14 phrases manipulators use to undermine their partner in a relationship

by Kathy Copeland Padden | March 20, 2024, 6:19 pm

“You’re blowing this all way out of proportion.”

“You’re nuts.”

“That’s not what happened.”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? If you constantly second-guess yourself or apologize for transgressions you can’t recall committing, you’ve probably fallen victim to a manipulator’s gaslighting.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 film adaptation of the 1938 play Gaslight. After her manipulative husband starts gradually dimming the gas lamps and making other covert changes to their living environment, his wife starts to doubt her sanity. 

When she confronts her husband, he dismisses her as forgetful and accuses her of imagining things and behaving strangely. 

Clearly, this manipulative tactic is intended as an attack on the wife’s mental stability. 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) gaslighting is emotional abuse, where someone is manipulated into “doubting his or her perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.”

Manipulators and narcissistic partners use this exploitation tactic to control and confuse their partner so they’ll do their bidding inside and outside of the relationship. 

Gaslighters accuse their victims of misunderstanding a situation or exaggerating its impact. They’ll even deny that an event ever occurred if it suits their purposes. 

This leaves the target questioning a past or present situation, as well as their own mental stability. They second-guess other people’s words or actions and whether their reaction is proportional to the event.

If you’ve ever had these phrases used against you by a partner, family member, boss, or friend, you’ve probably fallen prey to the wiles of a manipulator.

1)”You’re nuts”

This is the gaslighter go-to. They use this phrase to avoid responsibility or being held accountable for their actions. 

The victim grapples with self-doubt and questions the reality of the situation and their own judgment.

Once they’ve thrown you off balance, they can bring out the big guns, like how everyone else thinks you have a screw loose, too. 

2) ” … And So-and-So thinks you’re nuts, too”

A manipulative abuser uses isolation along with gaslighting to make you feel alone or powerless

Usually, gaslighters use blanket generalizations like, “Everyone thinks you’re a mental case” or “All your friends know you have serious issues.” 

This is the gaslighter’s invisible, and usually fictional, backup. They’ll use the non-existent opinion of non-existent people to prove that what you’re saying never happened at all. 

3) “That’s not what happened”

Gaslighters habitually tell their victims that certain events never occurred or that they happened differently than how they remember it. 

This is very traumatic for the manipulator’s target as it causes them to doubt their eyes and ears, leaving them concerned and confused.

It messes with your mind when you’re trying to express something that happened to you and someone keeps saying, ‘No, that didn’t happen.’

Then, in a stunning display of hubris, the abuser will get angry at you for objecting to their head games. 

4) “Don’t get yourself so worked up”

This is right up there with telling someone that they’re nuts or overreacting. In one fell swoop, this statement discredits a victim’s intelligence, feelings, and credibility.

An abuser thinks they have the right to tell you how you should feel and infer that perhaps you aren’t responding appropriately. 

You know, because you’re nuts. 

But they didn’t mean you were nuts. You’re deliberately misconstruing their words. They meant “nuts” in that awesome way.

5) “That’s not what I meant” 

Every gaslighter’s favorite cop-out. This statement enables a manipulator to avoid taking responsibility for the crummy stuff they say and blame it on the victim for being dense. 

Discrediting your opinion, credibility, or personal experiences are common gaslighting techniques. So is accusing you of outright lying.

6) “You’re making stuff up”

Your partner has done something wrong, and now it’s time for them to double down. Even though you caught them red-handed, they’ll insist that you are making up stories to make them look bad. 

For example, suppose the abuser is cozying up to someone outside of the relationship and you question them about it. In that case, they’ll accuse you of cooking things up or give you a million reasons why they need to talk to the person in question.

After all, they need someone in their lives with a sense of humor, because you just can’t take a joke. 

7) Why can’t you take a joke? 

Gaslighters love this fallback position and use it often to justify hateful comments. They also like to say hurtful things in a joking manner to normalize their manipulative behavior. 

Hearing this phrase causes you to second-guess your perceptions, and that’s exactly what the manipulator wants.

They’ll say something cruel to you, and then accuse you of being too sensitive when you object. 

8) “You’re way too sensitive”

If you try to express hurt or other negative emotions a gaslighter may find threatening, they’ll accuse you of being hypersensitive to invalidate your feelings.

This is when you need to stand your ground. Say something like, ‘I don’t feel like I’m being overly sensitive here. I’m just trying to express myself.’

Then the manipulator may change gears and whine that if you really loved them you wouldn’t speak so harshly to them.

9) “If you loved me, you’d (fill in the blank)”

In romantic partnerships, a gaslighter may use their better half’s love against them to excuse their own bad behavior. They may also unfairly accuse their partners of cheating or deliberately causing relationship problems. 

So they’ll say garbage like, “If you really cared about me, you’d be OK with me looking through your DMs.” 

This tactic is intended to break down your boundaries and undermine your sense of reality so you don’t trust your own instincts.

10) You have no clue about politics/money/how to train a puppy etc. and so on 

Manipulators often place the blame on their partner for any issues in a relationship in b attempt to take the heat off themselves. 

Your favorite gaslighter might say something like, “You have no idea how to handle money. All this debt is your fault.” When in fact, the manipulator is the one irresponsibly overspending.

If you confront them with the credit card bills, they’ll dismiss you, saying you’re just blowing everything out of proportion. 

11) You’re blowing this all out of proportion 

Terms like always and never are “red flags” of gaslighting. Manipulators accuse their victims of overreacting to minimize their feelings and make them wonder if their judgment or recollection of the situation is skewed.

Isolating you from your social circle makes you more likely to tolerate their absolutism.

12) “No wonder you don’t have any friends”

This statement is intended to diminish your self-worth and alienate you from your support system — so you’re more dependent on the gaslighter for everything.

Manipulators may also attack your loved ones or demand that you stay away from people who are important to you.

They’ll even use any children you share together as weapons against you.

13) “The kids think you’re a lousy parent” 

The purpose of this remark is to cause parental alienation which makes victims second-guess their parenting skills, diminishes their self-esteem, and leads them to believe that their children think ill of them. 

And what have we learned? Be very careful who you reproduce with. Very, very careful.

14) “No one would believe you, anyway”

Gaslighting needs an unequal playing field to be most effective. You might hear this type of comment from your boss or a spouse who has more social clout than you to make you feel powerless. 

They might say something like, ‘If you say anything about this, who is everyone going to believe, me or the crazy one?’

Charming, aren’t they? 

Everything is your fault. Everything.

Here’s the bottom line. If your partner criticizes everything you do and never gives you any credit, then they are manipulating you by gaslighting you. 

Don’t fall into their trap. You deserve better. 

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