‘You’re acting crazy’ and 7 other phrases gaslighters may say (and how you can respond).

After five years of marriage, Catherine* began to feel like she was going crazy. Her husband, Joe, would often come home two or three hours late from his job as an electrician. 

“It started happening all the time without any reason and when I asked him why, he immediately replied that I was paranoid and dramatic. It wasn’t until after I began catching him lying that I felt I was not going crazy,” she recalls.

“Once he needed to go and install lighting at a friend’s home, but when I asked about that a week or two later, he would say another name. When I’d question him, he would get defensive and say I obviously didn’t listen. A few months later, I discovered he was having an affair. Ironically, even though I was beginning to see the truth, I still questioned myself."

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Catherine’s story is not uncommon. Common tactics used by gaslighters include lying, denying their actions, shifting blame, and even presenting evidence that contradicts the victim's reality.

Gaslighting refers to the systematic manipulation and psychological control exerted by one person over another. It involves subtly distorting someone's perception of reality, making them doubt their own experiences, memories, and even sanity. This insidious form of emotional abuse can have severe consequences on the victim's mental and emotional wellbeing.

It often begins subtly, with the gaslighter planting seeds of doubt and questioning the victim's reality. Over time, the gaslighter gains power and control by invalidating the victim's thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Constantly questioning one's own reality can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and a diminished sense of self-worth. 


Victims may become increasingly dependent on the gaslighter for validation and lose confidence in their decision-making abilities. Over time, the victim may isolate themselves socially and suffer from depression, as their sense of reality becomes distorted. 

The gaslighter will often support this isolation and covertly criticise friends in an attempt to continue to undermine the victim’s position.

Recognising gaslighting is crucial to breaking free from its harmful effects. Some warning signs include feeling confused, constantly apologising, having difficulty making decisions, and feeling like you're going 'crazy'.

Here are some common phrases a gaslighter may use on you and how you can respond: 

1. ‘It’s all your fault’.

A gaslighter may try to accuse you of harmful actions even if there’s clear evidence that they’re engaging in similar behaviours. They will try to deflect everything onto you, blame you and have you question everything you do. The gaslighter will take no responsibility for the misunderstanding or the conflict; they are ‘not guilty’ on all counts and it is you who is wrong. 

"If you would only… have dinner ready at 6pm/not expect me home for dinner/speak up about a bill to be paid, etc, then we wouldn’t have these conflicts." 

You can’t win – either way, it will be your fault.

How to respond:

  • “I hear you think everything is my fault, but I’m only responsible for half the issues or conflicts. The other half belongs to you. I’m not taking responsibility for your half – that’s yours.”
  • “I’m sure that I contribute to our relationship struggles in some ways, but we both do. We both have to be willing to change if we want to make this better.”
  • “I’m willing to take responsibility for my role in this, but I’m not taking responsibility for yours.”
  • “I will take 100 per cent responsibility for my part in this, will you take 100 per cent of yours?”

2. ‘You’re being/acting crazy.’

Throughout the constant questioning and undermining, gaslighters will try to manipulate you into questioning your sanity. This is crazy-making! They will endeavour to do this by making direct comments that have you questioning your perspective or reality. 

How to respond:

  • “This is my reality, please don’t question it.” 
  • “You can argue with my opinion, but not question my experience. That’s mine and that is my reality.”

3. ‘You’re overreacting/being dramatic.’

This is commonly said when you show any distressing emotion. They can’t feel their own guilt so will deflect onto you often accusing you of overreacting or being a ‘drama queen’. This criticism puts them in a ‘better than’ position, so they can belittle your feelings and disregard what you are saying.


How to respond:

  • “Whether or not you agree with me, this is how I feel right now. Do not dismiss my feelings.”
  • “I would appreciate it if you didn’t judge my feelings and belittle me. They are my feelings and not up for debate.”

4. ‘Lighten up, it was just a joke.'

Gaslighters often downplay their mean-spirited comments or criticism. They use humour to dismiss the seriousness of the situation they find themselves in. They will often accuse you of being overly sensitive when you’re just trying to clarify what is actually happening.

How to respond:

  • “Please don’t make light of this, I’m being serious. That comment might have been funny to you, but it hurt my feelings.”
  • “It didn’t seem to me like you were joking and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk to me that way.”

Watch: Mia Freedman explains gaslighting. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

5. ‘You made me do it.’

When something doesn’t go as they had planned, gaslighters will often try to avoid taking responsibility by shifting any criticism and blame onto you. We might hear from them: “If you didn’t… then I wouldn’t have to…”

How to respond:

  • “I actually can’t make you do anything.”
  • “Your behaviour is a reflection of your choices, not mine.”

6. ‘If you loved me, you’d let me do [whatever it is they want to do].’

This brings to mind the saying, 'The only people who object to you setting boundaries are those who benefited from you having none!' When you attempt to establish boundaries with a gaslighter, they may perceive it as an affront and manipulate the situation to make you feel guilty by suggesting that you lack concern or care for their wellbeing.

How to respond:

  • “I have boundaries and these are a reflection of my values and how I choose to live my life.”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable doing this. Please respect my boundaries.”
  • “I need to be respected in this relationship and I don’t when you ignore my boundaries.”

7. ‘That’s not the issue. The real problem is….’

When confronted, gaslighters frequently employ tactics to divert attention from themselves and the issue at hand. Their aim is to shift the focus onto someone or something else in an attempt to highlight perceived flaws or problems elsewhere.


How to respond:

  • “Please don’t change the subject.”
  • “It seems like you don’t want to acknowledge how you’re contributing to a problem that I see.”

8. ‘You’re difficult and everyone agrees with me.’

Gaslighters employ manipulative tactics by falsely aligning themselves with others, aiming to create a sense of dependency on them. Through this insidious behaviour, they gradually isolate you, making you believe that you require their presence and support. As a result, you will often feel others are talking about you. Their objective is to isolate you and create a belief that you are alone, unsupported and that nobody else will believe you or want to be with you. This can leave you distrusting of everyone close to you, family and friends. 

How to respond:

  • “Please express your own perspective rather than speaking on behalf of others.”
  • “I hear that you find me difficult. Can you say more, in a respectful way, about how you experience being in a relationship with me?”

Gaslighting is a pervasive and damaging form of psychological manipulation. By understanding its characteristics and effects, individuals can empower themselves to recognise and confront gaslighting behaviour. 

Remember, your experiences and feelings are valid, and nobody has the right to undermine your reality. Setting boundaries, maintaining a journal of incidents, and practising self-care are essential steps in regaining control and healing from the manipulation. Seek support to help you build resilience, and reclaim your power.

If you find yourself trapped in repetitive toxic relationships with gaslighters, it could be beneficial to seek support from a therapist. Exploring your early experiences and childhood trauma with a professional can provide insights into how these past events may be influencing your present circumstances.

*Name has been changed.

Diane Young is a psychotherapist at South Pacific Private, one of Australia’s leading treatment centres for trauma, addiction and mental health. If you think you or someone you know needs help, please call South Pacific Private on 1800 063 332.

Feature image: Canva. 

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