By now you’ve probably seen All Too Well: The Short Film, written and directed by none other than Taylor Swift. If you haven’t, the nearly 15-minute short details the rise and fall of an intense and toxic relationship, with one of Swift’s most infamously heart-wrenching songs as its soundtrack.
While the film takes the viewers on an emotional journey of heartbreak, one scene stands out as a prime example of what toxic relationships can look like behind closed doors—and what we can learn from them.
Let’s recap that kitchen scene.
The kitchen scene comes in the portion of the film called, “The first crack in the glass.” The two characters, referred to only in the credits as “Her” and “Him,” attend a small party at which the man appears to dodge the young woman’s attempt to hold his hand.
Once they’re alone in the kitchen later on, he asks, “Why are you so pissed off?” She tells him she didn’t like how he acted around his friends and that she felt ignored by him. An argument erupts instantaneously.
She brings up the moment he dropped her hand when she tried to hold it, to which he says, “What are you talking about, I dropped your hand? You’re making this about you.” He continues: “I don’t even remember the moment that you’re talking about. How can you be attacking me about something I don’t even f-ing know?”
She tells him he’s making her feel “stupid.” He responds, “I don’t think I’m making you feel that way. I think you’re making yourself feel that way.”
He continues to defend himself while calling her actions “selfish” and “crazy” and saying she ruined the night, and she eventually shuts down. Noticing this, he finally apologizes—though with noticeable insincerity, saying, “I’m sorry I dropped your hand.“
Did you catch the red flag?
Many people have pointed to this scene as a prime example of gaslighting.
Just as a refresher, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that typically involves denying the reality of the person you’re attempting to control. According to therapist Aki Rosenberg, LMFT, the behavior is about self-preservation and “the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the ‘right’ and their partner in the ‘wrong.'”
As doctor of clinical psychology Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, tells mbg, we don’t have enough information to know if the man in the All Too Well film is deliberately gaslighting at first, but when he talks about how she ruined the night, “that’s the kicker,” she says.
“This is something that such personalities weaponize. They use ‘tiny’ moments and actions like not looking at someone or dropping their hand, knowing that hurts—and pretend they didn’t, to train their victim to gaslight themselves,” Neo explains. “She’s conditioned to not bring up anything.”
According to clinical therapist Alexis Sutton, it’s also common for partners who gaslight to flip the blame onto their partner, such as the man in this instance telling the woman it was her own fault she was feeling stupid and for ruining the night, all the while he was directly calling her behavior and feelings “crazy,” “insane,” and “bullshit.”
And if you’re wondering about that apology, that would be something called “cognitive empathy.” Even when a gaslighter apologizes, “you’ll notice a robotic quality to their expressions of empathy,” doctor of philosophy in mental health Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., writes at mbg. “Gaslighters are experts at using ‘cognitive empathy’—acting as if they have empathy without actually feeling it.”
The bottom line is, no one gets to decide if they actually hurt your feelings when you say they did. If you tell someone, “What you did really hurt me,” and they say, “I didn’t do that” or “You’re being dramatic” or “This is your fault,” they’re denying your reality—which is the hallmark of gaslighting.
Part of navigating a healthy relationship is taking accountability when you hurt your partner’s feelings, even when you didn’t mean to or when it wasn’t your intention. If someone can’t give you that, and they’re gaslighting you whenever you try to address an issue, it’s not a relationship worth staying in, and you should never (like, ever) get back together.