Gaslighting phrases in relationships are manipulative statements or tactics used to undermine the other person's perception, memory, or sanity. Here are some examples of gaslighting phrases:

Statements that question the validity of your feelings:

  1. "You are overreacting"
  2. "You are just being paranoid"
  3. "You are crazy"
  4. "You are too sensitive"

Notice that all of these sentences start with "you." They are not talking about themselves; the focus is on what is wrong with you. These types of responses not only dismiss your feelings or reactions but also make you question whether your emotional responses are valid.

Antidote

Any emotional response is valid, even if it is different than your partner's emotional response. We all respond to situations with different intensity of feelings. Calling people names like "paranoid" or "crazy" is verbal abuse.

You are what you are.

When your partner says you are "too" anything, ask what the standards are that they are using to measure you.

You feel what you feel. Feelings happen on a cellular level. There is no standard by which anyone can say, "That's too much." Now, how you express those feelings are another thing. Your partner might ask you to "speak more softly" if you are angry. That is a request based upon how you are acting on those feelings. But no one can label the feeling you are having as somehow "wrong" for the situation.

Gaslighters may resort to labeling the other person as "crazy," "insane," or "mentally unstable" to discredit the validity of their concerns. This tactic aims to make the person question their own sanity.

Ask them to talk about themselves, not you.

Statements that question your memory or reality

  1. "That never happened"
  2. "You are imagining things"
  3. "You are the only one who believes that about me."

The key here is CERTAINTY. The two of you can remember events differently, but a gaslighter can not allow that. He or she insists on defining his or her reality as THE reality, and they won't let it go. They want you to admit that you are wrong and they are right.

"Guess we just remember things differently" is not an acceptable response to a gaslighter. They insist that you remember things just like they do.

They invalidate the person's intuition and make them doubt their own judgments.

Statements that insist on conformity to their standards

  1. "You are just trying to make me look bad"
  2. "Never do/wear/say/act that way again"
  3. "You must have misunderstood."

Gaslighters often flip the blame onto the other person, re-write what happened and dodge responsibility. One way is to make you feel guilty or responsible for the gaslighter's behavior. Another is to twist the situation to avoid accountability and manipulate the other person's perception of events.

Ask yourself:

Does this relationship make me feel confident in myself? Do I feel like my perceptions are valid? Do I understand my world, even if it doesn't line up with my spouse's view? Are my concerns valid and worthy of being entertained?

Do I often feel confused by my spouse's responses to me? Do my words get twisted, or are my intentions maligned? Do I feel like I bring up a complaint only to have that complaint come back at me like I am the guilty party? Can my partner accept responsibility and apologize or am I "wrong" for even bringing it up?

Does my partner make an effort to see things through my eyes? Do they validate my concerns, whether or not they agree with them? Do I feel isolated or like I am the only one with concerns? Does my partner tell me that everyone disagrees with me?

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Dr. Kathy McMahon


Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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  1. Hi Dr. K, how do you suggest I respond to my partner who has traits of BPD, including the use of melodramatic hyperbole when describing events and “facts” during arguments. When I point out inaccuracies in her statements, she refutes this as me “gaslighting” her. It causes great challenges in resolving conflict, because the two options seem to be 1) accepting her exaggerated or inaccurate claims against me as truth, or 2) being accused of gaslighting and emotional abuse. It feels like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Thank you!

    1. A very big question, but I have a few thoughts:

      1) Don’t argue about “facts” with your BPD spouse or ANY spouse. Let it be enough to say, “That’s not what I remember…” and let it go at that. You get nowhere debating who said what or how events ACTUALLY went down. If it was about who said what, the line is, “If I said that, it wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was…” Gaslighting happens when either one of you push your version of events as the “only” version of events. My hunch is that this is exactly what is happening to you” she is claiming that her recollection of events are the only ones.

      2) We all get melodramatic when we are flooded. Pick up an inexpensive pulse oximeter and when calm, agree that you won’t talk when either of you are technically “flooded.” Stop for 20-30 minutes, and get your mind off the fight. Then, after that time, return to pick up where you left off. Don’t discuss any issue for longer than 20 minutes at a time, unless it is going exceptionally well. Then you can extend it to 40 minutes. Chances are, you are discussing a perpetual issue, so those never actually get resolved anyway.

      3) “Accept” her exaggerated claims against you as her reality, and respond empathetically to them. For example, if she says, “You intentionally forget to get my almond milk when you went shopping! I can’t believe how selfish you are!” you can respond by saying, “Wow. it sounds like you are involved with a jerk who intentionally messes with you. That sucks.” In doing this, you are accepting her version of events without defensiveness. It isn’t YOUR version, and she’s mind-reading what you MEANT to do, but that’s a conversation for another time. She may continue a bit more trying to bait you into fighting, but simply refuse. That’s what she believes. There can be two versions of reality. You have a different one.

      You get sucked into HER gaslighting YOU when you try to argue with her that only one version of reality exists, or that her version of events is wrong and yours is right. You don’t have to struggle about who’s historical recollection of events is “true.” What you have to do is to figure out how to problem-solve to prevent the problematic behavior from continuing.

      So, for example, using the example of the almond milk, discuss how to go about remembering to buy things when you go shopping, rather than whether or not you intentionally forget or to accept her characterization of your personality defects. After the fight, you can and should ask that you both agree not to use insults like “selfish” or even “BPD traits” unless you are her therapist, which I assume you are not. Stick with the behavior and what needs to change.

      BPD is primarily a disorder of emotion dysregulation. Flooding will likely happen quickly and what she “feels” becomes more important than what actually happened. Stop arguing “facts” in her arguments and try and follow the emotions that are underneath them. Again, with that example, she believes you aren’t keeping her needs in mind and she feels ignored or invalidated. The feelings are her feelings. She is entitled to her feelings. She isn’t entitled to push her feelings onto you or claim her version of reality is the “only” version of reality. Work on future-planning, instead. -Dr. K

  2. Dr K,
    You are spot on with my situation. What rings true is her never accepting responsibility hence never an apology. Everything I bring up is turned around to be my fault. I've studied up online and through books on covert narcissism and it is her to a T and is like an autobiography of my life these past 10 years. We are scheduling counseling here locally with an initial intro meeting on Monday. I am not looking forward to it (yet I am as it is the only path forward for us in my mind), primarily because she is a psychologist (PhD). The therapist is not aware of this yet, but will be before we proceed if we proceed.

    1. I hope you did take time to read Robin Stern’s book on gaslighting. She outlines ways the person in your spot can establish limits and “test out” the partner’s capacity to change. Best of luck! -Dr. K

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