Gaslighting is a kind of emotional abuse, through which perpetrators manipulate their victims into questioning their own sense of reality. Many of the techniques that gaslighters use can be subtle and perhaps even surprising. But the more you know about the issue the better you will be at recognizing it. So here are 20 telltale signs…
20. They make you question reality
If your partner has you questioning your sanity, they could be gaslighting you. In fact, forcing someone to doubt their own sense of reality is the very definition of this specific form of manipulation. And in 2018 Dr. Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect, told TV reporters on NBC News, “It is always dangerous.”
The term “gaslighting” itself is taken from the 1944 film Gaslight, which sees a husband, played by Charles Boyer, attempt to undermine his wife (Ingrid Bergman) by loosening her grip on reality. To do so, he dims the lights in their home, hides her jewelry and takes photographs off the wall while accusing her of being the culprit. As a result, she doubts her sanity and grows ever-more-dependent on her husband.
19. They use the people you love as ammunition
Gaslighters will sometimes attack the people close to their victims in a bid to further exert their control. For instance, if you’re close to your kids, they might turn against them first. Alternatively, they might tell you that your friends and family are “crazy” in an attempt to distance you from them.
Alternatively, perpetrators might involve the people you love in their manipulations. In February 2020 psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis explained to Health magazine, “A gaslighter might even go to your mom to avoid direct confrontation, stir things up, and bad-mouth you, so that [your mom] can be the one to suggest that you do something about your mental state.”
18. They focus on your “flaws”
A key sign that you’re being gaslighted is when your partner constantly reminds you of your weaknesses or shortcomings. As a result, you’re left feeling that no matter what you do, there’s always something lacking. You may even come to believe that you’re not good enough, because of things your partner has said.
Gaslighters will make disparaging remarks about their partners, not in an attempt to find solutions to relationship issues, but to make their victims feel defensive. These personal attacks can cause a person to feel vulnerable. And this, in turn, provides the perpetrator with more control in the relationship, which they can then exploit.
17. They don’t acknowledge their own shortcomings
According to magazine Psychology Today, while a gaslighter may seem to fixate on your flaws, they rarely admit to their own shortcomings. Furthermore, if they are met with criticism they may well go on the offensive. Alternatively, they could play the victim, use excuses or blame others in an attempt to cover up their own weaknesses.
Rather than owning up to their inadequacies, a gaslighter might create misdirection by responding with counter-accusations and claims. In doing so they shift the focus off of themselves and onto their partner. This enables them to get away with their own wrongdoings and weaknesses.
16. Their actions differ from their words
Often gaslighters will tell outright lies to their partners while maintaining a completely straight face. These stark mistruths, according to Psychology Today, are intended to cause confusion to the victim and make them question their sense of reality. As a result, it’s important to look beyond a perpetrator’s words to their actions.
To determine whether you’re being gaslighted, focus on what your partner is doing rather than what they’re saying. Since what they say potentially cannot be trusted, it’s their actions that are the crucial thing. And if their behavior doesn’t match up with what they’re telling you, there’s a possibility you’re being manipulated.
15. They deny they said something even if there’s proof
Clearly, lying is a major issue when it comes to gaslighting. And many perpetrators are so blatantly dishonest that they will push their fabricated version of events, even when there’s evidence to disprove them. For instance, they may deny that they said or did something, even if there’s proof to the contrary.
Once again, lying like this is another way that gaslighters can confuse their victims so that they don’t know what to believe. And as this behavior goes on, the person in the firing line will continue to question reality further. As a result, it’s easier for them to start accepting their abuser’s version of events.
14. They randomly praise you
A gaslighter will often use intermittent positive reinforcement in an attempt to manipulate their victims, revealed Psychology Today. A sudden burst of praise from a person who, as we’ve covered, more often emphasizes your flaws can be extremely confusing. Moreover, it may make victims think that their perpetrators aren’t so bad after all.
Again, this sudden display of approval is a very deliberate attempt to throw a gaslighter’s victim off-kilter by warping their sense of reality. However, while it may sound that they are giving praise, listen carefully to what they’re actually saying. Very often they will only be positive about something from which they benefit.
13. They use confusion to weaken you
Perpetrators often use confusion to exert control over and weaken their partners. By doing so, they can come across as a source of stability, when they are in fact the root of the problem. Gaslighters know that people seek and value a sense of normality; as a result, they will seek to destroy this.
By uprooting their victim’s sense of stability and forcing them to question their reality, gaslighters become their partner’s only point of reference. As a result, they can come to rely on their abuser to provide them with a sense of security in life. However, very often, this trust is misplaced.
12. They project
We’ve already covered that gaslighters are unlikely to acknowledge their own inadequacies. However, they may unconsciously attribute some of these impulses or attributes onto others. This practice is what’s known as projecting. By doing this, perpetrators can shift their own negative feelings about themselves onto someone else.
Psychoanalysts first linked projection to gaslighting in 1981. And the practice may manifest itself in different ways. For instance, if the perpetrator is an adulterer or a user of narcotics, then they might accuse you of the same behaviors. It can happen so often that a victim feels the need to defend themselves, therefore taking the emphasis off their abuser’s conduct.
11. They turn people against you
Being master manipulators, gaslighters will often surround themselves by people who they know will have their backs no matter what. Moreover, they often use these people in their bid to gain control over their partner. The Psychology Today article suggested that they might use the individuals to back up their false claims, for example saying things like, “This person knows you’re crazy.”
Keep in mind that gaslighters are prone to lying. As a result, the people around them might not be saying anything against you at all. However, as long as victims believe that they are, they will wonder who they can really trust. This makes them feel isolated and therefore gives the perpetrator yet more control.
10. They tell you other people are liars
Another way that gaslighters attempt to isolate their victims from others is by telling them that the people around them are lying. They may even target close friends and family members in an attempt to convince their partners that no one can be trusted. As a result, victims may come to believe that their perpetrator is the only one to whom they can turn.
A gaslighter might even claim that news and media sources cannot be trusted, in a bid to make their victim question reality. This manipulation technique presents the perpetrator as the only source of “correct” information. Once again, it’s a way of increasing control over their partners by helping to validate their lies.
9. They tell you you’re crazy
One of the most powerful weapons a gaslighter has in their arsenal is to tell their victims that they’re crazy. It’s effective as a tool as it simply dismisses their concerns and again forces them to question their sanity. Furthermore, if you’re questioning your own rationality, you may fear that others are doing the same.
Making their victims believe that they’re not behaving in a sane way has a destabilizing effect, asserted Psychology Today. It makes them less likely to share their concerns with their relationship or seek help as they worry others will question their state of mind or simply not believe them. As a result, they may feel trapped in their situation.
8. They correct your recollections
Gaslighters often use confusion in an attempt to cover up their misdemeanors. As a result, they may correct their partner’s version of events in order to better reflect their own behavior. For instance, they may flat-out deny that they did something, even if their partner remembers it correctly.
Ben Michaelis works as a clinical psychologist in New York. And he told Health, “If they’re questioning your memory, or causing you to question your memory of certain events or narratives, that’s a big [red flag]… It really is about [twisting] your sense of reality, and that’s what’s so harmful about it.”
7. They stop communicating when you highlight a problem
When victims do voice their concerns to their gaslighter, they will often be met with silence or ignored completely. As Sarkis explained to Health, “You’ll be right in front of them and they’ll act like you’re not even there. They’ll refuse to talk to you, or they will ghost you and not text you.”
Being shut out can lead victims to fret over how they dealt with the issue and perhaps even to regret raising it in the first place. However, this is exactly what perpetrators want. After all, it deflects the attention off of their conduct and instead forces their partners to question their own behavior.
6. Their mistakes are your fault
Gaslighters want you to believe that you’re constantly messing up. With that in mind, they often blame their victims for their own mistakes. For instance, if they’re late for an event it was because their partner failed to be clear about a time. In other words, it was their victim who was in the wrong.
Jeremy Sherman is a social science researcher who blogs on the Psychology Today website. And he explained the purpose of this tactic to Health. Sherman said, “[Gaslighters] have to be right about everything. Someone’s got to be wrong and that is going to be you.”
5. Saying sorry is an issue
Gaslighting victims tend to find themselves apologizing constantly in their relationship, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. However, in contrast, perpetrators rarely say sorry. When they do, they might apologize for their partner’s reaction, rather than the behavior that caused it.
These backhanded apologies will sound something like, “I’m sorry you were upset,” or “I’m sorry you had a problem with my actions.” This terminology diverts the responsibility for their misdemeanor to their partner’s response. As a result, it once again makes the victim feel as though it’s they that are in the wrong.
4. They make you feel insecure
Victims of gaslighting may often feel worried or insecure. They may begin to believe their partner’s negative portrayal of them to be true and question their own self-worth. Alternatively, they could be unsure about how to behave, or concerned about when their abuser might go on the attack once more.
Gaslighting works by distorting a victim’s perception of the world and ultimately themselves. So as perpetrators chip away at their partner’s sense of self-worth, they may come to feel negative about themselves. They may put themselves down or attempt to change part of their character that they’ve come to dislike.
3. You seek their validation
Gaslighters manipulate their partners via a pattern of ill-treatment and occasional positive reinforcement. As a result, the victim lives in constant hope of better treatment, which might cause them to become more compliant with their perpetrator. This is what’s known as a codependent relationship.
In a codependent relationship, victims become emotionally and psychologically dependent on their partners. For a gaslighter, this means that they have all the power to give approval, acceptance and security to their victims. They also have the ability to take all those things away, meaning their victims have to work hard to stay in their good books.
2. You try to hide their coercive behavior
It’s not uncommon for victims of psychological abuse, like gaslighting, to feel some sense of shame about their situation. With this in mind, they may put on a brave face for others or simply pretend that everything’s alright. Furthermore, when concerned loved ones inquire, victims might find themselves making excuses for their partners’ behavior.
cites examples of how in a bid to cover up the psychological abuse they’re suffering, gaslighting victims might take responsibility for their partners’ actions. They might claim that they provoked negative behavior, or claim that their perpetrator is simply stressed. Alternatively, they may express the desire to help or change their partner.
1. You’re constantly walking on eggshells
Not knowing when their partner will flare up means that gaslighting victims feel like they have to walk on eggshells. They may be unable to express themselves freely as they are worried about saying something that’s not right. As a result, this can have a negative impact on their mental health.
Victims of gaslighting may feel anxious in the presence of their partners. Furthermore, they may experience symptoms of depression, stress and trauma. They could even develop obsessive-compulsive tendencies, as they feel the need to monitor or correct themselves constantly.