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What Are Phrases We Can Use to Identify Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a term that’s become increasingly well-known over the past couple of years. Individuals in positions of power, whether that be politicians or celebrities, are becoming examples of ways to identify and define gaslighting. I’ve found many of my clients have been able to spot gaslighting within their own lives after reading articles about significant figures in society demonstrating these characteristics. In a previous blog titled “Gaslighting: What it is and how to tell if it’s happening to you” gaslighting was defined as “a form of psychological manipulation where the gaslighter plants seeds of doubt in someone’s mind, leaving him/her confused about what’s reality and what isn’t, in order to best serve him/herself.” The blog referenced discussed ways to recognize if you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship that consists of gaslighting. I highlighted 7 ways abusers manipulate situations to make the victim feel they caused the abuse, and it is their fault. This blog takes the identifying information a step further, naming 7 phrases used by abusers to confuse and control others.

“Wipe the slate clean.”

This phrase can be a highly effective way of pretending past events never happened. It allows the abuser to come off as kindhearted, willing to forget any mistakes that happened in the past that, according to them, the victim might have made. It also allows events of the past to be diminished as insignificant enough to simply forget about. This phrase puts the victim in the position to either come off as petty/holding a grudge or to accept the abuser’s offer of moving forward. With this phrase, the abuser puts themselves in a position to “look good” while absolving themselves of any wrongdoing. 

“It’s all water under the bridge.” 

This phrase, similar to the phrase above, says everything that has happened in the past is ancient history and should be left there. What’s done is done and now we move on regardless of what had actually happened. Again, this puts the victim in the position of accepting the abuser’s “kind” gesture of leaving things in the past in order to move forward without taking any responsibility.

“I really don’t know what I’ve done.”

This phrase forces the victim to inform the abuser what they’ve done that was hurtful. Typically, the abuser will pretend to not remember or know what the victim is talking about putting the responsibility on the victim to explain and highlight why what was done was wrong. This shifts the power dynamic allowing the abuser to play the role of innocent victim, feigning ignorance about their involvement.

“I won’t stand for lies/dishonesty/a lack of professionalism.”

This phrase is very interesting to me. Typically, this is not a statement most individuals find necessary to make or inform others of, it’s simply known/expected. However, gaslighters, frequently utilize this phrase while engaging in highly contradictory behavior.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

This phrase, again, allows the abuser to take on the role of innocent victim, pretending they have absolutely no idea why it is that the victim is upset with them. In one phrase it invalidates and dismisses what the victim is feeling. The abuser is basically saying, how can I accept responsibility for something when I have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. This phrase causes the victim to question themselves and whether or not they’re over-reacting or being over-dramatic.

“Don’t take it so personally.”

This phrase puts the responsibility on the victim for their reaction to what happened. It takes the responsibility of the perpetrator of the event and instead puts it on the victim for how they’re responding. Like the above phrase this causes the victim to second guess themselves and their reaction which can lead to them not trusting themselves or their own perception of events. In this phrase the gaslighter immediately invalidates the victim’s experience.

“Nobody else feels that way.”

Whether true or not, gaslighters typically reference other people’s feelings to, yet again, invalidate the feelings of the victim. By saying other people feel differently than the victim, it continues the pattern of the victim second-guessing their own experiences. This mind game is very effective and very dangerous.

The first step to removing ourselves from an unhealthy relationship dynamic is identifying what is truly happening within our relationships. The consistent manipulation can cause victims to doubt their own experiences and perceptions of reality. It is my hope, through this blog and my previous blog on gaslighting, individuals can begin to identify clear signs of gaslighting within their own relationships.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to identify if you’re in a situation where you’re experiencing gaslighting, it may be useful to try counseling in Chicago. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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