Gaslighting is such a disorienting experience that victims often don’t realize it’s happening to them. However, it can have harmful effects on your mental health and well-being if not addressed. Fortunately, you are not alone, and there are ways to protect yourself.
In this article, we’ll examine what gaslighting is, the signs to look out for, and how to avoid it.
What Is Gaslighting? (Definition)
Gaslighting1https://www.proquest.com/openview/0c6d2066bc1732bdd632be2194fad496/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750 is a form of manipulation and control over someone else that can profoundly impact a victim’s mental health and well-being in that it makes them question the validity of their own feelings, thoughts, actions, and even their sanity.
While the phenomenon is not new, the term first emerged in the 1930s play-turned-film Gaslight. In the story, a woman is made to feel insane and question her reality when her husband manipulates her by changing the level of intensity of their gas lamps (among other disturbing behaviors). By the film’s end, she is committed to a mental institution, and her husband steals her inheritance. Tragic!
Ultimately, gaslighting is a learned behavior1https://www.proquest.com/openview/0c6d2066bc1732bdd632be2194fad496/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750 that stems from an unhealthy need to maintain control over others. When a victim accepts and integrates the projected reality of the gaslighter into their life, they often experience mental health issues related to anxiety, stress, or low self-esteem.
The unfortunate reality is that gaslighters can be anyone—a coworker, boss, doctor, partner, friend, or family member. Additionally, it may be hard to know whether you’re the victim of gaslighting, so it’s important to be aware of the signs. Let’s look at some common behaviors, signs, and red flags to look out for.
10 Signs & Red Flags You’re Being Gaslighted
If you recognize these signs in your relationships, you may be the victim of gaslighting; they include denial, minimization, blame-shifting, isolation, withholding, causing confusion or doubt, criticism, projection, narcissism, and love bombing.
The gaslighter denies something that has happened or an agreement made. For example, they might deny that they promised to do something for you or deny that they made you feel a certain way. Some common phrases you might hear them say include,
- “I never agreed to that.”
- “Did you forget again? I’m worried about you.”
- “You’re wrong.”
- “That never happened/I never said/did that.”
- “You don’t really feel that way.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You often second guess yourself.
The gaslighter downplays the significance of something that happened or your feelings. For example, they might say that what they did wasn’t a big deal or that you’re overreacting. Some common phrases you might hear them say include,
- “You worry too much.”
- “You’re so dramatic!”
- “Oh, it’s not that bad. Get over it. Others have it worse.”
- “Why are you so emotional?”
- Or if you’re in the workplace, “That’s why they call it a job.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You often feel unsure about who you are and what you think.
The gaslighter shifts the blame onto you for something that they did. For example, they might say it’s your fault that they yelled at you because you made them angry. Some common phrases you might hear them say include,
- “It’s your fault for making me act this way.”
- “If you weren’t so [insert adjective here], I wouldn’t have to yell at you.”
- “It’s not my fault you’re so [insert adjective here].”
- They may also blame something or someone outside of your relationship, “It’s not my fault, [Name] was irresponsible, so I had no choice.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You feel like you’re constantly apologizing. And when you’re with others, you tend to defend the gaslighter’s behavior.
The gaslighter withholds important information or resources from you. For example, they might not tell you about a job opportunity that they heard about because they don’t want you to succeed or they want to keep you under their control. Some other examples include withholding:
- Money: They control shared money and create dependence through allowances.
- Affection: Their affection is often conditional on behavior that benefits them.
- Validation: They often do not validate or affirm your real feelings or concerns.
- Support: When you need specific support, they may deny you that support or offer support that they deem more appropriate.
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You have trouble making decisions on your own.
Causing Confusion and Doubt
The gaslighter uses confusion to make you doubt your own reality. For example, they might say something that contradicts what they said earlier, or they might change their story frequently. Some common phrases you might hear them say include,
- “You’re seeing something that’s not there!”
- “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
- “You’re not remembering it right. This is what really happened…”
- “I can’t believe you think I would do/say that.”
- “It was just a joke. Why can’t you take a joke?”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You often feel confused or question your memory.
The gaslighter isolates you from friends and family, so you have little to no one to turn to for support or validation. For example, they might make you feel guilty and discourage you from spending time with your friends or family because they’re jealous and prefer to keep you to themselves. Some phrases you might hear them say include,
- “They don’t love/care about you like I do.”
- “I can give you everything you need.”
- “They’re [negative adjective]. You don’t need them.”
- “If you leave, I’ll be so depressed.” or “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t leave.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You find yourself lying to friends and family and feel obligated to the person gaslighting you.
The gaslighter criticizes you for simply being yourself. For example, they might make fun of you for your ideas, feelings, or way of doing things. Some phrases you might hear them say include,
- “You’re crazy/irrational/silly/ignorant/careless/[insert adjective here].”
- “There’s something wrong with you!”
- “You need help.”
- “You think you’re so smart.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You feel a sense of worthlessness or incompetence.
The gaslighter projects their version of reality onto someone else. For example, if they feel a certain way about something, they may deny their own feelings and instead project that feeling onto someone else and play the victim. Some phrases you might hear them say include,
- “Why are you being so paranoid?”
- “You’re so needy. You should give me some space.”
- “The world is a dangerous place. Stop being foolish.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You often feel unsure about how you really feel.
A gaslighter is often a narcissist with a high view of themselves and believes themselves to be more important than others. Their image of themself gives them the audacity to try to control others and maintain power because they believe they deserve it. Some things you might experience or witness with a gaslighting narcissist include,
- Bragging and exaggerating about themselves while putting others down
- Playing victim to gain sympathy or express others’ fault (covert narcissism)
- Taking advantage of people and showing no remorse
- Craving admiration or attention and being overly sensitive to criticism
- Displaying extreme jealousy, especially when they don’t get their way
- Demonstrating a short temper (especially when criticized)
Sign you’re being gaslighted: You feel like your emotions or opinions are not important.
A gaslighter may use tactics of love bombing, which is another form of emotional abuse and manipulation used to gain trust for the purpose of controlling someone else. To a victim, it can often feel disorienting because it might feel like an abundance of love; however, it is usually masked by ill intentions. Some phrases you might hear them say include,
- “I did it because I love you.”
- “After everything I’ve done for you, I can’t believe you’d say/do that.”
- “If you really loved me, you would [insert activity].”
- “You’re so [insert exaggerated flattery]. You should [insert activity for gaslighter’s benefit].”
Sign you’re being gaslighted: The flattery you receive feels disingenuous or manipulative.
Think you might be a victim of gaslighting? If you notice any of these behaviors, signs, or red flags, it’s important to seek help and support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional. Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness!
Think you might be a gaslighter? Here’s an important note for you! If you find yourself acting out one or multiple behaviors listed above, you may have a deep level of insecurity or antisocial personality disorder. Please know that you are not alone, and you can experience freedom from your insecurity and more fulfilling relationships through the work of therapy.
Please note that all content found on this website is not to be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
Examples of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can happen in all kinds of relationships, including with a romantic partner, your boss, a parent, within politics, or even in society. Let’s look at how gaslighting shows up in these different areas with examples from movie and TV clips.
Gaslighting in Relationships
Due to the intimate nature of a romantic relationship, a gaslighter can manipulate their partner at a deeper level. In some cases, they may even manipulate what clothes you wear, what you’re allowed to eat, what friends you’re allowed to see, etc.
They can lead you to believe they have your best intentions at heart; however, they are usually more interested in promoting their own reality and denying yours.
Here is an example from the film Gaslight, where the term originated:
Gaslighting in the Workplace
Gaslighting in the workplace is not uncommon, especially if you have a boss or colleague who shows signs of narcissism. For example, a gaslighter may feel threatened by you and proceed to spread untrue accounts about your performance, making you question whether or not you’re doing a good job.
They may also undermine your efforts or dismiss your concerns, leading you to feel like you should feel lucky despite unfair conditions. It’s not uncommon for gaslighting in the workplace to appear charming and covert, but you may notice it by your sense of confusion about what’s real.
Here is a comedic example from the TV show The Office, where the character Michael Scott spreads rumors about his colleagues to make himself feel better about himself.
Gaslighting in the Family
Gaslighting in a family most often shows up in parent-child relationships, where the parent is usually an overwhelming figure and seeks intense control over various aspects of their child’s life while not giving their child the freedom for self-discovery and play.
For example, they might have a philosophy to “work hard, play never” and control what extra-curricular activities they can and cannot participate in, who they can spend time with, and enforce strict consequences on grades.
A great example of gaslighting in a parent-child relationship is in the movie Tangled, where Rapunzel’s stepmother uses various tactics to manipulate her.
Gaslighting in Politics
Gaslighting in politics often shows up in the form of propaganda, where leaders might have ulterior motives to persuade you to believe and comply with their objectives for their gain. These gaslighters may also use fearmongering tactics to spread lies about their opposing party. As a victim, you may feel easily swayed by an emotionally persuasive argument but unsure how to discuss your conclusion with rationale.
In this funny clip from the TV show Parks and Recreation, characters Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt respond to the gaslighting propaganda people in their community seem to believe about them.
Gaslighting in Society
Unfortunately, gaslighting can show up as a form of discrimination used to marginalize a culture, skin color, gender, and other minority statuses. This form of gaslighting usually stems from a sense of fear or insecurity about others who are different from them, leading gaslighters to act out of their perceived need to “protect” their status or self-esteem by dismissing or discounting others.
It commonly shows up in micro-aggressions against others, but unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout history, it can also lead to extreme violence.
In this uncomfortable movie clip example from Get Out, Chris Washington faces casual racism and microaggressions at a party he attends with his girlfriend.
Gaslighting in the Medical Field
In the medical field, gaslighters tend to dismiss patients’ medical concerns2https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/doctors-gaslighting-patients#2, even to the detriment of their patients. For example, they may blame your sickness on causes like personality, living conditions, or even the weather, or they may downplay your illness altogether, implying that you’re exaggerating about your condition.
In this clip from the TV show Golden Girls, Dorthy confronts the doctor who had dismissed her real health condition.
Special Note: If you suspect you are being gaslighted by a medical professional, seek out a second or even third opinion to address your concerns.
What is the Psychological Impact of Being Gaslighted?
The psychological impact of being gaslighted is profound and can even be dangerous. The more a victim is gaslighted, the more likely they are to build a dependence on the person who is gaslighting them. Some of the psychological effects include:
- Codependency: Being controlled by someone else’s needs
- Trauma: Sense of helplessness or prolonged confusion from manipulative abuse
- Anxiety: Fear that arises from constantly questioning reality
- Erosion of self-esteem: Self-doubt about identity, thoughts, and feelings
- Depression: A sense of extreme sadness from a lost sense of self or abuse
Gaslighting is a form of negative influence, but not all forms of influence are negative. Learn more about the laws of influence in this helpful resource!
Become More Influential
Want to become an influential master? Learn these 5 laws to level up your skills.
6 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Gaslighting
Learn how to protect yourself from gaslighting3https://psyarxiv.com/cjrpq/download?format=pdf in various situations by following these six tips.
#1 Know the warning signs
The first step to protecting yourself against gaslighting is to know the behaviors and warning signs. Here’s a recap of the behaviors and warning signs to watch out for.
|Gaslighter’s Behavior||Warning Sign|
|Denial||You often second-guess yourself.|
|Minimization||You often feel unsure about who you are and what you feel.|
|Blame-shifting||You feel like you’re constantly apologizing. And when you’re with others, you tend to defend the gaslighter’s behavior.|
|Withholding||You have trouble making decisions on your own.|
|Causing confusion or doubt||You often feel confused or question your memory.|
|Isolation||You find yourself lying to friends and family and feel obligated to the person gaslighting you.|
|Criticism||You feel a sense of worthlessness or incompetence.|
|Projection||You often feel unsure about how you really feel.|
|Narcissism||You feel like your emotions or opinions are not important.|
|Love bombing||The flattery you receive feels disingenuous or manipulative.|
If you recognize these behaviors and warning signs, it’s likely you are a victim of gaslighting.
#2 Keep a log of agreements, activities, and events
To combat confusion and doubt about your reality, log helpful notes to provide evidence to yourself (or others) about what really happened or how you really feel.
- Log what happens throughout your day. Track events, dates, times, and details. Include how these events make you feel as well.
- Take pictures. If you’re not as much of a writer, take photos of what happens throughout your day to give yourself a visual reminder of what happened or how you felt.
- Record voice memos. If you’re not into writing or photography, keep a log of what happens in voice recordings.
- Document agreements and activities in email. This can be especially helpful if you feel that you’re being gaslighted in the workplace: record agreements, meeting notes, and feedback in an email to provide evidence of what was said. You can also use email to share events with a trusted friend who can help you discern what happened when you feel confused.
#3 Disengage from an unproductive conversation
If you find yourself in a conversation where you’re being criticized, blamed, or made to second-guess your reality, take a step back from the conversation or the debate to evaluate what’s going on and how you feel. It’s ok to ask for a little space from time to time, and it’s also ok to declare that you will not be talked down to or criticized.
Here are signs it’s time to disengage from an unproductive conversation or debate:
- You’re being criticized for being dumb, forgetful, incompetent, etc.
- You’re being blamed for something that is not your fault.
- You’re being led to believe that you cannot remember things clearly.
- You’re being told your emotions or opinions are not warranted.
Stepping away from the conversation gives you time to journal, talk with a friend, or speak positive affirmations to yourself. It’s also a great way to recenter yourself on what you know to be true.
#4 Create healthy boundaries
If you’re the victim of gaslighting, it’s possible that you have developed a codependent relationship where you find yourself catering to the needs and desires of the person gaslighting you, usually at the detriment of your own mental health and well-being. One of the best things you can do is to detach from the codependent nature of the relationship by setting boundaries.
Here are six steps to create healthy boundaries:
- Name your limits. Pay attention to what gives you life and what drains you, what makes you feel safe, and what puts you on edge. Name the things you need to limit your exposure to, as well as the things that give you a greater sense of fulfillment.
- Communicate your boundaries. This is where sharing your boundaries may feel like a confrontation, but it’s important to let people know what you’re willing and unwilling to do.
- Reiterate your boundaries. You may have to communicate your boundaries more than once. It’s important to be consistent to avoid being overstepped again.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. When you say yes to everything, you say no to things you care about. Give yourself the agency to choose how you spend your time.
- Take time for yourself. When you’re being gaslighted, you can lose yourself and forget what you really think and feel. Set time for self-care: rest, exercise, enjoy an activity you love, or get creative.
- If necessary, completely detach from a toxic gaslighter. If you feel physically or emotionally unsafe, it may be time to detach yourself from the person gaslighting you for a period of time (or altogether). This will allow you to see your situation more clearly and take time for healing and personal growth.
#5 Talk to someone you can trust
Being gaslighted can often feel disorienting, so talking to someone you trust is important to help ground you in reality. This person can be a parent, a close friend, or even a close colleague.
How do you know who you can trust? Filter your thoughts through these questions:
- Do they do what they say they will do?
- Do they make me feel safe when I’m around them?
- Do they keep information in confidence (my own as well as others)?
- Do they respect and honor me (my emotions, time, ideas, etc.)?
- Do they show compassion and empathy?
- Do they care about my well-being?
- Will they tell me the truth, even if it may be hard to hear?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you are likely in good hands. However, if you are unsure who to trust, your best next step may be to talk to a professional therapist or counselor. For a good resource, check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
Ultimately, it comes down to having a central figure to help walk you through your experience and determine what to do next, depending on the severity of your situation. Please don’t be hesitant to reach out! The longer you wait, the worse the gaslighting can become, and the worse your mental health can become as a result.
#6 Get to know yourself again
Once you’ve gotten clarity about your situation and the fact that you’ve been gaslighted, you may come to realize that you’ve lost your sense of self. You may even think that you don’t know what you like or don’t like anymore. Fortunately, there’s hope in self-discovery.
To get to know yourself again through self-discovery, try some of these ideas:
- Start journaling. Write about your experiences throughout the day and what you enjoy, and what you don’t. You might even keep a gratitude journal.
- Go to therapy. A therapist can help you uncover the deeply rooted aspects of your past that may contribute to you gravitating toward unhealthy relationships. By learning these aspects of yourself, you can learn how to seek healthy relationships.
- Look to healthy role models. Sometimes it can be difficult to look within yourself to discover who you are. In this situation, your next best step may be to pay attention to the people you admire. What are the traits that you admire most and why? This can be a good starting place to begin recognizing the type of person you want to be.
- Create a vision board. By going through the process of dreaming about what your life can be, a vision board can help you discover new things about yourself and motivate you to achieve new goals.
- Get out of your comfort zone. This might be as simple as taking up new hobbies (or a hobby you used to enjoy), making new friends, or trying new restaurants. It can also include visiting new cities or even traveling the world. By getting out of your comfort zone, you can discover new things about yourself!
Some of the misconceptions about gaslighting are that it’s the same as influencing someone to see something from a certain perspective. While manipulation and persuasion may be at play, there is a fine line between undermining someone’s reality and trying to convince someone to see something from your perspective. Someone who is trying to convince you of something is not necessarily trying to abuse you. While someone who is gaslighting you and undermining your reality is, in fact, a form of emotional abuse.
People who are more likely to fall victim to gaslighting include those who struggle with low self-esteem and codependency or who have a history of trauma or abuse.
People who are more likely to be perpetrators of gaslighting include those with narcissistic personality disorder. They tend to seek control over their perception of themselves by controlling the reality of those around them.
That to say, It’s important to note that gaslighters aren’t necessarily born manipulative or narcissistic. Gaslighting is a tactic that is usually a learned behavior discovered as a way to persuade and control others to get what they want and boost their sense of self. By gaslighting someone particularly vulnerable to control, they find they can gain power, which makes them feel more important, and may compensate for their sense of deep insecurity.
In some cases, gaslighting can be unintentional in that someone may be so wrapped up in their insecurity and shame that they try to deflect responsibility by leading you to believe in an alternate reality where you’re likely to blame.
Gaslighting Key Takeaways
In summary, take note of these tips on how to recognize and avoid gaslighting in your relationships:
- Know the warning signs. Behaviors include denial, minimization, blame-shifting, isolation, withholding, causing confusion or doubt, criticism, projection, narcissism, and love bombing.
- Keep a log of agreements, activities, and events. Log helpful notes to provide evidence to yourself (or others) about what really happened or how you really feel.
- Disengage from an unproductive conversation. Take time to evaluate what’s really going on and how you feel.
- Create healthy boundaries. Detach from the codependent nature of the relationship.
- Talk to someone you can trust. Talk to someone you trust to help ground you in reality.
- Get to know yourself again. Find hope in self-discovery with journaling, therapy, new hobbies, and more.
If this article was helpful to you, or you know someone who may be a victim of gaslighting, please share it! If you’re looking for more helpful content on how to deal with toxic people in your life, check out our article 4 Strategies for Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People.
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.