8 Things Gaslighters Say & How To Respond Without Losing Your Cool

While it would be nice to think that gaslighting is rare, the truth is that it’s more prevalent than you might think. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 43 million women will experience mental or emotional abuse by a romantic partner in their lifetimes.

Most of us are pretty tuned in these days to picking up on gaslighting, but responding to it doesn’t come as naturally. Other than calling the gaslighter out on his behavior right away — which you should definitely do, by the way — there are certain things you might hear over and over that require a more direct confrontation.

  1. “You’re crazy.” Ah, the old classic. Men love calling women crazy as a way to discredit us and deflect from any criticism about their own behavior. You’re not crazy, you’re perceptive, strong, and tired of his sh*t. You could either break up with him then and there (the best choice), or you can point out that demanding to be treated with respect and consideration doesn’t make you “crazy” — it means you have standards and boundaries.
  2. “It was just a joke.” Gaslighters love to say extremely insulting or offensive things and then play it off with the “just joshin'” excuse when you’re anything but amused. When someone says this to you, it’s important to point out that tearing someone else down isn’t “humor.” After all, how would he like it if you “joked” about the fact that he’s never once been able to get you off in bed? Oh sorry, is that not hilarious?
  3. “You’re too sensitive.” You’re only sensitive when you don’t take his rude and disrespectful behavior towards you in your stride. In a perfect world, gaslighters hope that they’ll be able to manipulate you into a place of subservience. The point is to destroy your self-worth little by little until they have complete control over you because you don’t think you deserve anything better. The best way to respond is by pointing out that human beings have feelings and that he’s not being considerate of yours. Chances are, he won’t care — which is why you shouldn’t care about leaving him in the dust.
  4. “You don’t know how to let things go.” Admittedly. holding a grudge isn’t a good thing — if you say you’ve forgiven someone, you have to be willing to let bygones be bygones. However, there are certain things that stay with you. If he’s cheated on you or betrayed you in a massive way, it’s no wonder that you’re a bit hung up on it. This is especially the case if the betrayal was relatively recently. Let him know you can let things go when his behavior changes. Until then, you’ll be calling him out.
  5. “You’re overthinking — it’s not that deep.” Gaslighters love to convince you that everything they say and do is totally innocent and that reading into it is a you problem. After all, they didn’t mean anything by it. You clearly have issues if you think it means something. Except no, dudes. When someone accuses you of overthinking (and you’re sure that you’re not), it might be worth pointing out that he could do with some more thinking himself before speaks and acts.
  6. “Why are you always trying to pick a fight?” This often accompanies the crazy accusation — you’re being aggressive and confrontational by calling him out for doing or saying something inappropriate. This is another mode of deflection that gaslighters use to try and make you question your own sanity. They hope you’ll eventually feel guilty for bringing things up when all they want to do is keep the peace. The best response here is that you’d have nothing to fight about if he treated you better.
  7. “What about when you ____?” Let’s not focus on what they’ve done wrong — they want to point out something completely unrelated and usually nowhere near as serious that you did to them. This is clearly a power grab to get the upper hand back and make you feel like you don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to being angry, upset, etc. Respond by pointing out that the conversation isn’t about something you apparently did — he had his chance to bring that up at the time. This is about him, end of story.
  8. “You’re being too needy.” Having needs doesn’t make you needy. Wanting a partner who reassures you, makes you feel loved and wanted, and puts effort into the relationship isn’t a big ask — those things are literally the bare minimum. You should probably point out that if he’s looking for someone who has zero needs, he should probably be alone for the rest of his life. Things are certainly headed that way because you’re certainly not sticking around!
Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill