Gaslighting is a manipulative behavior that involves implanting new memories, making you question your own thoughts, or even making you second-guess your own reality.

Gaslighting is dangerous and abusive.

And I’m going to teach you how to properly identify it and never be a victim of gaslighting again. In this guide, you’re going to learn:

  • what gaslighting is
  • 10 signs you’re being gaslighted
  • why we fall victim to gaslighting
  • how to combat gaslighting
  • and more!

Let’s dive in.

What is Gaslighting?

There are usually 2 players involved in gaslighting: the gaslighter and the victim.

Gaslighting 101
  • The gaslighter “externalizes and projects” their thoughts, feelings, or perceptions onto the victim.
  • The victim accepts the perpetrator’s created reality and incorporates it into their way of thinking or living.

In other words, the gaslighter manipulates the victim’s behavior. They might manipulate behavior in the following ways:

  • Minimizing feelings. Gaslighters might make you think you’re overreacting or being overemotional.
  • Questioning reality. Expert gaslighters might question your memories or past events.
  • Denial. Did they do something bad? If you bring it up, gaslighters might deny it ever happened.
  • Diminishing. If a huge problem arises, they might diminish the problem by undermining its importance.
  • Reputation dragging. Gaslighters might hurt your reputation by calling you out or discrediting you in front of others.

Want to know how I was gaslighted? Read my story here:

Back in high school, I had a really tough-as-nails debate teacher. He always made his students attend debate tournaments, even on weekends. And he just had this power—nobody could say no to him. So I attended debate after debate, all because he wanted me to. I felt like I had to. But when I finally said I couldn’t attend yet another debate tournament, he looked at me and said, “You’re not going to get anywhere in life if you don’t step up your game, Vanessa.”

I was gaslighted by my high school teacher. He made me feel useless unless I was in constant debate mode. And I still remember it to this day.

People who gaslight can be a coworker, a friend, a stranger you just met, or even a parent. In other words, gaslighters can be anyone.

Expert gaslighters can be master persuaders who can even make you psychologically dependent on their way of thinking.

Gaslighters strive to maintain control. When they sense their control loosening, they’ll use a variety of manipulation tactics to grasp at the last straws of control they have left.

You might hear them say common phrases like:

  • “You’re the one who made me lie!”
  • “You worry too much.”
  • “You’re so dramatic!”
  • “Did you forget again?”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “You’re seeing something that’s not there!”
  • “You’re crazy/irrational/silly/ignorant/careless/[insert adjective here].”

Gaslighters usually aren’t born manipulative, though. They develop it through a keen sense of social learning. They learn that the words they say can persuade. They learn that they can control others. And they learn they can gain immense power by doing so.

To stop gaslighting, you’ve got to recognize the signs before they become the norm.

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10 Signs You’re Being Gaslighted

10 signs you're being gaslighted infographic

Watch out for these common signs of gaslighting:

  • They call you crazy, even if you’re not.
  • You start thinking you’re overreacting to all the small things.
  • Your memories and past events start becoming blurred.
  • You constantly ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?”
  • Apologizing becomes your go-to response.
  • They deny, deny, and deny more. You start to believe it.
  • You feel something is wrong… but you don’t exactly know what it is.
  • They make you think your emotions are invalid.
  • They refuse to listen to your concerns.
  • Every time you speak the truth, they accuse you of lying.

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Memories Can Be False

How much do you remember about your childhood?

Do you remember that time you got lost at the mall, only to be rescued by an elderly stranger and finally returned to your parents?

If you don’t… you’re perfectly normal. Because this scenario never actually happened.

In one scientific study, people were told that this exact same made-up story actually happened when they were young. And believe it or not, 25% of people falsely remembered this made-up event.

In other words, our memories can be fabricated by subtle suggestion and manipulation.

This is how gaslighters take control of their victims. Using their body language and persuasive words, they are able to grasp onto a victim’s mind and implant subtle suggestions that can lead to small lies… or massive ones.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the different kinds of gaslighting.

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The 6 Types of Gaslighters

Gaslighting can happen in relationships, with family, in politics, anywhere! I’ve found there are 6 characters in particular that highlight how gaslighting works. Have you ever been the victim of one of these manipulators?

#1: The Casanova

#1: The Casanova

The Casanova is a relationship gaslighter and one of the worst types—since they are your significant other, you may be living with them 24/7 or seeing them more than other people in your life. Basically, this means…

The Casanova has the power to manipulate you at the deepest level.

Casanovas can manipulate you by deciding what kind of clothes you can wear, what friends you’re allowed to see, what you’re allowed to eat, when you can go out, when you can sleep, and the list goes on!

Now, you can probably see how deadly a Casanova can be if you fall victim to their tactics. One victim of gaslighting by the name of Simone said her ex-husband attacked her sanity and almost made her go crazy. According to Simone, he:

  1. hacked into her social media account
  2. created a public post that made her appear unstable
  3. accessed her bank accounts and moved money around randomly
  1. told her friends about her insanity
  2. told her she was not fit to be a mother

Talk about crazy, right!?

For gaslighters like Simone’s ex-husband, their technique is to manage a relationship by control. Look for these relationship gaslighting warning signs:

  • insisting on monitoring their partner’s cell phone, email, and activities
  • telling their partner where they can go and who they can see
  • dictating when their partner can go to school or work
  • the use of insults, threats, and intimidating behavior
  • taking control of their partner’s finances

Gaslighting in relationships can be extremely dangerous, especially if a couple has already moved in together.

But it’s not only women who are victims.

Men can also be victims of gaslighting in relationships—take, for example, the infamous relationship between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp.

Here at Science of People, we try to focus on the good side of people. However, there are times when relationships don’t work out or we get angry. For an example of gaslighting, listen to the following audio (warning: explicit content ahead):

And gaslighting doesn’t have to come from romantic relationships either.

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#2: The Tiger Parent

#2: The Tiger Parent

The tiger parent is an overwhelming family member (usually a parent) who tries to be the dominant ruler of a household. You might know someone like this—my middle school friend’s father is a prime example I can remember.

The term “tiger parent” actually came from the book Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, in which a mother describes her “work hard, play never” philosophy of training her kids to be a pianist prodigy and a gifted violinist.

Here are some signs you might have a tiger parent (or are one yourself!). Their kids are never allowed to:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade lower than an A
  • not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama

Pretty dramatic, right? While this form of gaslighting can lead to successful kids, it might not lead to happy ones.

With this much work (even citing her kids playing piano for 3 hours a day… even during vacation!), there’s bound to be a lot of stress on kids who are victims of parental gaslighting.

For a great example of gaslighting, have you ever seen the movie Tangled? The main villain, Mother Gothel, is a perfect example of a family member who gaslights.

She uses a variety of manipulation tactics to try and change Rapunzel’s view of the world:

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#3: Doctor Doom

#3: Doctor Doom

The Doctor Doom character is a gaslighter whose specialty is in the medical realm. They might be doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals. They might:

  • blame your sickness or illness on wrong causes, such as personality, living conditions, or even the weather
  • downplay your illness or even deny the existence of it
  • exaggerate or imply your condition is worse than it is

Gaslighters in the medical realm are rare, but they are as potent as cyanide—too much of their gaslighting and your life can really be at risk.

A person who felt sick over at Healthline, for example, went to the doctor to diagnose her symptoms. When the doctor saw she was taking antidepressants, however, they immediately dismissed her and said it was because of her mental illness.

However, once her symptoms worsened, she saw another doctor and it turned out to be a bad case of pneumonia. Talk about bad gaslighting!

If you ever suspect you’re being medically gaslighted, I highly recommend seeking the professional advice of more than one doctor. Remember, while we try to place our trust in doctors, not all doctors will correctly diagnose you—especially if they are gaslighters.

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#4: The Supremacist

Gaslighting can also come in the form of racial brainwashing. We’ve seen this with the World War II era’s Nazi Party, which brainwashed German citizens to eradicate Jews because Hitler believed they were “the lowest form of human in his hierarchy of race.”

Gaslighting can even be used as a form of discrimination, if used to marginalize your culture, skin color, ethnic origins, or other minority status.

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#5: The Persuasive Politician

#5: The Persuasive Politician

Think about all those “fearmongering” ads on TV or the constant back-and-forth downplaying between political parties. Politicians use gaslighting techniques to drag other politicians down and get you to vote for them.

Are you being persuaded by political gaslighting? Ask yourself these questions:

  • “Do I really believe in what the politicians are advocating for and not the emotional aspects of their arguments?”
  • “Do I surround myself with people who have different political views, and can I engage in rational discussion with them?”
  • “Can I clearly and logically explain the different parties’ viewpoints on different issues?”

If you said yes to the above 3 questions, then congrats! You might be ahead of the gaslighting game.

However, if you said no to any of the above, you might be falling for common political gaslighting tactics. To avoid gaslighting tactics, make sure you fully understand each politician’s arguments before constructing your own.

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#6: Big Brother

#6: Big Brother

You might have read the book 1984, in which the government uses gaslighting methods to control its citizens with its infamous slogan, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”

This is an institutional form of gaslighting, where the government or other institution gaslights its followers to believe in its propaganda.

And just like in the book, we face institutional gaslighting every single day. Gaslighting from organizations usually has an ulterior motive—and it’s to persuade YOU to believe them and comply with their own objectives.

So the next time you suspect you’re being gaslighted, ask yourself: “Is it best for my interest or theirs?

For more information on how to detect nonverbal cues through advertising, head on over to our article here[advertising psychology article].

Special Note: While gaslighting is almost always used negatively, not ALL gaslighting can be bad. In the movie Matilda, the main character uses her psychic powers to draw on the chalkboard and send a warning message to the evil principal:

This causes the principal to rethink her evil actions… and possibly pushes her toward doing more good rather than evil.

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How to Combat Gaslighting

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#1: Detach

First, I want you to take a step back.

Taking a step back (mentally and maybe even physically) might help you see your situation more clearly.

Try one of the following:

  • Take a deep breath. Deep abdominal breathing increases oxygen exchange in your body, allowing you to ease stress.
  • Take a step back. This might be a personal one, but taking a step back helps me see the situation “in front of me.” If I think I’m being gaslighted, I can easily see if I actually AM being gaslighted and identify the clear signs of gaslighting.
  • Stay focused. Don’t stress, don’t panic. It’s easy to fall victim to these, so I highly recommend heading over to my guide on reducing your anxiety. This is critical to helping you think clearly in the long run.

Once your mind is detached from the situation and you can focus, continue on.

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#2: Speak With Confidence

Remember, gaslighters WANT you to crack under pressure.

If you truly believe you are right and they are trying to gaslight you, try standing your ground and being confident. You might even want to try a confidence pose.

Watch out for negative body language cues. If you’re dealing with someone particularly aggressive, you might notice telltale aggressive body language, like the nostril flare or clenched jaw.

And finally, make sure you speak with confidence. To achieve this, you want to speak from your diaphragm and with high-level conviction.

One way to do this is to find your maximum resonance point. This is the personal vocal range that makes you sound the loudest, richest, most relaxed, and most confident. Here is my favorite technique to find your maximum resonance point:

For more confidence speaking tips, head on over to my article: How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better.

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#3: Become a Detective

The next step is to become a detective and gather as much intel as possible. This will help if you ever need to provide evidence—for yourself OR the gaslighter:

  • Secret Diary: A secret diary is a way to log all events that happened—this way, you’ll have a personal reminder of exactly what happened. You can keep a personal diary and track events, including dates, times, and details. Secret diaries aren’t 100% foolproof, but you can always refer to them if you ever start questioning yourself or what really happened. You can even use secret diaries to record events of others gaslighting you!
  • Become a Photographer: Not into writing? Taking pictures is another way you can “fact-check” your own memories and remind yourself that it’s not just your imagination. Pictures are helpful if you’re not much of a writer or you’re a visual memorizer.
  • Voice Memos: Another alternative is to use your phone to record events on a voice recording app. Most modern smartphones come with a preinstalled recorder app, so this should be a piece of cake. Special Note: In some states, it may be illegal to record someone else without their permission. Always do your due diligence before recording others!
  • Emailing a Trusted Friend: There’s a reason why it’s better to record things by email than by phone. Emails keep a written log, which is useful if you want to keep evidence. You can simply email yourself, or if you know a trusted person, send a log of events to them so you can refer to it later.

Once you’ve kept a secret diary, voice recording, etc., you have an official record of the exact gaslighting events that have occurred:

  • you know that you’re NOT imagining things
  • you know you ARE being lied to
  • you know that you’re absolutely a victim of gaslighting

Once you have a record, you can talk with someone you trust to help you through your situation. Which leads me to the next step…

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#4: Your Trust Buddy

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have ONE person you can trust. It can be:

  • a parent
  • a close friend
  • a counsellor
  • a childhood friend
  • a neighbor

The bottom line is, if you’re constantly being gaslighted, you need a central figure you can talk to and share your experiences with. Do not be afraid to reach out—the longer you wait, the worse the gaslighting may become.

For a list of therapists, I highly recommend checking out this resource:

Best Free Online Therapists in 2021

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#5: Heal From Gaslighting With Positive Affirmations

So you’ve been gaslighted. You’ve tried the steps above, and you’ve escaped. First of all, congratulations!

It might hurt, but there is a way to heal from the trauma of gaslighting.

My favorite healing method is using positive affirmations. Here are some affirmations to follow if you’re recovering from being gaslighted:

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BONUS: Where Does Gaslighting Come From?

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 British play Gas Light, in which a husband misplaces random objects around the house and dims the gaslights to make his wife think she’s going crazy (hint: she’s not).

What are your thoughts on gaslighting? Have you ever been manipulated to believe something that wasn’t the truth?

Remember, if you’re a victim of gaslighting, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. If you’re having trouble finding a reputable therapist, you might want to try calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Organization.

For further reading, continue on…

About Science of People

Our mission is to help you achieve your social and professional goals faster using science-backed, practical advice. Our team curates the best communication, relationship, and social skills research; turning into actionable and relatable life skills. Science of People was founded by Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma.

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