14 phrases professional gaslighters love to use, according to psychology

Gaslighting can lead you to feel seriously depressed, isolated, and anxious.

It’s a malicious strategy people use both consciously and unconsciously to shift blame from themselves to other people.

But how can you know if you’re being gaslighted?

Okay, so this is tricky territory.

Gaslighters use certain phrases to subtly manipulate you and shake your confidence. It’s tough because any of the phrases I’ve outlined below can also be totally innocent and harmless.

That is, just because someone uses these phrases, it doesn’t mean they’re gaslighting you by default. 

If you’re being gaslighted, there should also be other signs, including 

  • The person blatantly lies to you
  • They never take any blame and you always feel guilty
  • They change the subject swiftly when put in the spotlight
  • You find yourself constantly apologizing

If you’re experiencing all of these issues and you notice the person often says the phrases below, you might want to evaluate what’s happening in the relationship. 

They might be gaslighting you.

Let’s take a look at some phrases gaslighters use to shift blame and put you on the back foot.

1) “You’re overreacting”

Imagine you’re upset because your partner forgot something really important.

When you express your disappointment, they retort with something like, “You’re overreacting.” 

So not only have they hurt you by neglecting something that matters to you, but they’ve also undermined your feelings about it and made you out to be a drama queen.

Well, thanks very much…

Telling someone straight off the bat that they’re overreacting is a good way to make them self-conscious about having emotional reactions.

But reacting emotionally to things that bother you is HUMAN.

What’s worse?

When you call them out for putting your emotions in a cage, they might just deny it altogether.

2) “I never said that”

This tactic of denial is a favorite among gaslighters. It confuses you and makes you doubt your memory.

If you’re a normal person, you will doubt yourself. 

Maybe I just imagined it. 

Maybe I misinterpreted what was said. 

Maybe not. 

Over time, you might find yourself increasingly dependent on their version of reality, as your trust in your own recollections starts to erode.

The result?

You’re confused and they have you wrapped around their finger. 

This is a seriously dangerous place to be. Once you’re here, they can essentially deny your reality.

Research shows that the doubt sowed by gaslighting leads to a loss of personal autonomy, and phrases like this are the culprits etching away at it.

Whenever they’re up to something malicious, they can easily make you feel like you’re crazy — imagining things.

3) “You’re imagining things”

If you confront a gaslighter about a sketchy incident you witnessed, they might dismiss your concerns with, “You’re imagining things.”

This attack on your perception of reality serves to dismiss any evidence of their wrongdoing. 

It makes you hesitant to trust your own senses.

It’s a way for them to subvert your perspective — psychologists recognize this as a cornerstone of gaslighting.

4) “You’re too sensitive”

Being accused of being “too sensitive” has long been on the list of phrases psychologists say are routinely used for gaslighting. 

Let’s say you feel hurt by a sarcastic remark someone makes. 

If they respond with, “You’re too sensitive,” they’re not only invalidating your hurt feelings but they’re also suggesting something is inherently wrong with you for feeling upset.

Not exactly empathetic, is it?

Instead of reacting to your hurt by apologizing, they double down and hurt you more.

This can cause you to question your own emotional reactions and tolerate inappropriate behavior without objection.

5) “You’re being paranoid”

Now this is a particularly dangerous one.

This is because by telling someone they’re being paranoid, you can actually make them paranoid. 

And paranoia can develop into a serious psychiatric condition. 

If you express concerns about someone’s behavior and they tell you, “You’re being paranoid,” it discredits your doubts as irrational fears.  

But let’s face it — some fears are rational. 

While it’s a good idea to always evaluate things objectively if someone tells you you’re being paranoid, it might not always be you who needs the help!

6) “You need help”

Saying you need psychological help as a way to criticize your normal reactions to bad behavior is a harmful type of gaslighting

It wrongly labels these reactions as signs of mental instability. This only makes seeking mental health support seem negative.

It also turns the attention away from the wrongdoer’s actions and onto your supposed instability.

This is a tricky one — sometimes people really do need help.

You don’t want to misinterpret someone’s genuine care as gaslighting and refuse help if you need it. 

For this reason, it’s important to not simply take these phrases as gospel. 

You need to evaluate the whole picture carefully.

7) “Why can’t you take a joke?”

clever comebacks to put a gaslighter in their place 14 phrases professional gaslighters love to use, according to psychology

Imagine expressing discomfort at an offensive joke, only to hear, “Why can’t you take a joke?”

This phrase lets them avoid responsibility for hurtful comments and blame you for not being able to appreciate their sense of ‘humor.’

Let’s face it, if someone’s upset with something you said, this is never going to be considered a kind way to respond.

8) “No one else thinks that way”

This isolates you by making you feel like your thoughts or feelings are completely out of step with everyone else’s. 

Like wow…

How is that supposed to make you feel? 

  • Crazy
  • Isolated 
  • Abnormal

Even if nobody else does think that way, you do. 

And that should be valid enough.

9) “You always make things up”

When you recount an incident and someone responds with, “You always make things up,” they’re not just dismissing that particular instance. They’re labeling you as inherently dishonest.

If you know you’re telling the truth, this can really hurt. It’s literally playground tactics.

So, unless the person gaslighting you is seven years old, it’s not something you should just roll over and accept. The truth prevails over everything.

But still, this type of accusation chips away at your self-trust. It can lead you to question your own memories.

For instance, if you remember a conversation where promises were made, and the other person denies it ever happened, you might start to question your memory of other events, too.

10) “Everyone agrees with me”

“Everyone agrees with me.”

Great.

Like seriously. How are you supposed to respond to that? 

This creates a false sense of consensus that isolates you and makes you feel as though your viewpoint is incorrect but also unpopular.

Plus, having nobody agree with you doesn’t always mean you’re wrong. 

We’ve seen from history that the majority can be wrong sometimes.

11) “Stop being so emotional”

Let’s say you’re upset about something and want to express your feelings, only to be told, “Stop being so emotional.”

Laying your heart out on the table can take courage. So it can be really damaging to just be shut down as soon as you do. 

It’s true.

It’s better to be level-headed as often as you can.

But telling an emotional person to stop being emotional is like telling the wind to stop blowing. 

Futile.

12) “You’re just trying to start trouble”

When someone tells you, “You’re just trying to start trouble,” it can be especially frustrating if you’re genuinely trying to address and resolve real issues.

This accusation often comes when you bring up concerns that need attention — perhaps at work or in personal relationships. 

Instead of being seen as someone who constructively tries to find solutions or improve situations, you’re unfairly labeled as a troublemaker.

Bad form.

13) “You don’t know what you’re talking about”

When someone hits you with a “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” it’s pretty rough, especially if you know you’re well-versed in the topic at hand.

This dismissive phrase really stings if you’re bringing expertise or valuable experience into the conversation. 

It’s essentially telling you that your input isn’t worth considering. 

Over time, if you hear this enough, it can chip away at your confidence.

14) “If you really loved me you would….”

I can still feel the dagger in my chest from the last time I heard this one…

The phrase “If you really loved me, you would…” can be used to push you into doing something you’re uncomfortable with.

It’s a form of manipulation that ties your actions directly to how much you care about them. 

This makes you feel guilty for even considering saying no.

Imagine this scenario: your partner wants to move to a new city for a job opportunity, and they say, “If you really loved me, you would move with me.”

This puts you in a tough spot and unfairly questions your love based on your willingness to uproot your life.

Would they do the same for you? 

Knowing the difference

I just want to reiterate that hearing these phrases doesn’t always mean someone’s gaslighting you. 

It would be a mistake to pounce on people and question their intentions just because you hear a few of these phrases from time to time. 

The truth is, we’re all probably guilty of blurting them out now and then. 

Who’s perfect? 

However, if you often hear these phrases and feel you’re being gaslighted for other reasons, it might be worth evaluating the situation carefully to see what’s going on.

Nobody should have to put up with someone assassinating their character. 

Picture of Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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