Gaslighting: What It Is, Signs It’s Happening To You, And What To Do About It

Gaslighting is a covert tactic found in toxic relationships in which one person tries to maintain control over the other. While it’s an incredibly harmful practice and certainly not one anyone should do to someone they care about, it’s way more common than you might think. Here’s everything you need to know about this destructive behavior so you can recognize it when it’s happening to you and get out ASAP.

What is gaslighting?

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  1. It’s a form of psychological manipulation. This form of manipulation involves making a person question their own reality, feelings, and events. You may start to wonder if you overreacted to or misread a situation, if you’re being too sensitive, or if you’re in the wrong even though it’s obvious to anyone on the outside that the other person is at fault.
  2. It’s all about power. A person who gaslights you does so because they want to have the upper hand in your relationship. “Gaslighting at its core is always about self-preservation and the maintenance of power/control—namely, the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the ‘right’ and their partner in the ‘wrong,'” explains licensed marriage and family therapist Aki Rosenberg.
  3. It can happen to anyone. You might think that only certain types of people fall victim to gaslighting and that smart, strong people would be able to escape it, but that’s not true. This behavior often starts subtly so that you don’t even notice it until it’s too late. It doesn’t make you weak. They’re the bad one, not you.

Signs you’re a victim of gaslighting

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  1. Your partner minimizes or dismisses your feelings. Oftentimes when a partner is gaslighting you, you’ll frequently feel that your concerns and feelings are trivialized. To gain power over you, they may convince you that you are overthinking, claim that you are too sensitive, or sometimes straight-up deny that events even happened. Instead of hearing you out and listening to your side of the issue, they might interrupt you with comments like “you’re overreacting” or other phrases gaslighters say to try to focus the blame on you. The goal is to make you think it’s entirely your fault, which can seem confusing and makes you doubt it happened the way it actually did.
  2. You start doubting your reality. When thinking back on events, if you find yourself second-guessing yourself to the point that you feel disorientated or that you are “losing it” this could be a sign that you are being gaslit. Your partner might try to convince you that conversations didn’t happen as you remember they did, which will make you question your judgment and perceptions of actual events. After interactions with the gaslighter, you will often believe that your feelings aren’t valid and that the events didn’t happen as you recall.
  3. You’re always the one apologizing. If you are with a gaslighting partner, when expressing your feelings to your partner, you’ll find yourself making excuses or saying sorry. A gaslighter frequently lacks empathy and won’t even take accountability for their actions. To avoid conflict, you might find yourself doing most of the apologizing, even for arguments that you didn’t cause. In a healthy and non-toxic relationship, both partners will acknowledge each other’s feelings, take responsibility for their mistakes, and apologize for their behavior or wrongdoings.
  4. Your partner lies even when shown evidence. Starting with small lies, then advancing to larger ones, gaslighters often lie to make you question your memory and actual version of incidents. Even when shown proof or evidence when caught in a lie, they will blatantly deny and try to bend the truth. For example, even when shown a screenshot of a text message conversation, they will try to turn it around on you. They will try to confuse you and make you believe that it was a miscommunication on your end and that you are to blame for misinterpreting what they said.
  5. Your partner blames you or changes the topic. This tactic, called blame-shifting, is often used in toxic relationships to shift the focus on the topic at hand and to deflect the criticism back onto you. It’s also extremely common in gaslighting. For example, they often change the topic to something you did in the past instead of addressing the present issue that you are discussing. This deflection is used by the gaslighter as a manipulation tool to maintain power, which is frustrating and unfair when you are trying to resolve the conflict currently taking place.
  6. You try to avoid conflict. If you find yourself hesitant about speaking up, expressing your emotions, or setting boundaries, you may be in a relationship where gaslighting is occurring. You might feel guilty about bringing up your feelings just to keep the peace. This might be a sign of an imbalanced relationship dynamic where one partner is suppressed and one has more influential power over the other. These feelings of anxiousness about starting an argument and choosing to remain silent can be a sign of gaslighting.
  7. They isolate you. Separating you from friends and family who might recognize that your partner’s behavior is abusive is a hallmark sign of a toxic relationship. They may try to convince you that your loved ones don’t care about you or fabricate lies or twist stories making them out to be your enemies. This usually makes you question the loyalty and credibility of your friendships, gradually causing you to isolate yourself from them. Your partner may even forbid you from seeing them at all to gain more control over you.

What to do if this is happening to you

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If you’ve read this and realize you’re the victim of gaslighting, there are steps you can take to address it and ways to regain your confidence after gaslighting. It’s important to seek support from friends and family. Using mindfulness techniques, like meditation, can keep you in the present moment. Without guidance, or someone to affirm and validate your experience, it can take a toll on your self-esteem or mental health. Left unresolved, it could escalate to a form of coercive control, a form of domestic abuse.

If you feel like it’s getting worse, it’s important to seek help by finding a therapist who can help sort through your feelings and explore ways to rebuild your self-esteem if the relationship ends. Talking to a professional in a safe space can help you set boundaries, develop coping skills, and reinforce your reality and experiences. This will make gaslighting easier to spot in your future relationships so that hopefully you can avoid it altogether.