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October 9, 2023

Plausible Deniability is a harmful tactic used by abusers.

It can be called gaslighting. It can be called minimizing. It can be called manipulation.

All these phrases can capture what is called “Plausible Deniability.”

Recognize the dog whistle?

It can show up, sounding something like this…

“I was just kidding.”

“Can’t you take a joke?”

“You’re overreacting.”

“You’re too sensitive.”

“No one else has an issue with this.”

So, why? Why do they do this?

Some possible explanations?

They’re entitled.

Here’s a truth, brutal in nature: they think they’re entitled to treat us this way.

It can be uniquely specific to us as individuals; it can be on the macro scale of people at large. It can be both at the same time.

The common thread is that, often, those who employ tactics and phrases like these genuinely believe they have some God-given, inherent right to do so. They can be fully conscious of this mindset. It can also be something they don’t think about. It’s simply automatic.

But the results are still damaging to the recipients of the mentality.

Ever heard these phrases?

“I was just kidding.”

The assumption promoted is that bullying behavior is a joke everyone wants to participate in. It’s light-hearted fun. It’s amusing. It’s harmless.

To us, however, it’s rarely the case. We feel attacked, in danger, belittled, and disrespected.

But the bully wants to treat us however they want to treat us; again, they feel entitled to do so. So, this phrase is often trotted out to make their hostile point, via cruel behavior.

But, if they say it’s not cruel, that all is hunky dory, then all is well.

Our job, in this instance, is to be the good-natured person who “takes it.” And that can often bleed into the next, adjunct phrase they also use …

“Can’t you take a joke?”

Here’s some pressurizing victim blaming where we are concerned.

Again, the emphasis is upon us accepting and cooperating with “our role,” a role, seemingly “everyone else” is onboard with. We’re supposed to hold up our end of the deal. Take it. Take the joke, no matter how mean-spirited and abusive it is.

The unjust thing it this: we’re to be completely and enthusiastically responsible for the bully, and for those people who support them, while simultaneously agreeing that the bully and those individuals backing them are thoroughly absolved from personal responsibility for those harmful behaviors.

It is injustice; it is unfair. We’re not imagining it.

But we can often be goaded into believing our thoughts and responses are just a faulty imagination.

This can set the stage for additional statements like…

“You’re overreacting.”

“You’re too sensitive.”

Often repeated to discredit our pushback to bullying, these two statements call our perspective into question, taking the heat off their cruelty.

Just look over here, not over there.

There is something wrong with us. We have the wrong reaction. We don’t have the tough skin “everyone else” naturally has and happily walks around in.

We are the problem, not them.

And that gets amplified when we hear something like this uttered from our bully’s mouth…

“No one else has an issue with this.”

It’s mobbing through supposed consensus. The group think of an agreed upon opinion, asserting we are to be mistreated and accept that as irrefutable truth.

The lie promotes that we are the only holdout, the person in the wrong, while “everyone else” is okay with what’s going on. It hides behind the opting out kind of stance. It thrives when someone doesn’t want to be bothered by fighting for what’s right.

It reduces and generalizes the behavior to an odd man out versus collective opinion amongst the enabling masses.

“We’re okay with this acceptable behavior. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?”

Plausible deniability makes it happen.

An attitude of entitlement allows for a toxic person to operate utilizing these kinds of harmful statements… and then walk away from them without any negative consequences.

Plausible deniability can create and support an environment in which one person’s harmful reality can dictate any other person’s experience.


“We’re okay with this acceptable behavior. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?”

Plausible deniability puts the onus and the pressure on us, not them. It’s designed that way.

So, that’s one possible reason plausible deniability thrives, and is so enthusiastically used against us by abusers.

Next possible explanation?

They’re cowards.

Cowardice is the driving mentality amongst abusers. They aren’t direct and honest. They aren’t interested in what is fair, let alone operating in a moral code of conduct. They don’t want to show their cards. They don’t want to lose their advantage. Honesty, in glaring form, would expose their agendas.

Like most bullies, they are cowards. It’s easier for them that way.

And, again, it’s reflected in the phrases they choose to use, getting what they want…

“I was just kidding.”

“Can’t you take a joke?”

“You’re overreacting.”

“You’re too sensitive.”

“No one else has an issue with this.”

Plausible deniability makes it happen.

Cowardice plays an essential role in plausible deniability.

They want to get away with it. These statements show that motivation…

“I was just kidding.”

“Can’t you take a joke?”

“You’re overreacting.”

“You’re too sensitive.”

“No one else has an issue with this.”

What do these statements have in common?

There’s an emphasis on them being the harmless, innocent party. They are the good-natured, nice person who’s “just being playful.”

It’s “all in good fun.”


If they can get us to believe we’re the problem, then they can get their needs met, at our expense, while, somehow, not looking like the “bad guy.”

“Don’t look at me. Look at you. I’m innocent.

Feigning innocence is a hallmark of plausible deniability.

Plausible deniability is manipulation, not the truth.

It’s not something to minimize or underestimate. Plausible deniability is a harmful tactic. It’s not healthy or safe communication. It’s not love. It’s not friendship. It’s not connection. It is manipulation. It’s about skewing reality and truth to their advantage, with little regard to its harm on other people.

Plausible deniability is selfish. Sometimes, it’s even sociopathic.

No matter what, it’s not truth. It’s not reality.

It’s their manipulated version of their reality. They want to impose it upon us.

Let’s not allow that to happen. Be aware.

Knowledge is a first step of power against it.

Copyright © 2023 by Sheryle Cruse


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