Have you ever heard of gaslighting? It’s a form of psychological manipulation that can be harmful to a relationship and a person’s mental health.
It can be challenging and confusing to deal with; sometimes, you wouldn’t even notice that someone is doing it to you not until you figure it out too late. So, how would you know if someone is gaslighting you?
According to experts, here are examples of gaslighting to help you identify and protect yourself from it.
Rachel Ann Dine, MA, LPC, LMHC
Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator | Psychological Commentator | Owner, Humanitas Counseling and Consulting
The perpetrator causes doubt and second-guessing in their victim
What is gaslighting? Who engages in gaslighting?
At its core, gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation. A sign of gaslighting in action is when the perpetrator of gaslighting tries to cause doubt and second-guessing in their victim.
The motivation for the perpetrator of gaslighting to engage in this form of emotional manipulation is to cause their victim to second-guess their reality.
Typically, the motivation for causing the second-guessing of reality is to fulfill the perpetrator of gaslighting’s own needs, even if their needs create harm and confusion in their victim.
It should be noted that while the term and concept of gaslighting are often applied to romantic relationships, gaslighting can occur in any abusive relational environment (friendships, family, religious, spiritual, workplace, etc.).
Where did gaslighting terminology come from?
The term gaslighting came to fruition in the 1940s after a psychological thriller named “Gaslight” was filmed.
In this movie, the gaslighting main character tries to convince his significant other that she is out of touch with reality by flickering on and off the gas lights in their home—which ultimately creates confusion in the victim.
It caused her to second-guess her reality as she was uncertain why the lights continued flicking on and off.
The concept of gaslighting became a part of modern vernacular as this technique is commonly used in abusive relationships.
What are examples of gaslighting?
There are multiple ways that different forms of gaslighting can present themselves by an abusive partner.
Belittling or minimizing a person’s experience
Telling the person that “It really wasn’t that bad,” or “You’re making too big of a deal out of this,” are forms of invalidation, minimization, and attempting to diminish the reality of the victim’s lived experience.
Denying the reality of what really occurred in an abusive dynamic
This example often plays out when there are episodes of verbal, emotional abuse, or physical abuse. The gaslighting perpetrator will flat-out deny that they engaged in any abusive behavior.
If the perpetrator can create confusion or cause their partner to second-guess themselves, they have effectively started the process of re-constructing their victim’s reality and gained even more control in the situation.
Shutting down or refusing to communicate without explaining why communication has ceased
This is also a form of stonewalling and can create confusion and self-blame in the victim of gaslighting.
If the person engaging in gaslighting is questioned about their silence, they may respond with something like:
- “I just don’t know what to say to you; you’re so paranoid.”
- “If I ever try to say anything to you, you just blow up at me.”
The victim of gaslighting then begins to emotionally beat themselves up or feel bad because they are constantly told that their partner doesn’t feel comfortable talking with them.
This form of gaslighting can play out in many different forms, but the example listed is a very common manipulation tactic used by narcissistic and emotionally abusive individuals.
Related: What Is Narcissistic Abuse?
Twisting and manipulating a situation’s truth to better fit the narrative that the gaslighter wants
Sometimes, this tactic of gaslighting can look like the perpetrator telling their victim:
- “That’s all in your head.”
- “You made that up.”
- “No one likes you.”
- “Everyone agrees with me.”
- “You’ve always exaggerated.”
The recipient of these gaslighting tactics can begin to second-guess their perception of events and their own truths and feel disempowered to even speak up for themselves.
This particular tactic of gaslighting is especially damaging in that it can encourage a victim of gaslighting to self-silence because they’ve been told for so long that:
- No one likes them
- They’ve always exaggerated
- They’re too sensitive
How to navigate a relationship where gaslighting is occurring
Being in a relationship or toxic environment where gaslighting occurs can have profoundly damaging effects on a person’s perception of reality, self-esteem, and trust in themselves.
It can cause a person to ignore their emotions and stay quiet about aspects of the relationship that bothers them because they want to avoid experiencing the wrath of the gaslighter.
Related: How to Respond to Gaslighting
It’s always of utmost importance for the victim of gaslighting to reach out for support. Whether it’s:
- Talking to close and very trusted friends/family members
- Calling the domestic violence hotline
- Starting individual therapy
Being able to have your experience validated is imperative in the healing process.
When seeking out a mental health provider, it’s essential to find someone with a specialization in abusive behaviors/relationships so that they can help you recognize the cycle of abuse that often occurs, learn what the specific gaslighting strategies are that your abusive partner is using, and create a safety plan should you decide to leave your relationship.
Rachel Davidson, MA, LPC-A
Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Malaty Therapy
The abuser desires to gain control of their partner
Gaslighting is a term that has become common not only amongst mental health professionals but also amongst society in general. The term originated from the film Gaslight, in which a husband tried to manipulate his wife by convincing her she was not mentally sound.
Today the term is often overused to include situations in which the truth is stretched or exaggerations are made for someone’s benefit. However, true gaslighting is an attempt by one person to convince another to believe their perception of reality is incorrect.
Gaslighting in abusive relationships
Gaslighting often occurs in abusive relationships, in which the abuser desires to gain control of their partner.
By misrepresenting the truth about what actually happened, an abusive partner can increase their partner’s sense of self-doubt and decrease their confidence in themselves and their experience.
An abuser may start with small, seemingly insignificant examples of their partner:
- Not remembering events correctly
- Misunderstanding a conversation
- Forgetting to do something they supposedly agreed to
Over time, as an abuser compiles a list of situations in which their partner misremembers, they begin to question whether they can live their lives effectively.
This gives the abuser the opportunity to assume control, as the partner in the relationship that doesn’t forget, misunderstand, or lack responsibility.
This phenomenon can rob a fully capable and intelligent individual of the confidence and self-worth they need to function as an independent individual, as they come to rely on their partner to make sure they don’t keep screwing things up.
What to look for: Examples of gaslighting in unhealthy relationships
- You have a night out with your partner and remember it one way, but the next day, your partner tells you that you embarrassed them. They tell you that you don’t remember what you really did, but it made them look bad, so you should feel guilty.
- You come home from work and find one of your belongings missing. Your partner tells you they sold it or gave it away, per your instructions. However, you know you never gave them permission.
- You notice your partner flirting with or texting one of your friends. When you confront them, they tell you you’re imagining it because you’re insecure.
- You wake up with a bruise. When you ask your partner about it, they tell you that you’re clumsy and fell.
- Your partner yells at you for leaving the door unlocked or for leaving the lights on, but you are sure you took care of it before leaving the house.
- You come home from work, and your partner is angry that you didn’t bring them dinner. They insist that they told you to go home with food, but you don’t remember this conversation.
- Your partner says they must do everything because they can’t count on you to remember things.
- Your partner tells you they had to miss work or a social event because they don’t think you could care for yourself without them.
If you feel conflicted between what you know, perceive, or remember and what your partner claims, it could be a sign that you are experiencing gaslighting.
It can be very confusing, especially when you are told these things by someone you trust. If you start to feel suspicious, it can be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional or even a trusted friend or family member who can help you gain perspective outside the relationship.
Executive Psychology Coach | Mental Health Expert
The abuser twists information around and denies things
You’re not crazy. Gaslighting is one of the most common tactics of emotional abuse and can also be one of the most damaging effects psychologically.
This is an abusive psychological tactic where the abuser presents false information to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and perceptions.
The goal is to try to make the victim feel “crazy.” Typically this is done by denying facts. The abuser will twist information around and deny things they said, did, or events that occurred a certain way.
They will make the argument about themselves and make themselves appear victims of what happened. This form of abuse is heavily favored by narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths.
Emotional abuse is complicated for many reasons. Many people will ask if “it ever got physical,” and if that individual did not, then it is somehow “not that bad.” However, what we now know about the effects of emotional abuse proves significant damage to the person on the receiving end.
Examples of gaslighting and symptoms in a relationship look like this:
- “You are so jealous!”
- “Why are you making things up?”
- “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “Huh? that’s not how it happened!”
- “Your memory is so crappy!”
- “It didn’t happen that way!”
- “Why do you keep saying things like this?!”
- “I don’t want to hear this again.”
- “You are imagining things.”
- “Oh great, this is what you got from (friend/family member).”
- “You are too sensitive!”
- “People have been saying (insert hurtful lie).”
- “You are going to get all upset over something so small?”
Individuals who have experienced gaslighting have to learn how to trust themselves again. Gaslighting causes doubts about memory, perceptions, instincts, and one’s own sanity.
Remember, you are never wrong in how you feel, and it’s crucial to learn to detach and set boundaries when you suspect you are being gaslighted.
Keeping a journal and sharing it with someone you trust can be helpful so that you can keep an accurate account of what happened. It is often not beneficial to confront the abuser, as they will continue to distort things and may even escalate.
Getting help from a therapist who is trained in abuse and understands gaslighting will be helpful in the recovery process.
Claudia Delgado, LCSW
Affair Recovery Therapist, Affair Recovery Counseling
You are told that you always see things that are not real and you want to pick fights
A woman sees her husband flirting with another woman in a grocery store. The woman confronts her husband. Her husband turns to her and says he is not flirting.
He adds that she always sees things that are not real and wants to pick fights. He further claims she has been cheated on in the past and believes everyone is out to get her.
He states she is “too controlling” and will end up alone if she continues this way. He says she should go to therapy to work on her issues.
Your partner tells you you’re making things up
A man finds provocative text messages between his wife and a coworker. The husband asks the wife if she is having an affair. His wife laughs and says he is crazy.
She responds by saying he is making up things in his head and has always been jealous. She adds that instead of invading her privacy, he should focus more on his tone when he talks to her, as she finds it disrespectful.
She continues by stating all the ways she believes he is disrespectful to her and how she thinks he needs to change to avoid marital problems.
When you lose trust in your own intuition or truth
When you habitually doubt your own reality, you are being gaslighted.
When what you recall as true is being questioned so convincingly that you wonder if you’re losing your mind, you’ve been gaslighted.
When someone is so demeaning or disrespectful of you that you begin to trust their version of yourself rather than standing firm on what you know about yourself, then you are succumbing to being gaslighted.
A person who practices gaslighting others only feels important and healthy when making others smaller and less important than him or herself. If it’s possible, eliminate this person from your life.
If that isn’t possible, limit time spent with the gaslighter and invest in whatever counseling or encouragement you need to trust your own intuition or truth.
We all have unconscious thoughts that want to sabotage us, but we don’t have to feed into these lies. Don’t believe everything you think. You are not your thoughts, so stop gaslighting yourself.
Five tempting thoughts that gaslight yourself:
“Maybe it is all in my head”
This makes us second-guess our thoughts, memory, and instincts, so it’s easy to get stuck in endless thought loops and convince ourselves that we do not see reality as it is.
“This is too good to be true; there’s no way I would deserve something this great”
When our self-esteem is low or we feel mentally exhausted, we can unintentionally self-sabotage by stacking our past mistakes against a misperception of our worth. Thus projecting worst-case scenarios or the lowest degree of what we believe we deserve into present or future circumstances.
“I really shouldn’t feel like this”
These types of thoughts invalidate our own feelings, desires, and well-being. We put being outwardly “nice” or what is a more socially-acceptable feeling above what is healthy, true, and best for ourselves.
Here we allow social programming or past trauma to dictate which emotions/ actions we allow and self-censor to avoid making others uncomfortable or even keep us safe from those who might exploit our vulnerabilities.
“They probably didn’t mean it that way; feeling this way only proves I’m not a good person”
When we make up excuses and stories for other people’s unacceptable behavior towards us or for violating boundaries on any level, these thoughts are dangerous as we project our own good intentions and perspective onto others who are not well-meaning.
These thinking patterns can lead to unhealthy and unbalanced relationship dynamics, giving our personal power away to the degree of abandoning personal needs and not advocating for ourselves.
Narcissists are, in a way, magnetized to those feeding into these thought patterns, which can lead to external gaslighting.
You might be gaslighted if someone:
- Undermines your sanity in front of others.
- Never admits fault; you are made to believe you are 100% of the problem 100% of the time.
- Puts you on the defensive about what you were doing, who you were seeing, how you intend to hurt/expose them while redirecting the conversation or avoiding your questions about their activities, etc.
- Exploits your weaknesses or weaponizes what you’ve shared in confidence.
- Is difficult to trust because they’ve betrayed you, sometimes multiple times in the past.
- Lies to you, makes up excuses, or charges into accusations, including calling you a narcissist or other names when you point out facts.
- Disparages your friends, family, and those whom you look up to, so you doubt whether or not you can trust them.
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Your reality is strongly and constantly undermined
Gaslighting is a rather heavy term and is used to describe a form of emotional abuse in relationships. Not to be taken lightly, this can lead to the victim eventually questioning their own sanity—in extreme cases, of course.
You’re undermining someone’s entire reality so strongly and constantly eventually turning them against who they fundamentally are.
Gaslighting actually became the most popular word in the urban dictionary in 2018. The exponential increase in search results was incredibly harmful in terms of how individuals viewed their relationships.
Too many couples counselors had to educate their clients regarding the term, which became an issue because people would simply forget to understand the root of the problem.
Instead of actually communicating and reaching a mutual solution, people would jump to conclusions and begin to view their partner as the enemy. Like I’ve always said, it’s you both vs. the problem, not you vs. your partner.
Tips for dealing with gaslighting
It can be challenging to pull yourself from this downtrodden road because of the settled power dynamic. You need to begin by sorting out the truth from distortion.
One tip I would tell my clients is to write down conversations—a habit that can lead you to go over events with a more objective view. Now, you can look for signs of repeated denial and establish a pattern.
Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings, especially since it’s bound to take a toll. Talk to close friends and family, and push them towards brutal honesty so you can have a fair 3rd person point of view and a shoulder to lean on.
Finally, focus on feelings and not who’s right or wrong. I know it’s easy to get bogged down when you attempt to win an argument. Not to mention, it can be even more detrimental to you than your partner, leaving you to question why you went so far in the end.
If something is making you feel bad or second-guess yourself, that’s what you need to pay attention to. Recognize these moments, and either attempt to fix them or abort the situation—putting yourself first, always.
Domestic Violence Advocate, Activist, and Blogger, The DV Walking Wounded
They make you question your insanity
I lost my job due to the recession of 2009 and was totally dependent on my husband’s income. He only gave me so much for groceries, which was barely enough.
Upon checking my “feminine product” supplies, I found I had only a few days of supplies left, but it was not yet time for me to go grocery shopping, which was every two weeks.
I told him verbally that I’d need a little money in a few days because I was in the middle of my “time of the month.” He shrugs, says nothing, and leaves for work.
I politely reminded him again the next day that I needed money to replenish my feminine products. He said he didn’t have any cash and would give me some the following day. I thanked him.
The following day, I politely reminded him I’d run out by the end of that day, so could I please have a little money to purchase some? He looks at me as if I spoke in Latin and leaves for work abruptly.
Desperately, I go through all my purses while scolding myself: “Didn’t you remind him? Did you imagine it and not actually say anything? Plan ahead, dummy!“
I luckily find a few more feminine napkins and a tampon, so I’m good through the evening. However, I wrote it on our dry-erase message board, very specific to how much I need and what it’s for. There is no forgetting this time!
The very next day, I am literally utilizing my very last feminine product! I kiss him as he’s going out the door, leaving for work. I touch his arm to get his attention.
“Honey,” I firmly but gently say. “I need $8 for feline products. I’m wearing the last one.” I can see the rage building in his eyes. Then, he blew his top, throwing down his lunchbox with the lunch I had just carefully packed.
“You never said anything!” he yells. “Not my fault you wait until the last possible second! Too bad! I don’t have any cash on me! TOUGH. IT. OUT!“
“But —” I started to object, but he slammed the door in my face. “What just happened???” I am really questioning my sanity at this point.
When I walk to the refrigerator to our dry-erase board, my entry is still there, but it looks like he ran his finger through it, partially erasing it. It is, however, still discernible. “Okay, maybe I’m not crazy!”
Meanwhile, I scrounged for any money anywhere I could: old purses, under beds, on the couch, in my vehicle, in the laundry room. I even had to raid the kids’ piggy banks, vowing to put it back when I could. However, I was only able to come up with $3.17. Ugh!
For the duration of my menstrual cycle, I had to use the fraying washcloths I had thrown in my “rag bag” to clean rags, throwing them promptly after their “alternate” use. I was embarrassed and grossed out, but I had to do what I had to do.
I have never been so humiliated in my life! I started taking a few dollars out of what he would give me for groceries each week so that never happened again!
Relationship Expert, Texas Divorce Laws
Gaslighting is a strategy by one partner to control, dominate, and cause emotional harm to the other. Because gaslighting makes you doubt your own experiences, it can be challenging to spot the warning indications.
Here are a few examples to help you identify if your partner is gaslighting you:
“I do it because I love you!”
Gaslighters often justify their actions by using “love” as an excuse. They claim they love you and do what they think is to the best of your interest.
If you disagree with their actions, they try to gaslight you further by guilt-tripping you, claiming that you don’t love them as much as they do. They try to exert their influence by using this strategy by claiming to worry or care about you.
“Why are you being so paranoid?”
Gaslighters use the strategy of accusing their victim of being paranoid, throwing their victim off-guard, and taking the blame off themselves.
If they cheat on you, instead of taking responsibility or coming clean like a normal person, they blame you for the issue and make you question your reality.
They use phrases such as:
- “Do you really think I would cheat on you? You are acting so insecure.”
- “You know I wouldn’t do it.”
So to make you stop believing your gut or intuition, they gaslight you by attacking and accusing you of being jealous or sensitive.
CEO, Epiphany Wellness
You’re accused of being “too sensitive” or “overly emotional”
When it comes to gaslighting, there are plenty of examples. But one of the most common is when someone tells you that you’re being “too sensitive” or that you’re being “overly emotional.“
This is such a typical example because it’s so subtle and can be difficult to recognize on your own. It’s also an attempt to make you question your feelings, which is a form of gaslighting.
To understand how gaslighting works, think about what happens in a normal conversation between two people who have similar opinions and values:
- Person A: “I think we should go to the beach tomorrow.”
- Person B: “No way! The weather report says it’ll rain all day.”
- Person A: “But I heard they’re predicting sunny skies by noon!”
- Person B: “Yeah, but they’re just guessing—they don’t know anything.”
That exchange is perfectly normal and healthy—both people express their opinions and debate them.
Gaslighting occurs when Person B tries to convince Person A that the weather report is wrong, even though Person A has good reason for believing otherwise.
Someone denies that something happened, even though you know it did
One common form of gaslighting is when someone denies that something happened, even though you know it did. For example, you might tell your partner that you saw them go into the kitchen and get a drink, but they insist they were never in the kitchen at all.
Gaslighting can also happen when someone tries to make you question your own memory or perception of events.
For example, they might say something like, “Are you sure that’s what happened? I remember it differently.”
If you’re not careful, gaslighting can lead to feelings of:
The best way to avoid gaslighting is to be aware of the signs and to trust your own gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up and ask for clarification.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation that can damage relationships and individual mental health. By being assertive and staying attuned to your own emotions, you can protect yourself from gaslighting behavior.
You are made to believe that everything you knew was not correct or real
I’m technically not an expert, and I didn’t become knowledgeable about gaslighting on purpose. I was exposed to it during a nearly seven-year relationship, and this is not something I typically talk about.
It became a common theme that basically everything I knew was wrong. Not accurate. At all. Not even a little bit.
You know what, though? I didn’t even realize it at the time! My reality, or lack thereof, went on like this for years.
I’m grateful that somehow, though, I broke out of the “fog,” and in the following conversation that I wrote down in the notes on my iPhone on the morning of August 25th, 2016, I did so to make sure that I broke through and never went back.
- Me: “Did you hear the fog horns last night?”
- Her: “No, I was out cold. Went to bed early. Oh, wait. No, I didn’t. I was up late until about midnight.”
- Me: “Well, late last night or early this morning, sometime I heard fog horns for a while they were going.”
- Her: “Those aren’t fog horns. They’re warning sounds.”
- Me: “Warning for what?”
- Her: “Weather, waves.”
- Me: “In the middle of the night when it’s foggy?”
- Her: “The waves don’t know what time it is.”
- Me: “Oh. I thought it was fog horns that I heard. I guess not.”
- Her: “That’s not fog. It’s a coastal Eddie. It comes every day and burns off by Noon or 1 o’clock.”
At that point, I said goodbye and went off to work. I was awakened to the reality that nearly all conversations I had with this particular person were similar in the sense that everything I knew was not correct or real.
It hardly mattered how complex or simple the concept was because my reality was never an actual reality. My reality was a foolish interpretation of false truths.
My life was near ruins, and the fact of the matter is, I would have been completely destroyed had I not awakened to the truth and fallen out of the world of lies that I found myself to be deep within.
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