What is Gaslighting in Psychology? 10+ Signs and Examples
"No. I never said that." "See, I told you it was all in your head." "What are you even talking about?" "You are too emotional."
Have you ever been told these phrases and made to question your own perception of reality? Then chances are that you have been gaslighted. But, what does gaslighting means, how does it look like, and what can I do if I am being gaslighted? In this article we will answer these questions and share the steps you can take if you are being gaslighted.
What is Gaslighting According to Psychology?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that occurs when a person attempts to change your perception of reality. Often, gaslighting leaves the recipient or victim feeling confused and questioning their own sanity and reality. For instance, the person who is being gaslighted tends to leave conversations thinking: "maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I am the problematic one, and what is really happening is not so bad." The goal of this form of manipulation is to keep you silent. It keeps you from wanting to go after your own needs and from expressing your feelings.
While gaslighting is commonly employed in romantic relationships, you can also find it in relationships between family, friends, or even colleagues. However, it does not solely occur in the context of abusive relationships. Gaslighting can also happen in healthy relationships that might be stumbling upon communication problems.
Am I Being Gaslighted? 6 Common Signs
While each person and relationship is different, there are some common signs that indicate whether what is happening in the relationship is, in fact, gaslighting. Here are some of the typical warning signs that you are being gaslighted.
1. You doubt yourself
As already discussed, one of the most common signs of gaslighting is doubting yourself a lot. For example, doubting your feelings, your reality, and questioning yourself—asking, for instance, whether you should (not) feel a certain way. As a result, you likely start feeling guilty for having these feelings and, might also begin to repress your opinion. Namely, as you feel that expressing your opinion will ultimately lead to conflict and a fight. Therefore, one very strong sign that you are being gaslighted is if you are doubting yourself and starting to be afraid of speaking up.
2. You feel vulnerable
Another sign is if you feel vulnerable. By this I mean if you feel like you have to tiptoe around your partner or feel that a miscommunication, fight, conflict, or negativity is just around the corner. And, you believe that whether a fight happens depends on what you do or say to your partner. Naturally, then, you might feel the need to walk on eggshells around your partner.
3. You feel lonely
Another sign can be if you start feeling lonely, too different, or even judge yourself as being too strange or weird. Usually, people tend to gaslight others in one-on-one conversations; when nobody is around and there are no witnesses. Having nobody to lean on and confirm the reality of what you are saying can make you feel powerless. In these situations, you simply have to believe what the other is saying as you are questioning yourself. This can lead some to feeling trapped, lonely, and different from others.
4. You question who you are
Sooner or later, after being constantly gaslighted and made to question their reality, victims begin to question who they really are. They might ask themselves: "what if I am really the person that my partner says I am," what if, indeed, make things up, or I am too much, too dramatic," "what if I am really causing trouble out of nowhere?" While we can all sometimes get lost in our relationships, one very strong sign that you are being gaslighted is if you start relentlessly questioning who you are, what you stand for, and how you view yourself.
5. You are often confused and constantly apologizing
Two other common signs that you are being gaslighted is if you are constantly in a state of confusion. For instance, if you are often in a state of "am I right or am I wrong? Questioning yourself at every step of the way and wondering whether if you are perceiving everything in the right way or not.
Moreover, constant apologizing is another sign that you might be gaslighted. There is nothing wrong with apologizing and admitting when one has been wrong. Apologizing and taking accountability are essential for healthy relationships. However, apologizing behavior must be reciprocal—if you are always the one who apologizes and the one who is in the wrong, chances are that there might be some gaslighting at work.
6. You are afraid
Besides all the confusion, second-guessing, and emotions that we have discussed, a very strong feeling that you experience if you are being gaslighted is fear. For example, being afraid that your partner will be disappointed with you, or that they will leave you, or that you are not meeting their expectations. You might be afraid that if this relationship fails, it is gonna be on you.
What Does Gaslighting Look Like in Relationships?
As discussed, gaslighting is a technique that works to undermine your perception of reality. It leaves the recipient of the gaslighting feeling confused, doubting themselves, and second-guessing their thoughts and sense of reality. Ultimately, the victims of gaslighting are left wondering whether there is something wrong with them. However, what does the 'gaslighter' actually do in order to make the victim feel this way? How does gaslighting work? Let's explore the specific behaviors that 'gaslighters' engage in.
5 Examples of Gaslighting Behaviors
1. They lie and distort the truth.
When someone is gaslighting another person they tend to lie a lot. Some individuals resort to gaslighting because they do not want to face the responsibility or consequences of whatever is occurring at the moment. It is, therefore, easier for them to simply adjust the reality of what has happened. In other words, change the other person's perception of reality—and, this is achieved through lying.
It is very typical for somebody who is gaslighting you to completely lie to you in your face, change their stories, and never back down. They tend to be firm and seem one hundred percent sure that what they are saying is the ultimate truth. This can make it even more challenging for the victim as they are likely already second-guessing themselves, and if their partner appears 100% sure of what they are saying, it only makes them more believable and more difficult to dispute.
One relatively easy way to spot whether your partner is gaslighting you is to be mindful during your conversations. This means to pay close attention to what the other person is saying and be especially attuned to when your partner abruptly changes the course of conversations. This can, of course, be challenging, especially when you are immersed in a difficult conversation which can be emotionally overwhelming. However, if we listen closely, we can realize that oftentimes a discussion might start because one issue, but quickly move on to other issues. Often, this happens because the other person is lying and trying to distract you from asking more questions about the initial topic of conversation.
2. They minimize your feelings and tell you that you are overreacting.
Another common behavior employed by people when they are gaslighting is trying to make you feel as if you are overreacting by minimizing the situation, your feelings, and your needs. For instance, gaslighters might say: "oh, come on now, you are overreacting!" or "here comes the drama." These sorts of phrases makes victims feel as if they are the problem for 'exaggerating' what has happened. The goal of the gaslighter is to trivialize the victim's emotions as this makes them feel more powerful while effectively removing the power from the other person. They want to make you feel as if you are the problem—not them.
3. They shift the blame.
People who gaslight others have a difficult time accepting responsibility. As a result, they blame the other, aka they shift the blame. For example, they might say that "if you hadn't reacted like that, then I wouldn't be like this or I react like that." In other words, instead of owning their actions, they are saying that their actions are the result of your behavior or feelings. They simply don't take responsibility for their own actions and reactions. Instead, they blame you for everything that happens to the relationship and to them.
4. They can seem compassionate.
Another thing that I would like you to remember is that sometimes gaslighting happens with the façade of compassion. For example, the person who is gaslighting might say: "well, it's okay that you remember it differently because I know you are tired and I know you went through a lot." Or they might say: "It's ok that you remember it differently. But I'm here to tell you that it happened in a different way. It happened as I say it did but it's okay if you don't remember exactly." What is actually happening here is that the person doing the gaslighting is pretending to be compassionate and understanding, while in reality, they are simply not believing what you said and compassionately making you believe that your perception of the events is wrong.
5. They rewrite the stories.
When someone is gaslighting you, they tend to change the story often; they rewrite the narrative. For instance, take that on one occasion your partner was being very rude and insulting to you. Later on, you bring up this event with your partner. Instead of accepting that this is how the events played out, they will deny it and say something along the lines of: "no, I don't remember me being upset. I don't remember being offensive. I remember that we had a difficult conversation and that I was upset, but I don't remember being offensive. I would never say things like that."
What is happening is that they are presenting a completely different idea of the events that have elapsed. They then will try to persuade you that what you remember is false by using different sets of arguments. For example, they could say something such as: "no, but I'm not that kind of person, right?" Or, "I would never say these things to you on purpose. I'm not that kind of person and you know that I love you and you know how much I appreciate you." So, on one hand, you are thinking, "yes, indeed, they love me. They would not say such things to me if they love me." While, on the other hand, you will be thinking that they indeed said that; that what you remember indeed happened. This mental dilemma ultimately ends in the confusion and second-guessing that we have explored throughout this article.
How Can Gaslighting Affect You: 8 Dangerous Effects
Being consistently gaslighted can take a toll on your emotional and mental wellbeing. To name a few, some of the negative consequences suffered by gaslighting victims are:
- Crippling self-doubt.
- Loss of focus and concentration.
- Diminished self-esteem.
- Loss of self-worth and self-value.
- Negative, ruminative thoughts about themselves.
- Heightened anxiety and confusion.
- Hopelessness that can lead to depression.
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Dealing with Gaslighting: 3 Tips
As you can see, gaslighting can negatively affect your mental health. Therefore, it is crucial that you take action if you suspect that you are being gaslighted. But, what is it that you can do to create a healthy boundary between you and the person who is gaslighting you? Let's discuss some helpful tips.
1. Talk to others
First and foremost, talk to other people about what you are going through. Simply sharing your experience with others can help you boost a healthy perspective. Other people can share their thoughts about what they think is right and wrong, and those who really know you and care for you will likely confirm the ideas you hold about yourself before you start second-guessing your thoughts and identity.
2. Set boundaries
The second thing that you need to do is create a boundary between your responsibility and their responsibility. For example, when your partner says something along the lines of: "look how you made me feel, I reacted in this way because you did that," confront them. Tell them that "I am responsible for my actions. You are responsible for yours. You cannot blame me for how you reacted. You are the one who is responsible for how you react." Creating such a strong and firm boundary might help them stop blaming you.
3. Trust your evidence
One tip that is suggested a lot is to write down the evidence so that you can see what the reality is and assess how many times your partner is gaslighting you. Even though this sounds like a good idea, at the same time, I don't want you to walk around in the relationship as an inspector. I don't want you to walk around with a checklist or with your phone or notebook; making notes of how often somebody says something or what has happened all the time. This is more like an audit and less like a healthy relationship.
Instead, what I suggest you do is: Trust yourself. Trust that what you remember is real. It's not there for nothing; your thoughts are not coming out of nowhere. There must be something that triggered it or there must be something that created this memory in your head. So trust that what you have experienced is true. However, I am not saying that you must impose your truth unto the other person. But, when somebody says: "well, you don't remember correctly," I suggest that you try replying with something along the lines of: "Maybe we have a different perspective on what has happened in our conversation yesterday. However, I don't like when you make me feel that I am crazy. There is some reality in what I remember. And I get it that maybe sometimes, especially when we are upset, we don't remember things exactly, but I don't like when you make me sound like a crazy person. That needs to stop." In this scenario, what you are doing is communicating to the other that you get their point and respect their thoughts, but that maybe you both have a different perspective of the reality and you do not appreciate them making you seem crazy or paranoid.
Gaslighting is a manipulative mechanism that works to make the other person feel confused and lead them to second-guessing themselves. If you feel that you are being gaslighted in your relationship, we hope that the tips above help you put a stop to this toxic behavior. Typically, a person in a healthy relationship will stop and listen when you set these boundaries and try to adjust. In turn, a person in a narcissistic, manipulative, toxic, and/or abusive will resist back again and again and again. If that is the case, please remember that you are not alone. All relationships have their ups and downs—strengths and weaknesses—and can be repaired with a little effort, motivation, and guidance. However, it takes two to tango and you as well as your partner must be open to changing, adjusting, and working together. We wish you well in your relationships and take care.
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