Gaslighting is a communication technique in which someone causes you to question your own version of past events. Most times, it’s meant to make you feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. In its milder forms, gaslighting creates an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. But at its worst, gaslighting can actually be a form of mind-control and psychological abuse.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are five distinct gaslighting techniques:
- Withholding: The abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
- Countering: The abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
- Blocking/Diverting: The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
- Trivializing: The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
- Forgetting/Denial: The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
Though gaslighting can occur in any kind of relationship (parent/child, boss/employee, etc.), we’re focusing here on gaslighting in romantic relationships. If you suspect your partner is gaslighting you, it’s important to be aware of common tactics and words used by gaslighters, which is why we tapped Dr. Amelia Kelley, a trauma-informed therapist who’s also the co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship, for six common gaslighting phrases to look out for.