What is “Micro-Gaslighting” & Is Your Partner Doing It To You?

Gaslighting is when someone manipulates you psychologically so you start to doubt your own sense of self and sanity. It’s a serious thing, but sometimes it can start out by being quite subtle. Here are 11 signs your partner is a gaslighter.

  1. They tell you little lies. It’s NBD that they told you they were going out with friends when they were really staying at home alone. Or is it? When someone starts telling you little lies when they have no reason to, it’s disturbing.
  2. They’re vague about their stories. They change their stories, then write off your concerns or confusion. You might question why they said one thing a few weeks ago and now they’re changing their tale, but they might just wave their hand dismissively as if to say you’re overthinking things or to imply that you’re mistaken. They might not say it as a gaslighter would, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful.
  3. They don’t deny, they just remain silent. When you ask them about their stories or lies, they don’t tell you that you’re wrong or even that you’re crazy, but they might be a bit more subtle. For example, they might make you feel uneasy by remaining silent. You’re left wondering if they’re hurt or angry, and it’s definitely unsettling.
  4. They become more loving after a fight. After you confront them about something that upset you, they become Partner of the Year. They might not go OTT with the romantic gestures, but they’ll bring you your favorite flowers or chocolates to show you how much they care. Meanwhile, they’re probably just trying to sweeten you up after your fight.
  5. They plant a seed of doubt. They won’t tell you that you’re unhinged, the way a gaslighter might, but they will make you start to doubt yourself. They might laugh when you ask them if they’re lying, as though it’s totally ludicrous that they would ever tell a little white lie. This can make you wonder if you were too harsh. Another example: they might write everything off as a misunderstanding, just so that they can gently push the blame onto you instead of carrying it themselves.
  6. You can’t help but feel a bit guilty. After a while of dealing with this person, you might feel guilty. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe they’re right. Maybe you are being unfair. Those first hints of guilt shouldn’t be ignored. They’re just going to intensify when their behavior continues. The thing is, you shouldn’t be feeling guilty—they’re the one in the wrong!
  7. They say they love you when you argue with them. They might try to distract you from confronting them by saying they love you. This is also their subtle way of acting like a victim. The unspoken words matter here. They’re really saying, “How can you attack me when I come to you with love?” Sneaky.
  8. They give you a compliment/insult. Again, someone who’s micro-gaslighting you isn’t going to be super obvious with this tactic to control you. So, they might say, “I love how sensitive you are… but you’re a bit too sensitive right now.” They act like they’re trying to help you when really they’re trying to push you away from whatever you were doubting about them.
  9. You’re feeling insecure. If you’ve started feeling insecure around this person, that’s a warning sign that they could be micro-gaslighting you. Their manipulation tactic is all about making you doubt yourself and lowering your self-worth. It will start in subtle ways at first, but then get worse in time, so it’s good to notice it as soon as it happens.
  10. They joke around with you. They’ll say something like, “Come on!” and laugh when you tell them that they’re being cruel or disrespectful to you. They might even say they were just kidding around, but they’re not joking. They’re just masking what they really feel with fake humor. It’s all about making you doubt yourself and your views.
  11. They talk trash about your friend. Maybe your friend did something hectic and you and your partner have talked about it. They might even trash-talk her. This might not seem like a biggie, but it is out of line – this is a classic sign of a gaslighter as they will try to remove your support system so they can be the person you turn to in your life. Shady!
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.