Woman trying to shut down gaslighting partner
"Gaslighting" is more than the 2022 Merriam-Webster Word of the Year or a buzzy term on social media (and the street). It's a harmful behavioral pattern.
"Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic used to minimize, demean or disregard a person's thoughts and feelings," says Dr. Michele Leno, Ph.D., LP, a licensed psychologist of
DML Psychological Services, PLLC.
All the demeaning and minimizing can do a number on a person's mental health.
"Gaslighting leads to people feeling such a sense of uncertainty that they begin to question their reality, their memories, their experiences and their emotions," says Dr. Michele Goldman, Ph.D., a psychologist and Hope for Depression media advisor. "This does not occur overnight. True gaslighting is a subtle form of manipulation that occurs over a period of time—weeks, months and even years—and results in a person no longer having a strong sense of self."
Your best bet? Shut it down sooner rather than later. Short phrases can actually go a long way.
"Gaslighting is a significant threat to our sanity," says Dr. Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D., the founder of the Resilience Leadership Institute (RLI). "Recognizing and shutting down gaslighting not only removes a manipulative person from our lives, it ensures that our self-trust, self-confidence and self-belief in our experience, perceptions and reality remains intact."
Finding the words to respond to a person taking you for a mental ride into what feels like another dimension can be a challenge. Psychologists provided quick comebacks to shut down gaslighting.
What Is Gaslighting, Really?
The word is all the rage, but what does gaslighting mean? "Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person uses subtle tactics to plant seeds of doubt that lead to a person or group of people questioning their perceptions, experience and memory of events," Dr. Stejskal says.
Dr. Goldman says there are many tactics a gaslighter might take, but they often use one or a combination of the following strategies:
14 Genius Phrases To Shut Down Gaslighting, According to Psychologists
1. "We don't see things the same way. My reality is my reality, and your reality is your reality."
Step into your truth.
"This is ultimately one way of saying, 'Don’t question how I experience reality,' but in a non-confrontational and assertive way," Dr. Goldman says. "We know gaslighters might try to undermine your perspective or question your reality. This type of statement targets this head-on."
2. "I appreciate that that’s your reality."
This phrase is another one that (respectfully) addresses the reality-defying aspect of gaslighting without prompting a fight over what's truth.
"Rather than arguing over who is right, this phrase allows you to have your own reality, experience and truth that does not need to align with their perspective," Dr. Stejskal says. "You maintain your reality without a power struggle."
3. "I know that's not true."
This phrase is more to the point than the first two, which might be more your style.
"This direct statement lets the gaslighter know that they need to choose their words carefully because you are immune to their antics," Dr. Leno explains.
4. "I feel like you're minimizing my feelings."
Dr. Leno likes that this short sentence is straightforward.
"This lets the gaslighter know that their efforts to make you feel insecure are not working," Dr. Stejskal says.
5. "I trust my own instincts."
Gaslighters thrive on disempowering people through manipulation. In five words, you can let the person know they're messing with the wrong person.
"This phrase is powerful because it affirms your self-trust, confidence and reliance while being assertive, not aggressive," Dr. Stejskal says. "It sends the message that you won’t be tricked into believing something to be true that is not aligned with your perception."
Yup, that's it. Just one, two-letter word.
"Sometimes, we get to allow people to be wrong about us, to believe their own truth, and in doing so, rather than trying to convince someone of our perspective, value or truth, we maintain our own mental sanity by refusing to engage," Dr. Stejskal explains.
Importantly, Dr. Stejskal says that this phrase doesn't mean you agree with them. Instead, it simply sends the message that you won't fuss about it anymore. Even if they don't take the hint, the toxic conversation is over, and that's to your benefit.
7. “I will accept responsibility for my role in this. I would appreciate it if you would take responsibility for your own role in this."
The blame game is a favorite one for gaslighters.
"This phrase is useful to address the scapegoating type of gaslighting, in which you are being blamed or critiqued, and the attention is being directed away from the gaslighter," Dr. Goldman says.
Instead, you remind the person that this conflict is a two-way street requiring a two-person solution.
8. "Can you provide more specific details?"
The devil is in the details, so gaslighters often avoid them.
"People who engage in gaslighting often rely on broad brush strokes of the truth, half-truths and incomplete information to convince you of their perspective," Dr. Stejskal says. "Drilling down on context and details shifts the focus to hard facts rather than opinions and emotions. It requires them to support their perspective with more complete information."
9. "That’s interesting. I’d like time to think about that."
Speechless? Buy yourself some time.
"Taking time to reflect on what has been said, asked or shared allows you to formulate a thoughtful response and even determine if you want to engage in this discussion," Dr. Stejskal explains.
10. "Let's stop talking about it."
Ready to exit the chat? Say so.
"This tells the gaslighter that you refuse to engage in manipulative conversation," Dr. Leno says.
11. "I won’t accept blame when you won’t accept responsibility."
Cue the "ohhhs."
"This is particularly powerful when a gaslighter intends to play the victim role and focus on your reaction to their poor behavior rather than taking responsibility for how they treated you," Dr. Stejskal says.
12. "I will not engage in a conversation in which I don’t feel respected."
Gaslighters like it when people feel small—this phrase goes a long way in conveying self-respect and confidence.
"This phrase sends the message that you have boundaries," Dr. Stejskal says. "If your ground rules for engagement around respect are violated, such as the gaslighter interrupting you, you will decide to no longer engage in the discussion."
13. "Some truths are difficult to hear."
And this phrase might be challenging for a person gaslighting you to hear.
"This is another way to turn the tables on the gaslighter and highlight their inability to cope with the truth," Dr. Leno says.
14. "This is a boundary for me. I’ve told you this before, and I would appreciate it if you could respect my boundaries."
It would be great if one phrase or boundary could stop a gaslighter, but the behavior is chronic by nature. This phrase honors that (for you) and serves as a firm reminder (for them).
"This type of statement can be helpful when the gaslighter is pushing against a boundary in a harmful or unhealthy way," Dr. Goldman says. "This is not to say be rigid in every single boundary you set, but boundaries are very healthy and should be respected in relationships."
What Not To Say to a Gaslighter
"You're right, it's my fault."
Dr. Leno advises against even saying this phrase sarcastically.
"A gaslighter will take it seriously and use it against you for years to come," Dr. Leno explains. "Never take responsibility for a gaslighter's behavior just to keep the peace."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, avoid inflammatory statements that intentionally seek to set the person off.
"We do not want to be in a position where someone might escalate to violence or explosive behaviors," Dr. Goldman says. "Therefore, avoid statements such as, 'Just shut up, I really hate you when you’re like this.'"