Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the bully or abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality. Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to feel unsure about their perceptions of the world and even wonder if theyare losing their sanity.
Gaslighting is usually performed over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories. This can lead to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and uncertainty of one's mental stability. A common result of this is a dependency on the perpetrator.
Gaslighting primarily occurs in romantic relationships, but it's not uncommon in controlling friendships or among family members as well. People who gaslight others may have mental health disorders. They use this type of emotional abuse to exert power over others to manipulate friends,family members, or even co-workers.
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How Gaslighting Works
Gaslighting is a technique that undermines a person's perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you may second-guess yourself, your memories, recent events, and perceptions. After communicating with the person gaslighting you, you may be left feeling dazed and wondering if there is something wrong with you. You may be encouraged to think you are actually to blame for something or that you're just being too sensitive.
Gaslighting can confuse you and cause you to question your judgment, memory, self-worth, and overall mental health. It may help to know more about the tactics a person who is gaslighting you might use.
Lying to You
People who engage in gaslighting are often habitual and pathological liars and frequently exhibit narcissistic tendencies. It is typical for them to blatantly lie and never back down or change their stories, even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. They may say something like: "You're making things up," "That never happened," or "You're crazy."
Lying and distortion are the cornerstones of gaslighting behavior. Even when you know they are not telling the truth, they can be very convincing. In the end, you start to second-guess yourself.
People who gaslight spread rumors and gossip about you to others. They may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or "crazy." Unfortunately, this tactic can be extremely effective and many people side with the abuser or bully without knowing the full story.
Additionally, someone who engages in gaslighting may lie to you and tell you that other people also think this about you. These people may have never said a bad thing about you, but the person who is gaslighting you will make every attempt to get you to believe they do.
When you ask a someone who gaslights a question or call themout for something they did or said, they may change the subject by asking a question instead of responding to the issue at hand. This not only throws off your train of thought but causes you to question the need to press a matter when they don't feel the need to respond.
Minimizing Your Thoughts and Feelings
Trivializing your emotions allows the person who is gaslighting you to gain power over you. They might make statements like: "Calm down," "You're overreacting," or "Why are you so sensitive?" All of these statements minimize how you're feeling or what you're thinking and communicate that you're wrong.
When you deal with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, you may begin to question them yourself. What's more, you may never feel validated or understood, which can be extremely isolating, shaming, and difficult to cope with.
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Blame-shifting is another common gaslighting tactic. Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that occurred. Even when you try to discuss how the abuser's behavior makes you feel, they're able to twist the conversation so that you end up questioning if you are the cause of their bad behavior. For example, they may claim that if only you behaved differently, they would not treat you the way that they do.
People who engage in bullying and emotional abuse are notorious for denying that they did anything wrong. They do this to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices. This denial can leave the victim of gaslighting feeling unseen, unheard, and as though the impact on them is of no importance. This tactic also makes it very hard for the victim to move on or to heal from the bullying or abusiveness.
Using Compassionate Words as Weapons
Sometimes, when called out or questioned, a person who gaslights will use kind and loving words to try to smooth over the situation. They might say something like, "You know how much I love you. I would never hurt you on purpose."
These words may be what you want to hear, but they are inauthentic, especially if the same behavior is repeated. That said, they may be just enough to convince you to let them off the hook, which allows the person to escape responsibility or consequences for their hurtful behavior.
A person who gaslights tends to retell stories in ways that are in their favor. For instance, if your partner shoved you against the wall and you are discussing it later, theymay twist the story and say you stumbled and they tried to steady you, which is what caused you to fall into the wall.
You may begin to doubt your memory of what happened. Encouraging confusion or second-guessing on your part is exactly the intention.
Gaslighting can include a range of tactics including lying, distracting, minimizing, denying, and blaming. When you are dealing with someone who uses gaslighting as a manipulation tool, pay close attention to what they do, not the words they choose.
Signs of Gaslighting
Being subjected to gaslighting can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns including addiction and thoughts of suicide. For this reason, it's important to recognize when you're experiencing gaslighting. Ask yourself if any of the following statements ring true:
- You doubt your feelings and reality: You try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or that you are too sensitive.
- You question your judgment and perceptions: You areafraid of speaking up or expressing your emotions.You have learned that sharing your opinion usually makes you feel worse in the end, so you stay silent instead.
- You feel vulnerable and insecure: You often feel like you "walk on eggshells" around yourpartner, friend, or family member. You also feel on edge and lack self-esteem.
- You feel alone and powerless: You are convinced that everyone around you thinks you are "strange," "crazy," or "unstable," just like the person who is gaslighting you says you are. This makes you feel trapped and isolated.
- You wonder if you are what they say you are: The person who gaslights you sayswords make you feel like you are wrong, unintelligent, inadequate, or insane. Sometimes, you even find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
- You are disappointed in yourself and who you have become: For instance, you feel like you are weak and passive, and that you used to be stronger and more assertive.
- You feel confused: The behavior of the person gaslighting you confuses you, almost as if they are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- You worry that you are too sensitive: The person minimizes hurtful behaviors or words by saying “I was just joking" or "you need thicker skin."
- You have a sense of impending doom: You feellike something terrible is about to happen when you are around this person.This may includefeeling threatened and on edge without knowing why.
- You spend a lot of time apologizing: You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
- You feel inadequate: You feel like you are never "good enough." You try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable.
- You second-guess yourself: You frequently wonder if you accurately remember the details of past events.You may have even stopped trying to share what you remember for fear that it is wrong.
- You assume others are disappointed in you: You apologize all the time for what you do or who you are, assuming people are let down by you or that you have somehow made a mistake.
- You wonder what's wrong with you: You wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. In other words, you worry that you are not well mentally.
- You struggle to make decisions because you distrust yourself: You would rather allow your partner, friend, or family member to make decisions for you and avoid decision-making altogether.
If you identify with any of these signs of gaslighting, it's important that you seek professional help right away. Left unaddressed, gaslighting can take a significant toll on your self-esteem and overall mental health.
Your doctor can recommend a counselorwho is equipped to help you process and deal with what is happening to you.
You can also contact theNational Domestic Violence Hotlineat 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.
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Why Do Some People Gaslight Others?
The typical goal of the gaslighter is not just manipulation, but power and control—typically with the misguided cooperation of the manipulated victim. This type of learned behavior is often rooted in psychopathy or a personality disorder such as narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline.
Where Did Gaslighting Get Its Name?
The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, known in America as "Angel Street" and later developed into the film "Gas Light" by Alfred Hitchcock.
In the suspense film, a manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. Not only does he disrupt her environment and make her believe she is insane, but he also abuses and controls her, cutting her off from family and friends.
Consequently, the wife begins second-guessing herself, her feelings, her perceptions, and her memories. Additionally, she feels neurotic, hypersensitive, and out-of-control, which is the goal of gaslighting—to leave the target feeling off-kilter and unsure of what is true and what isn’t.
Because this filmwas an accurate portrayal of thecontrolling and toxic actions that manipulative people use, psychologists and counselors began to label this type of emotionally abusive behavior "gaslighting."
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What to Do If Someone Is Gaslighting You
If you are experiencing gaslighting in a relationship, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Things you might do include:
- Gain some distance: It can be helpful to take a step back from the intense emotions that gaslighting can evoke. Physically leaving the situation can help, but you might also try using some relaxation techniques such ad deep breathing or grounding exercises.
- Save the evidence: Because gaslighting can make you question yourself, work on preserving evidence of your experiences. Keep a journal, save text conversations, or keep emails so that you can look back on them later and remind yourself that you shouldn't doubt or question yourself.
- Set boundaries: Boundaries tell others what you are willing to accept in a relationship. Make it clear that you won't allow the other person to engage in actions such as trivializing or denying what you have to say.
- Get an outside perspective: Talk to a friend or family member about what you are going through. Having another person's perspective can help make the situation clearer to you.
- End the relationship: While it can be difficult, ending the relationship with someone who repeatedly gaslights you is often the most effective way to end the abuse.
If you suspect that you are experiencing gaslighting, you may also find it helpful to talk to a mental health professional. They can help you learn more about the situation, gain perspective, and develop new coping strategies that can help you deal with the behavior.
Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Gaslighting
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to stay mentally strong when you're being gaslit. Click below to listen now.
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A Word From Verywell
Remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. The person gaslighting you is making a choice to behave this way. They are responsible for their actions. Nothing you did caused them to make this choice, and you won't be able to change what they're doing.
But with counseling, you can learn how to make healthy choices and set boundaries with the person who engages in gaslighting. Ultimately, you may reach a place where you feel ready to move on from the relationship.
How do I know if someone is gaslighting me? ›
Signs of Gaslighting. You doubt your feelings and reality: You try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or that you are too sensitive. You question your judgment and perceptions: You are afraid of speaking up or expressing your emotions.How do you outsmart a gaslighter? ›
- First, make sure it's gaslighting. ...
- Take some space from the situation. ...
- Collect evidence. ...
- Speak up about the behavior. ...
- Remain confident in your version of events. ...
- Focus on self-care. ...
- Involve others. ...
- Seek professional support.
- "I did that because I was trying to help you." ...
- "That's not what happened." ...
- "This is why you don't have friends." ...
- "That is hardly important." ...
- "It's not that big of a deal." ...
- "You're too sensitive."
- "You're overthinking it." ...
- "You're being paranoid."
When you tell a gaslighter they're gaslighting, you're seeking a validation they will never give. They will not admit to the mental abuse. When you tell yourself someone is gaslighting, you give yourself permission to validate your own experience. The person doing it to you does not have to agree for it to be true.What are the two signature moves of gaslighters? ›
“Gaslighters have two signature moves,” she wrote. “They lie with the intent of creating a false reality, and they cut off their victims socially.” They spread gossip, they take credit for other people's work, and they undercut others in furtherance of their own position.What are gaslighting tactics? ›
Today, we use the term gaslighting to describe someone who tries to manipulate another person by making them question their reality. This type of emotional abuse is designed to make the victim doubt themselves and their own experiences.What is a gaslighter personality? ›
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves.What are things gaslighters say? ›
- "I never said that."
- "I did that because I love you."
- "I don't know why you're making such a huge deal of this."
- "You're being overly sensitive."
- "You are being dramatic."
- "You are the issue, not me."
- "If you loved me, you would..."
- "You are crazy."
When you confront gaslighters about their behavior, they often change the subject or counter-attack by telling you that it's all your fault or you are the one with the problem. They may say that you made them act the way they did because you irritated them.Do gaslighters love their victims? ›
Gaslighters love to wield your love and affection for them as a weapon against you and will use this phrase to excuse a wide variety of bad behaviors, Stern says.
What is a gaslight apology? ›
Jamie Schenk DeWitt, a psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles told Newsweek: "A gaslighting apology is a conditional apology that makes the person apologizing appear as if they are sincerely saying 'I am sorry,' but they aren't taking any responsibility for hurting you.What is the most common form of gaslighting? ›
Shifting blame is a common gaslighting tactic. Accusing the victim of being the gaslighter causes confusion, makes them question the situation, and draws attention away from the true gaslighter's harmful behavior, Sarkis says.What a professional gaslighter looks like? ›
Gaslighting at work is when a fellow employee or boss (the gaslighter) manipulates you to the point that you question your own sanity, memory, or perceptions. The gaslighter can do this by denying past events, downplaying your emotions, or retelling events so that you take the blame.How do you recognize a gaslighting manipulation? ›
- Having trouble making even simple decisions.
- Making excuses for your partner's behavior to family or friends.
- Constantly second-guessing yourself.
- Blaming yourself for the way the other person treats you.
- Try to Recognize What's Happening. ...
- Confront Them About Their Behavior. ...
- Compile Proof. ...
- Decide Whether the Relationship Is Worth It. ...
- Lean on Friends and Family. ...
- Prioritize Self Care. ...
- Seek Professional Help.
“It's making someone seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible, making them feel like what they're seeing or experiencing isn't real, that they're making it up, that no one else will believe them.” Gaslighting involves an imbalance of power between the abuser and the person they're gaslighting.What triggers gaslighting? ›
One of the most common reasons people gaslight is to gain power over others. This need for domination may stem from narcissism, antisocial personality, or other issues. Like most cases of abuse, gaslighting is about control. As gaslighting progresses, the target often second-guesses their own memories and thoughts.Can gaslighting be unintentional? ›
Sometimes gaslighting happens unintentionally – perhaps because of someone's desire to deflect responsibility for a mistake. But some people engage in it intentionally and regularly, and that's when it can have an especially toxic effect.What are the three types of gaslighters? ›
I will describe the different types of gaslighters the “glamour gaslighter” “good guy gaslighter” “the intimidator gaslighter”.Do gaslighters know they are doing it? ›
Do gaslighters know they're gaslighting? Gaslighting lies on a spectrum. Some gaslighters don't know they're gaslighting and are largely unaware of how their behavior is affecting the other person. But some gaslighters are very well aware of what they are doing, and it is done with intention and without remorse.
Do gaslighters Apologise? ›
They do apologize—but those apologies are conditional.
He's simply manipulating you into feeling seen by acknowledging your feelings. Gaslighters will only apologize if they are trying to get something out of you.
Gaslighters use lies, false promises and personal attacks to make those around them doubt themselves. For example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss says, “You can all leave at noon on Friday.” When Friday comes along, your boss indignantly says, “I would never say you could leave early.What kind of person engages in gaslighting? ›
Gaslighting is the use of a patterned, repetitive set of manipulation tactics that makes someone question reality. It's often used by people with narcissistic personality disorder, abusive individuals, cult leaders, criminals, and dictators. It's important to point out that gaslighting is a “patterned” behavior.Who do gaslighters target? ›
Tactic #4: Gaslighters are often fueled by sexism
Of course, gaslighting can be used by anyone against anyone—it's not always gendered. But it's often used as a form of emotional abuse against women. It works, in part, because it feeds off sexist stereotypes of women as crazy, jealous, emotional, weak, or incapable.
They may try to make you feel like you're overreacting or being too sensitive by saying things like, “You're being paranoid,” or “You're imagining things.” They might also try to control what you do and who you see by trying to isolate you from your friends and family.What does gaslighting say in family? ›
Here are a few examples of gaslighting behaviors. A parent might tell a child, “you're not hungry; you're tired” when he or she begs for a snack in the grocery store. Or, the parent might say, “you're being too sensitive” when a child complains that a sibling hurt his or her feelings.What is the end goal of a gaslighter? ›
The goal of a gaslighter is to make a person doubt themself by feeding them lies and using their own position to cause mental health harm. The term gaslighting, or gaslighter, comes from a play from the late 1930s, according to Britannica.How do you hurt a gaslighter? ›
The best way to destroy a gaslighter is to appear emotionless. They enjoy getting a rise out of you, so it's frustrating to them when they don't get the reaction they expected. When they realize you don't care anymore, they will likely try convincing you they'll change, but don't fall for it.How does a gaslighter end a relationship? ›
Break up in One Quick Conversation
One key to a successful split with a gaslighter is to make it fast, ideally in a single conversation. Tell them it's not working and the relationship is over, and say it in a straightforward, calm, and direct voice.
Belittling remarks like, “You're so dumb,” or “You would be more attractive if…” might be mistaken for harmless joking or constructive criticism that makes you second guess yourself and wonder if there is any truth in it.
How does a gaslighter feel? ›
Gaslighting causes chronic stress and severe emotional distress. The constant barrage of verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults eventually wears away your sense of identity, self-worth, and self-confidence while also eating away at your sanity.What gaslighting looks like in a relationship? ›
Gaslighting in relationships can look like something as innocuous as being convinced that you're the one always leaving the bathroom light on (and jacking up the electric bill), to a much more heinous situation where one person is forced into questioning their own reality.How does a narcissist apologize? ›
In narcissists' efforts to avoid blame, they often combine several fake apologies at once, such as, “I am sorry if I said anything to offend you, but I have strong opinions. Maybe you're too sensitive,” or, “I guess I should tell you I am sorry. But you know I would never deliberately hurt you.Am I being Gaslighted or am I the gaslighter? ›
You are guilty of downplaying others' emotions.
When a person is hurt by something you've said or done, your usual response is that they're overreacting and to stop making things up. This may make a person believe their emotions are not valid or excessive. If this sounds like you, you are definitely gaslighting.
Empathy and trust are the opposite of gaslighting.How do you end something with a gaslighter? ›
The best option is to leave and cut off all communication with the gaslighter—go "radio silence." Be prepared for them to try everything in their power to get you back into their clutches. They need attention—and if they aren't getting it from a new relationship, they will come back for you. Keep up no contact.Does a gaslighter know what they are doing? ›
Unconscious gaslighters don't realize or accept that they are manipulating your reality. Hence, they feel no need to change their habits. Since they do not act maliciously toward their victims, we can mark them as “normal, good” people who gaslight without a motive or reason.Do you tell a gaslighter they are gaslighting? ›
When you tell a gaslighter they're gaslighting, you're seeking a validation they will never give. They will not admit to the mental abuse. When you tell yourself someone is gaslighting, you give yourself permission to validate your own experience. The person doing it to you does not have to agree for it to be true.What do gaslighters fear? ›
What does a gaslighter fear? Gaslighting in a relationship is about power, domination, and often fear of losing control. Often a gaslighter will use some of the following tactics to maintain control over their partner: They use their love as a defense for their actions. They accuse their victim of being paranoid.What is the end goal of gaslighters? ›
The goal of a gaslighter is to make a person doubt themself by feeding them lies and using their own position to cause mental health harm. The term gaslighting, or gaslighter, comes from a play from the late 1930s, according to Britannica.
Do gaslighters end relationships? ›
Typically, gaslighters do not want to break up. "In most cases, they want to stay in the relationship and keep it on their terms," says mental health counselor Rebecca Weiler.What mental illness causes gaslighting? ›
Certain mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder lend themselves to gaslighting as those illnesses give people a distorted view of themselves and others and a propensity toward manipulating others for their own ends by any means necessary, as well as never ...How do you watch out for gaslighting? ›
- Their friends don't come to them when they feel vulnerable. Think about the kinds of problems their friends or family feel comfortable discussing with them. ...
- Their language is critical. ...
- They've been told in the past that they gaslight.
The idea seems to be that validation is the opposite of gaslighting: Gaslighting makes you doubt what you think, while validation affirms what you think. But this approach assumes that what you think about yourself is correct.