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What is a gaslight apology?

A gaslight apology is when someone gives an apology that distorts the truth and makes the victim question their own reality. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a man tries to make his wife believe she is losing her mind. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse. A gaslight apology contains false statements intended to confuse the victim and avoid taking real responsibility.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a method of manipulation where the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in the victim. Gaslighting tactics include:

  • Denying what happened
  • Minimizing the abuse
  • Shifting blame onto the victim
  • Suggesting the victim is mentally ill or unstable
  • Using positive reinforcement to confuse the victim

The goal is to destabilize the victim’s perception of reality and make them question their own judgment and sanity. This gives the gaslighter power over the victim.

Examples of gaslighting

  • “I never said that, you must have dreamt it.”
  • “You’re too sensitive, I was only joking.”
  • “I didn’t cheat, you’re just paranoid and jealous.”
  • “You have such a bad memory, that’s not how it happened.”
  • “I was late because of traffic, not because I was with someone else.”

These statements all deflect responsibility and imply something is wrong with the victim, not the abuser. The victim starts to distrust their own recollections and perception of events.

What is a gaslight apology?

A gaslight apology is when an abuser gives an “apology” that contains gaslighting tactics. For example:

  • “I’m sorry if I ever made you feel that way.” (Suggests it’s the victim’s fault for feeling upset.)
  • “I don’t remember doing that, you must be mistaken.” (Outright denial.)
  • “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt.” (Minimizing the abuse as just “hurt feelings”.)
  • “I apologize for whatever I did that you misinterpreted.” (Implying the offense is the victim’s misinterpretation, not the abuser’s actions.)

These “apologies” don’t take any real responsibility. The abuser is attempting to manipulate the victim into doubting their own experience of events. This further destabilizes the victim’s sense of reality, allowing the abuse to continue.

Why do gaslighters give these false apologies?

Gaslighters use these fake apologies to:

  • Avoid taking responsibility for their actions
  • Project blame onto the victim
  • Maintain control over the victim
  • Create confusion to facilitate further gaslighting

By giving an apology that subtly blames the victim, the gaslighter avoids admitting fault or taking responsibility for changing their behavior. The victim is left feeling uneasy and unsure if the problem is their own distortion or the abuser’s actions.

Examples of gaslight apologies

Let’s look at some specific examples of gaslight apologies:

“I’m sorry if I yelled.”

This takes no ownership – “if” suggests the abuser may not have yelled at all. It puts the burden on the victim to prove the yelling occurred.

“I’m sorry if I ever made you feel bad about yourself.”

Similarly, this avoids responsibility by questioning whether the victim’s feelings are even valid. It implies the victim is overly sensitive or irrational.

“You know I’d never hurt you on purpose.”

This frames abuse as unintentional and out of the abuser’s control. But whether intentional or not, abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser.

“I don’t remember doing that, you must have misunderstood.”

This is perhaps the most insidious type of gaslight apology. The abuser outright denies recollection of the incident, implying the victim is confused or delusional. This directly attacks the victim’s perception of reality.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

Here the abuser minimizes the severity of the abuse and places blame on the victim for “misinterpreting” the actions. This discourages the victim from speaking up about future mistreatment.

The stages of a gaslight apology

Gaslight apologies often follow a similar pattern or stages:

Stage 1: Fake remorse

The abuser professes regret and sorrow without actually accepting responsibility. For example:

“I’m so sorry you feel this way.”

“I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

Stage 2: Playing the victim

The abuser portrays themselves as the real injured party. For example:

“I hate when you make me feel like the bad guy.”

“I’ve apologized so many times but nothing is ever good enough for you.”

Stage 3: Rewriting history

The abuser outright lies or twists the narrative of what happened. For example:

“You’re exaggerating, it wasn’t that bad.”

“You’re remembering it wrong, it happened differently.”

“I’d never do something like that.”

Stage 4: Vilifying the victim

The abuser paints the victim as unstable, irrational, or malicious. For example:

“You’re crazy, that didn’t happen.”

“You just want to make me look bad.”

“You really need therapy to work through your issues.”

This stage completes the gaslighting by thoroughly discrediting the victim’s perspective and experiences.

How to respond to a gaslight apology

It can be very confusing when an abuser gives a gaslight apology. Here are some tips on how to respond:

  • Trust your gut. If an apology rings false, it likely is.
  • Request specific accountability and changed behavior, not just an apology.
  • Avoid engaging in arguments about what did or did not happen.
  • Assert what you need – respect, safety, honesty – in clear terms.
  • Consider ending the relationship if the gaslighting continues.
  • Confide in someone you trust about the situation.
  • Seek counseling support if you are being emotionally abused.

Remember, your perception of what happened is valid. You have a right to be treated with respect. No matter what the abuser says, you do not deserve abuse.

Healing from gaslighting

If you have been the victim of gaslighting emotional abuse, here are some tips to help you heal:

  • Get support – Tell friends, family, counselors, and domestic violence advocates. You need allies to rebuild trust in yourself.
  • Make a record – Document incidents and keep emails, texts, photos. Hard evidence counters gaslighting distortions.
  • Affirm your reality – Write down your experiences, repeat them to yourself and trusted others. This will counter self-doubt.
  • Limit contact – Interactions with your abuser prolong confusion and pain. Take space for clarity.
  • Be gentle with yourself – Recovery takes time. Let go of self-blame or shame.
  • Get professional help – Seek counseling to process the trauma and regain your sense of self.

Healing your sense of reality after abuse takes time and support. But know millions recover and go on to rebuild healthy, happy lives.


Gaslighting apologies allow abusers to continue their manipulative behavior while dodging true accountability. Recognizing these false apologies for what they are can help victims regain their footing. While painful, escaping an emotionally abusive relationship is absolutely worth the hard work of healing. There are so many full and loving relationships waiting, with a partner truly worthy of your trust.