idea what you said, what you want, or what you're talking about.

This behavior allows the gaslighter to keep the victim guessing—and questioning. 

No matter how clear you are in your explanation of things, the gaslighter will resist acknowledging or understanding what you’re saying—leaving you to question yourself.

#5: “You’re gaslighting me!”

Yes, it’s true. When you call out what they're doing as gaslighting, a gaslighter's favorite behavior is to turn the tables and accuse you of being the gaslighter. 

Because they don't want the focus to be on their own abusive behaviors, the gaslighter will deflect everything onto you.

A gaslighter's favorite behavior is to turn the tables and accuse you of being the gaslighter. 

This puts you in the position of constantly defending yourself to the point of exhaustion.

As a result, you're left with no energy to hold the gaslighter responsible. 

It's a challenging situation. So, what can you do?

How to outsmart a gaslighter

OK, so now that you're aware of the key phrases gaslighters use, how should you respond?

Is it possible to outsmart a gaslighter?

If you've made it this far in the article, you've probably come to the conclusion that gaslighters are masters in manipulation.

And you are 100% correct.

Gaslighters are also emotional abusers—they're most interested in maintaining power and control. 

This cannot be stressed enough: It's impossible to reason with a gaslighter. 

Gaslighters are emotional abusers—they're most interested in maintaining power and control.

Gaslighting is a manipulative trap, so attempting to negotiate and reason with a gaslighter will not work.

Instead, try these tools I teach my clients.

1. Tell them you are ending the conversation 

When you realize you're being gaslighted, tell the gaslighter you refuse to continue the conversation because their communication is abusive.

It's important to remember that gaslighters don't like when they're not in control, and they won't like it when you stand up to them. Be aware that they may react with anger or threats.

This cannot be stressed enough: It's impossible to reason with a gaslighter. 

Stand firm in your truth, and don't let them drag you into continued back-and-forth arguments.

If they try to keep arguing with you, move on to steps 2 and 3 below.

Become the most boring and uninteresting person you can be, so the gaslighter loses interest.

2. Try the “grey rock” technique to stop gaslighting

Another technique is to “grey rock” the gaslighter.

Grey rocking is a technique in which you become the most boring and uninteresting person you can be.

Since gaslighters feed on drama and attention, the duller and more boring you seem, the more you undermine their efforts to manipulate and control you. (This tactic can also work when dealing with a narcissist.)

3. Walk away and completely disengage

If your intuition tells you that you’re being gaslighted, leaving the situation may be the most effective tactic.

Simply not responding to the gaslighter and walking away is one of the clearest, non-negotiable ways to end the interaction.

Gaslighters will accuse you of being the gaslighter.

4. Prioritize self-care and time with family and friends

Once you've removed yourself from the gaslighting situation or conversation, it's important to make time for activities and people in your life that don't involve the gaslighter.

Self-care practices support your mental well-being.

Talking regularly and maintaining closeness with people you trust helps ensure that the gaslighter is not able to isolate you and skew your perception to their point of view.

Get professional support

If you're concerned you're in a romantic or professional work relationship with a gaslighter, it may be helpful to speak with a licensed mental health therapist for support and guidance. Find a therapist near you.

For your own needs and safety, be sure to seek support—from trusted friends and family and/or a licensed mental health expert—if you believe you're in an abusive relationship or being abused by someone.

Talking with someone about your situation can help.

Whatever you decide to do, it's important to remember you can't change an abusive person.

Find out your relationship attachment style 

Take our 3-Minute Relationship Attachment Style Quiz,  and get a free customized report. Knowing your attachment style is helpful to developing a better understanding of your interactions and behavior in relationships.

READ NEXT:  Am I Dating a Narcissist?


Need to find a therapist near you? Check out the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice to  find licensed mental health therapists with availability and online booking.


Article originally published Mar 29, 2022. Updated May 13, 2022.

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