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Gaslighting: What It Is, How it Works & 22 Signs to Spot It ASAP

What is gaslighting? It’s a manipulative form of emotional abuse to control and make someone lose their sanity. Read these signs of gaslighting, and beware!

what is gaslighting signs

The word ‘gaslighting’ is a pretty common one these days. That very fact is worrying itself. This is a tactic that can have you questioning your own sanity and break even the strongest person down into a mess. But, what is gaslighting, and how can you notice the signs of something so subtle yet powerful?

There are many types of abusive people out there who use gaslighting as a tactic to hurt someone. And that means there are many toxic relationships you can find yourself in. But one of the hardest gaslighters to deal with is when you’re in love with a narcissistic gaslighter.

A narcissist is someone who cares for no one but themselves and will cause you to question who you are, what you’re doing, and in the end, break you down into a shell of your former self. It sounds dramatic, but it’s no exaggeration.

The term ‘narcissist’ is named after the mythological character Narcissus, a character who loved himself so much that he fell madly in love with his own image in the water. And although narcissists use many tricks to confuse the people they love, gaslighting messes with you the most. [Read: How to deal with a narcissist in the best way you possibly can]

What is gaslighting behavior? Understanding the impact of gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse designed to evoke confusion that eventually turns into an extreme form of anxiety.

As a result, the victim starts to doubt their own perception, memory, judgment, and sense of reality.

This term came from a classic 1944 Hollywood movie called Gaslight. In the movie, the husband resorts to manipulative tactics to drive his wife insane. One such tactic is dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, but he denies that the lights are changing when his wife asks about them. So the wife starts to believe she is just seeing things.

The abuser *often a narcissist, but not always* commonly uses gaslighting to target the victim’s mental balance, self-esteem, and sanity so that they will be dependent on their abuser.

This involves a frequent, systematic, and calculated way of withholding and twisting information from the victim, so that the abuser can manipulate them and turn things in their favor. Put simply, gaslighting is a dangerous form of abuse, and it’s not always easy to see that it’s happening.

Let’s give a quick, basic gaslighting example. You arrange to meet your partner after work at your favorite restaurant, to celebrate doing well at work that week. You’re excited and your partner is well aware of that fact.

You head to the restaurant after work and wait outside for them, but they never show up. So, you call them and they tell you that you must be imagining it, you never arranged to meet, you just talked about maybe going at some point. Deep down, you know you did make plans, but now you start to doubt yourself because how could you have got it so wrong?

Are gaslighters narcissists?

Not at all. Anyone can use gaslighting, it’s simply that this is a very commonly-used manipulation tactic by narcissists to make the victim overreact and question their own sanity.

Someone with narcissistic tendencies may be masters of this art form, but for sure, anyone can do it. It’s not advised, however, and it’s something you should avoid doing at all costs. [Read: What types of narcissism should you be on the lookout for?]

Sometimes we can all be a little manipulative, but there’s a big difference between simply being a bit manipulative occasionally and using gaslighting as a type of emotional abuse.

Almost always, gaslighting typically tends to be a premeditated thing, and it takes a lot of thinking about to pull it off. That’s not something you can really do by accident.

The truth is that people who gaslight use this abusive behavior to keep their partners where they are. It makes them stay in the relationship when perhaps they may otherwise see through the facade and choose to leave.

You’ll believe that you’re the problem and then, start to think that nobody else would put up with you. So, you become ultra-reliant on your narcissist, and they use this type of manipulation to gain total control over you. [Read: How do narcissists hook you and how to avoid their toxic bait]

Gaslighting examples in everyday life that make you start to question yourself

Before we get to the signs of gaslighting, here’s something MUST know. Gaslighting comes in many forms, and you need to understand that gaslighting situations aren’t really restricted only to romantic relationships with manipulative husbands, wives, or partners. You can see it in workplace relationships, with friends, and even in everyday life.

A friend could say something like “I was just joking…” or “it didn’t happen that way…” even when they’re caught lying.

Your colleagues at work might make a big deal out of nothing.

A barista could intentionally give you decaf and claim your coffee is caffeinated.

Sometimes, even a doctor you visit may deny your health concerns or symptoms, simply because they don’t care enough to investigate it *this is called medical gaslighting*.

And, of course, there’s also racial gaslighting where you question your own experiences of racism.

If you honestly think about it, gaslighting often happens all around us in small ways. Of course, you’d be annoyed when you experience it. But if a trivial incident of gaslighting involves a random stranger, it’s easy to brush it off. But when it’s someone you love, then you’re a victim of gaslighting because this is something you have to deal with every day.

The common signs of gaslighting and examples of gaslighting most people miss

Gaslighting isn’t that clear sometimes. Someone on the outside will be able to spot it a mile away, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can be a totally confusing and extremely subtle tactic of domestic violence or emotional abuse.

By learning the warning signs of gaslighting, you’ll be in a much better position to identify this type of abuse and do something about it.

1. You’re being led to believe that you are something you’re not

Calling names can have a harmful effect on a person over time. So if your partner starts to call you “cuckoo” or tells you that you might be manic-depressive or bipolar *like they’re an authority in diagnosing clinical disorders, right?* – be wary of that.

Anyone who seems keen on trying to alter your perception of reality or tries to put a psychiatric label on you might have something up their sleeves. [Read: Narcissistic abuse – 16 subtle signs a narcissist is abusing you]

2. You regularly think “it’s just in my head”

And you start to believe it. When you talk about your feelings or observations, a gaslighter may dismiss your feelings like you’re the only one thinking those thoughts or seeing those things.

They also bring other people into it and tell you that those people have certain opinions about you as well. Then, you start to wonder whether your version of events and theirs is the same.

3. Much of what you say is used against you

Especially when it comes to your fears. Have you ever had moments when you confide in your partner, and after a while, your partner brings those things up at their own convenience – like to win an argument or get their way?

They know which buttons to press, and they’ll subtly use them against you. Why? Because they know the effect it will have on you. You’ll feel like your fears are a reality, and that weakens you.

By that point, your partner is gaslighting you and totally has you under their control. [Read: 20 biggest narcissistic traits to recognize the narc in your life]

4. They question everything

Does your partner make you feel incapable by questioning your decisions all the time? Do you feel frustrated by always having to explain your choices and your values?

By second-guessing your decisions and abilities, you may eventually start to question if you can accomplish anything. And that makes you feel inadequate.

5. You start to doubt your perception

Manipulative people will not acknowledge your perceptions, but instead, they will twist things around just to make you doubt yourself.

For example, if you’re going out with friends that they openly disapprove of, a gaslighter may use this opportunity to tell you your friends are not who you think they are – and they’ll eventually make you believe the same. [Read: Narcissistic victim syndrome – What it is and how to escape the mess]

6. Your needs and feelings are trivialized

If you’re wondering what is gaslighting when it comes to being put down, here’s an example and a common gaslighting tactic. So you had a rough day at work. And at the end of the day, you sit down to tell your partner all about it.

Your partner brushes it off as something insignificant *when you almost saved your company from doom*. In fact, they’ve made it a habit to minimize your triumphs, as well as your feelings, like they don’t really matter.

7. You feel small and inadequate

Compared to your partner, you feel small.

They have downplayed your ideas as well as your needs so much that it seems like the only thing that matters, *or person who matters, in the relationship* is your partner. So you start to blindly follow them because you see no other way. [Read: 21 ways to stop being manipulated and used by someone you love and trust]

8. They say they know you better than you know yourself

For instance, you tell them you don’t like Chinese food, and they’re like, “What do you mean? It’s delicious! You like it!” And they act like that with you all the time, imposing their own wants and whims on you, like you’re into the same things as they are.

And after a while, the gaslighting gets more severe, and you don’t know what your real preferences are anymore. [Read: How to get to know yourself and reveal your life’s true passions]

9. They have a selective memory

An abusive partner may also be also highly confident and convincing in their version of things. They forget or deny that something ever happened, such as their promises to you.

They’ll say things like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about…” or “That didn’t happen. I have no recollection of it.”

10. You can’t trust your instincts anymore

Even if you think that you’re about to do something right out of instinct and common sense, your partner flips it 180. Then suddenly, what you’re doing is all wrong.

You believe your partner instead of your instincts, and this can start a pattern of submission to their will. This would, in turn, make you feel like a failure, and you’d lose your self-worth as well. [Read: How to follow your gut instinct and listen to yourself]

11. Even your memories are all wrong

The only thing that is right and true is what your partner remembers. Even if you tell them otherwise, because you remembered some detail they conveniently left out, you’re still in the wrong.

As a result, you think it was all really in your head.

12. You’re starting to give up on expressing yourself

An argument or even a mere conversation with your partner is pointless. You only end up upset, confused, exhausted, and even ridiculed at times. And so you give up even if you have an inkling that they’re gaslighting you.

You stop speaking your mind because you know you won’t be listened to, and even then, you start to lose sight of what you want to say anyway. [Read: How to express your feelings and get your point across the right way]

13. You always settle to keep the peace

You lie and settle just to avoid an argument or a difficult conversation. Worst of all, you lie to yourself — all just to keep the peace.

Of course, your partner will not stop insisting on their version of things to the point that you’ll end up in a nasty fight, and they’ll make it all your fault.

14. You’re always saying “sorry”

It seems that nothing you do is right. When it comes to your relationship, it feels like you’re walking on eggshells.

One wrong move and there’s an outburst, and you’re in the wrong again. You’ve been saying “sorry” so much that you start to believe that it really is all your fault. [Read: Relationship arguments – 27 do’s and don’ts to remember]

15. You’re miserable, but you try to convince yourself that everything is fine

When it feels like you’re so emotionally gagged that you can’t even hear your own voice because of all the gaslighting, you end up depressed. Everything you do is magnified, and you’re constantly criticized *and in the most awful ways*.

You have no say with regard to your own feelings because your partner won’t validate them – not even with a simple acknowledgment.

But, despite knowing that you’re not happy, you try to convince yourself that you are fine. You’re so reliant upon your partner that as long as they’re there and they’re in a good mood, you’re fine. In reality, however, you’re really not.

16. You’re starting to believe you’re crazy

Intense manipulation and gaslighting can really get to you, especially when it’s done constantly and by someone you share intimacy with.

At first, you may think that your partner is wrong. But then their words start to sink in so much, and all too often, that you start to wonder if there really is something wrong with you. [Read: Psychological manipulation – 16 signs and tactics real manipulators use]

17. You doubt your own sanity

On top of starting to think that you’re going crazy, you then start to doubt your sanity completely. Are you seeing things? Did you really hear them saying that? Did you make plans, or were you dreaming it?

Not only will you be confused, but you’ll be so tied up in knots that you really won’t know which way is up or down.

18. You stop making your own decisions

The fact that your partner questions every single decision you make leads you to feel like you’re incapable of doing anything properly. You’re also doubting your own mind, which means you’re far more likely to avoid making decisions and instead, you’ll rely upon your partner to make them for you.

You might not come out and say “make this choice for me,” but you’ll ask their opinion and then simply go along with what they say or recommend, without question. [Read: 10 decisions you should never let your partner make for you]

19. Your friends and family members have expressed concern

Gaslighting may seem pretty obvious from the outside. You won’t be able to notice it so much when it’s happening to you, even if you have a slight inkling that something isn’t right. But those around you will be able to see what’s going on.

So, if your friends and family members have expressed concern about your partner and they’ve told you that they think you’re being exposed to gaslighting, you really should take notice.

But, as a victim who’s experiencing gaslighting, will you honestly listen to others?

20. You’ve become isolated

If your friends and family members have told you that they think something is wrong, you’re unlikely to listen if you’re really under your partner’s control. You’re so reliant upon your partner that you’d much rather isolate yourself away from your friends and family members instead.

You don’t want to hear the truth, so you see less and less of the people who care about you.

If that’s not bad enough, it pleases your partner that you’re doing this because you’re far easier to control when you don’t have people around you. [Read: How do narcissists control you so subtly?]

21. You second guess absolutely everything

The emotional and mental fallout of gaslighting means that not only will you doubt your sanity in the end, but you will second guess absolutely everything. You’ll become distrustful of everything and everyone, except for your partner.

You’re so controlled that forming thoughts for yourself becomes extremely difficult. By this stage, your partner’s gaslighting efforts have worked for them. [Read: Controlling relationship – 42 signs and ways to love without being bullied]

22. Deep down, at some point, you actually know something isn’t right

It could be that deep down, you know something isn’t right. It won’t be enough for you to stand up to your partner and tell them that they’re gaslighting you, but it will be a tiny inkling. This means there is hope for you.

If you can hold on to that inkling and allow it to grow, you’ll eventually find the strength to face things and leave.

But, even for those who really are under a partner’s control, there may still be a tiny thought every now and again that says, “I know I’m right, I know I didn’t say that.” [Read: How to get over trust issues in a relationship and move forward]

How gaslighting works – The truth is that gaslighting happens over time

A gaslighting abuser will withhold information, ignore you, minimize their own mistakes, question everything you say, trivialize your values and feelings, divert the blame and conversation, and deny their own words and deeds. They will do all these just to manipulate you so that they have power and control over you.

Be wary, though, because these gaslighting tactics happen gradually. It can start off so subtly that you may not even notice it or even recognize the signs.

Your partner’s words may seem so harmless, and they might be so charming and affectionate that you won’t even believe they’re capable of such manipulation. [Read: How to spot gaslighting in a relationship and shut it down for good]

Over time *sometimes even months or years later*, though, you will start to notice the signs we shared above. Eventually, you will feel confused, powerless, incapable, anxious, and probably even depressed. You actually begin to lose the sense of what reality actually is. That’s how dangerous gaslighting can be.

Is it like this for everyone? No. Everyone is different, and perhaps there are different degrees of severity.

What we need to point out, however, is that no matter whether gaslighting is a simple and small thing or not, it still has the potential over time to be extremely damaging to a person’s emotional and mental health. [Read: 18 emotions you shouldn’t feel in a healthy relationship]

Are you a victim of gaslighting? Here’s how to stop any kind of gaslighting in a relationship

Once you’ve learned to spot gaslighting, you want to stop it. However, it won’t happen immediately. What is gaslighting if it’s not emotional abuse? So, it could take time, but by learning to trust yourself again, over time, you’ll get there.

Then, your first instinct may be to fight back. If someone is lying, you tell them they’re lying. If you have proof, you shove it in their face. You stand up for yourself.

That all sounds good, but gaslighting is irrational. It is impossible to have a rational, adult, or calm conversation with someone who depends on gaslighting as their form of control.

The best way to fight gaslighting is to disengage. Do not respond. Do not give them the satisfaction of your thoughts, feelings, or anger. [Read: 21 emotionally abusive relationship signs no one should ever, ever tolerate]

Their intent is to get a rise out of you. They want you to feel unhinged and crazy. If you stand back and disengage from the situation, they will have lost control. After a few attempts and no response, they will have to give up.

Now, if someone is gaslighting you, we would suggest ending that relationship. This is a behavior that is unlikely to quit without the help of intensive therapy or meeting with a licensed marriage and family therapist, and that’s something most people who choose to gaslight will never commit to or even consider.

Gaslighting is unhealthy for your mental health and should never be tolerated. [Read: How to use the grey rock method to get a gaslighter to get out of your life]

How to leave a narcissist who tries to gaslight you constantly

Of course, it’s very easy to say “you need to leave this person,” but you have feelings for them. That’s something that people who have never been in a relationship with a gaslighter don’t understand.

How can you possibly love someone who is abusing you in this way?

The truth is that you’re so controlled and manipulated that you believe this person to be someone else entirely. [Read: How to leave a narcissist and free yourself from their web of control]

But, the good news is that you can break free. There will come a point where you start to have those “I’m not wrong” moments. When you spot one, grab onto it firmly. The more you question the thoughts you’re having and the behavior you’re spotting from your partner, the easier it will be to break free.

We’re sorry to say that it’s not possible to have a normal, loving relationship with a gaslighter. You’ll always be unhappy and always be gaslighted and manipulated. So, the only answer is to leave. But, how?

1. Make the decision and don’t go back on it

When someone is gaslighting you, of course, you’ll question your choice, for sure. But, believe that you’re right. Make your decision and be firm. [Read: How do narcissists end a relationship?]

2. Leave when they’re not around

If you live together, grab your things and leave when they’re at work or somewhere else. It will be far easier for you to get out when they’re not there to fire more gaslighting techniques at you. Go and stay with a friend or family member. Speaking of which…

3. Reach out to your circle

If you isolated yourself from your friends and family, now is the time to reach out. They’ll be waiting for you, we promise. People who care about you will be desperate to help, whenever that call comes.

And if you can’t rely on a close friend who lives nearby, you can also approach mental health professionals. After all, professional help and therapy can help you and guide you in the right direction, especially if you feel lost and confused right now and want to regain your ability to trust people again.

4. Block all contact

Your gaslighting partner won’t like the fact you’ve left them, so get ready for an onslaught of contact. The best way to protect yourself is to block it all. Social media, their number, everything – block it. [Read: How to beat a narcissist – 14 ways to win over their manipulation]

5. Distract yourself

You’re going to have doubts, this is a breakup, even if it’s escaping from a gaslighting narcissist. So, distract your mind and focus on yourself. Do things you’ve never done before, spend time with friends, and keep your mind busy. [Read: 30 secrets to get over someone you love fast and not give a damn anymore]

6. Give yourself time

There is no right or wrong amount of time it will take for you to feel better and to be able to move on. All you can do is give yourself all the time you need and heal in the best way possible.

Learn to love and trust yourself again, and if you need to, reach out and speak to those around you. If you really feel you need extra help, which many victims of narcissistic abuse do, then reach out to a therapist to help you work through your thoughts and feelings.

Gaslighting is a severe and damaging control tactic that is designed to manipulate to the highest degree. Learn the signs of gaslighting, know what to do, and if it happens to you, know that it’s not your fault.

Sometimes, the people we love simply don’t turn out to be who we thought they were. That’s their issue, not yours.

[Read: What is the worst thing you can do to a narcissist to hurt them deeply?]

If you wake up one day wondering what has become of the person you used to be, then we hate to tell you, but you know the answer. What is gaslighting – abuse, nothing less. And now that you know the signs and examples of someone who has been gaslit, you should also know that it won’t stop until you break free.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...