Do you feel like there’s something wrong in your relationship, but unsure with what the issue is? Are you checking this “signs of gaslighting” article as you feel like you’re being subjected to one? We’re here to help. For this guide, learn what gaslighting is, signs that you’re a gaslighting victim, and steps on dealing with this emotional abuse.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation wherein a person (the “gaslighter” or “abuser”) manipulates someone (the “target” or “victim”) into questioning their own reality and perception. By making the target doubt their own thoughts, the gaslighter will keep full control of the relationship.
According to Andrea Papin, RTC, and Jess Jackson, LMT, therapists at Trauma Aware Care, during their interview at mindbodygreen.com, a person gaslights someone to “gain the upper hand and avoid accountability.” By involving mind games in the relationship, the gaslighter can mentally or physically abuse the target and not be called out for it. And even if the target tries to confront the abuser, the abuser may still get a hold of their target through manipulation, resulting in the target resorting to mental gymnastics just to justify the wrongdoings of their partner.
With the free resources online explaining the different signs of gaslighting, one might think that you can easily spot this form of manipulation early in the relationship. However, one of the distinct attributes of gaslighting is that it starts in small instances. A gaslighter tends to build up the relationship in a healthy manner, making the target feel safe. They would often “love-bomb” the person and shower them with romantic gestures.
Once the target fully trusts their partner, that’s when the tiny issues kick in, resulting in numerous conflicts. The gaslighter would then question their partner’s thoughts, making them believe that they were wrong and the abuser is right. The gaslighter may also present themselves as the “victim” despite being the cause of the conflict. Not only that, but the gaslighter may also construct false stories about their partner’s loved ones and make the target believe in these stories, just to keep them away from their family and friends. As the target is now isolated and confused with their own reality, the abuse continues.
When Did The Term “Gaslighting” Come From?
The term “gaslighting” was coined through the 1938 film named “Gaslight.” In the movie, the leading lady, Paula (Bergman), is intentionally and gradually manipulated by her husband, Gregory (Boyer). When weird things start happening in their house, such as the gaslight dimming out of nowhere, Paula would often tell her husband about it.
However, she would then get dismissed immediately by Gregory, making her believe that those things aren’t happening and that she’s starting to lose her sanity. She doesn’t realize, though, that her husband is actually the one dimming the gaslight. He deliberately denies her claims as he wanted her to go insane and end up in an asylum.
Example Case of Gaslighting
If you’re still unsure about what gaslighting is, here’s a sample case. You’re dating a woman named Amber. You’ve been together for a year, and things seemed to be going smoothly in the relationship, not until she started talking about an event that happened months ago.
Amber told you that you’ve talked about your ex in front of her and your circle of friends. She said that you were a bit drunk during that time and that she was kinda upset about it.
You respond with, “Nope… I never remembered talking about my ex with our friends. When was it?” She wouldn’t budge in with the details and calmly says. “I think we should just leave it at that… It’s been a few months. Just don’t do it again, okay?” Despite the vague details, you nodded your head and started to think that maybe your girlfriend is right.
You both then went for some drinks with the same circle of friends. The next morning, she started saying that you talked about your ex again. You got so confused because you clearly remember the conversations the night before. You then said that you’ll just text your friends about it, just to confirm her story.
But then, Amber starts sobbing and saying, “Why are you being so defensive? Do you not trust me? Why do you need to ask your friends about it? Of course, they would say that you never mentioned your ex… they’re your friends! I’m just a plus one… I never belonged in the group, and they don’t like me… so that’s why they never stop you when you start talking about your ex!”
You ended up comforting your partner. “Sorry… I was a bit skeptical about what you’re saying. Maybe they miss my ex since they’ve been hanging out with her for years… Sorry if I upset you again. Let me make up with you….” You said.
Since then, Amber would often use your “talking about the ex in front of friends” story whenever she’s upset and wants something from you. Whenever things aren’t going her way, she would guilt trip you and say you were “more effortful” with your ex. If you confront her about her guilt-tripping, she would start crying and explain how your ex is better than her, and that’s the reason why you’re acting weird in the relationship.
A few years passed, and you ended up breaking up with Amber. While having drinks with your friends, you asked them if you ever tried talking about your exes while Amber was there. They all said no, and that you’re pretty quiet on those drinking hangouts. That’s when it hit you— Amber has been gaslighting you the whole time. She’s making you believe that you were being a “traitor” in the relationship for talking about your ex, when in fact, it never happened in the first place.
When your partner is trying to gaslight you, they would often use two or more of these gaslighting techniques to hide the truth and make you question your reality. If you’re doubtful about your partner, make sure to observe and see if they’re using these tactics.
When confronted, the gaslighter would refuse to listen and answer your questions. They may also pretend that they don’t understand you and you’re “speaking nonsense.”
- “I’m not in the mood to listen to your rants. Come on, can we just rest now?”
- “I don’t get what you’re saying; you’re all over the place!”
- “Nope, I’m not going to listen about the sh*t again. You just keep saying the same thing over and over again.”
For this tactic, the gaslighter would question the target’s memory, even though their partner is remembering things correctly. Abusers try to manipulate their partner’s memory as it’ll make the target question if they’re thinking clearly or not, making them susceptible to abuse later on. Remember the story about Amber earlier? The gaslighter on the sample scenario has used this technique.
- “That’s not what you said! Trust me, I was there the whole time…”
- “I think you’re imagining things, honey. I never said that.”
- “Oh, come on, trust me, you were wrong about that…”
For this technique, the gaslighter would divert the topic. If another person is involved in the confrontation, such as a family member, they often divert the topic that questions their credibility.
Remember the example case above? When you were confronting Amber about her “talking about the ex” story and was trying to verify it with your friends, she started talking about how your friends don’t like her and that she never belonged in the group. She’s not just diverting the conversation but also making you question the credibility of your friends. In that way, even if you tried texting your friends to verify her claim, you may still not believe them since they “hate” Amber.
- “Did you get that idea from your sister? Come on, I’ve been telling you, she’s so envious of our relationship…”
- “Why do you keep bringing that up? Is that because I’ve been busy with work? You know that I’m going through an important project right now…”
- “Honey, losing a job has taken a toll on your mental health, but please stop getting upset with every single thing…”
For this gaslighting tactic, the person would “play down” the situation, making you believe that your feelings aren’t as important on what they’re feeling or going through.
- “You’re so sensitive!”
- “Are you really gonna make that issue affect our relationship?”
- “Why are you so mad about it? Everyone finds that joke funny… you’re such a snowflake.”
When confronted about the truth, a gaslighter would try to deny all the accusations. You may have the evidence, but they have the audacity. So instead of taking accountability for what they’ve said or done, they would just straight-up dismiss your claims.
- “I did not hit you… I did not!”
- “Come on, we both know you’re lying. I never promised you that.”
- “I never said that! Stop twisting the facts.”
6Playing The Victim
Another gaslighting technique that an abuser would use during a confrontation is the “playing the victim” tactic. As the name implies, the abuser would make themselves the victim, even if they’re the ones who started the conflict.
If your gaslighter did something wrong and you were mad at them, they would view your reaction as a “bad thing” and make you feel bad for reacting that way. Doing this tactic lets them avoid accountability for what they’ve done and control how they react to certain things.
- “I cheated on you because you were never there! I’m always the one doing all the work in this relationship.”
- “You made me do it! I have no choice…”
- “I don’t care if you get mad at me because you made me act like this!”
Signs That You’re A Gaslighting Victim
Aside from observing your partner, you’ll also need to check on yourself and see if you’re experiencing the signs of someone being gaslighted. Here are the fifteen signs that can be seen in a gaslighting victim or target.
1You feel like something’s wrong in the relationship, but you’re unsure of what it is.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, an abuser doesn’t gaslight their target right after they start dating. The first few months may feel okay for the target, as their partner is loving, respectful, and playful. As time went on, the gaslighter would start a minor issue, then another issue, then another conflict, and so on; they would do this to control their partner.
That’s why the first thing that most victims feel when going through this situation is confusion. They feel that something’s amiss, that the relationship is somewhat heading an unexpected path. You’re probably searching for “signs of gaslighting” online because of this hunch. However, because the gaslighter has gradually built up the scheme, the target may not realize they’re being gaslighted and may even dismiss their hesitations.
2You always wonder if you’re too sensitive.
One of the common signs that you’re a gaslighting victim is that you always wonder if you’re too sensitive. As the gaslighter continues to tell you that you’re “overreacting” or “too sensitive” when confronting bad behavior, you tend to be hesitant about reacting to other people, as you don’t want to be called “too sensitive” for your reaction. Some victims also end up disrespecting their own boundaries as they believed that their gaslighters were right about them being “too much.”
3You second-guess yourself when remembering events.
When a person is being gaslighted, they gradually lose trust in their own memories. How so? Because most gaslighters create fake memories and lie about the things, the victim has said or done. As the abuser creates lies within lies, the victim will get less confident when remembering things.
If you tend to second-guess every memory that you’re trying to remember and feel like your partner has contributed in it, observe further as this could be one of the signs that you’re a gaslighting victim.
4You overthink your answers when talking to your partner.
One of the subtle yet vital signs that you’re a gaslighting victim is that you overthink when responding to your partner’s questions. Yes, most of us, especially the socially awkward ones, tend to overthink what we say and even repeat the phrases in our minds before saying it out loud.
However, if you’re overthinking your response to your partner out of fear, then you need to take a step back and ask yourself why you feel that way. Is your partner physically abusing you? Is your partner calling you names? Does your partner ignore your rants, so you focus on saying the positive stuff? Are you afraid of your partner? Those are some of the questions you’ll need to answer.
5You apologize to your partner for everything.
One of the common traits that a gaslighter has is that they’re “good” at twisting the narrative. Even if they’re the ones who’s caused the conflict, they can manipulate their target into apologizing to them.
For example, your boyfriend is sexting with multiple women on social media. You’ve seen the messages as you were peeking at the back while he’s messaging these unsuspecting women. You get mad at him for cheating while he hits you with an argument that you’re disrespecting his privacy and that you’re too “naggy,” so he resorts to talking to these random women. He will make you feel as if you’re not a good partner and that he became “desperate” for affection. You’ll get so manipulated into thinking that you’re not enough, so you’ll end up apologizing as you’re seeing things in “a different light” now. However, at the end of the day, he is still cheating, and you’ve let him because he manipulated you into doing it.
If you find yourself apologizing to your partner all the time, even if it’s their fault, ask yourself if you are being swayed with their twisted narrative, disrespecting your own boundaries, or both.
6You feel anxious whenever your partner is around.
One of the common signs that you’re a gaslighting victim is being anxious when your partner is around. Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells when your partner shows up? Since gaslighters tend to have full control of the relationship, some victims want things to be perfect for their partners, as they’re afraid to cause (even though it’s actually caused by the abusers) another fight. This may then result in the victims feeling anxious whenever they see their partners.
7You no longer trust everyone and are convinced that they’re lying to you.
As the gaslighter continues to manipulate their target, the target may start distrusting their own mind and distrusting everyone in their life. The abuser may tell false stories to discredit the victim’s loved ones.
8You’re having a hard time making decisions.
As they no longer trust themselves and other people, the victim may experience difficulty making decisions and may even ask for the gaslighter’s opinion on the matter. This will possibly result in the victim being codependent on their abuser, as they think they’re incapable of thinking for themselves and believe that their partner can help them with it.
9You don’t see your loved ones as frequently as before.
One of the subtle yet impactful signs that you’re a gaslighting victim is isolation from loved ones. Gaslighters tend to manipulate their targets into thinking that their friends and family have ill intentions and are trying to sabotage their relationship. They would twist the facts and even come up with false stories to keep the victim from their support system. So if you feel like you’re being isolated from loved ones because of what your partner said before, take a few steps back. Analyze if what your partner said is actually true or if your partner is just making things up.
10Your family and friends are telling you to re-assess the relationship.
One of the common signs of being a gaslighting victim is that your friends and family can sense something’s wrong with the relationship. Some friends may even blatantly say that your partner is gaslighting you and that you need to get out of the relationship immediately.
When your loved ones are saying this, it’s out of genuine concern for your well-being most of the time. They can sense that you’re not being yourself, so they’re helping you see things from a different perspective. Don’t ignore them or think that they’re jealous and trying to sabotage the relationship, just as what your partner says. You don’t have to follow their advice right away; just take the time to listen to their concerns.
11You resort to mental gymnastics just to justify your partner’s awful behavior.
Gaslighting victims are manipulated into thinking that they’re not being abused. So when their partners start doing hurtful things to them, they simply try to justify their partner’s behavior. They may convince themselves that it’s their fault why their partners got triggered and did that horrible thing, that it’s just normal for a relationship to have ups and downs, or other related excuses.
If you find yourself justifying your partner’s awful behavior, remember that being in a relationship is filled with hardships, not cruelty. Being cheated on, berated, physically assaulted, or other abusive acts aren’t supposed to be part of a relationship. It’s not just some “obstacle” in the relationship; you’re being mistreated. So instead of making excuses for your partner, take a step back and consult a loved one on your situation.
12You don’t feel like yourself anymore.
Aside from lying and starting unnecessary conflicts, some gaslighters would subtly mock the victim’s hobbies and interests. They want their target to feel inadequate to gain full control, so they will tell them how their interests are “immature” or that they’re not good at their hobby. The victim may end up giving these activities, losing a part of themselves in the process.
13You’re not as confident as you were before.
As we’ve mentioned in the previous point, the gaslighter will do anything to tear their victim down, gaining full control in the long run. So aside from mocking their hobbies, the gaslighter may also manipulate the victim that they’re not good-looking enough, that their cooking is mediocre, that they’re not fit, that they’re not as caring as other people do, and so on. This will then result in the victim losing their confidence and relying on their abuser to get validation.
14You’re no longer motivated to go to social events.
One of the subtle signs that you’re a gaslighting victim is isolation to social events. As the victim gets more confused with their reality and depressed because of the emotional abuse they’re receiving from the gaslighter, the victim may end up declining invites to social events.
The gaslighter can also manipulate into not going in these events. For example, you want to go to the annual family reunion, but your girlfriend’s not interested in seeing them, and she’s afraid that they would spot the signs of abuse. But instead of saying she doesn’t want to attend the event, she may try to say how much you hate your uncles and that you shouldn’t go as a “power move.” She will make you think that you’re deciding, when in fact, she’s manipulating you into saying no.
This isn’t just one of the signs of gaslighting, it’s also the end result for this emotional abuse. The combination of confusion, emotional stress, and lack of confidence may result in the victim feeling depressed and hopeless in their current situation. They’re not sure what’s going on, but one thing’s for sure: They’re unhappy.
How to Deal With Gaslighting
Now that you’ve learned the different signs of gaslighting take time to assess your situation and see if you can resonate with the signs on the list. If you do, here are the steps you can take when dealing with and healing from this form of emotional abuse.
1Acknowledge your current situation.
You need to accept that your current partner, no matter how much you love them, is trying to manipulate you to gain full control in the relationship. It hurts knowing that the person you’re vulnerable with is exploiting your feelings for their selfish gains.
However, there’s a way to take your power back: to acknowledge the abuse. By doing this, you’ll start making progress in confronting the abuser and leaving the relationship. Stop putting yourself in a state of denial; that’s the only way the gaslighting cycle would end.
2Collect the evidence.
As we’ve mentioned in the signs of gaslighting section, a gaslighter can twist the narrative and manipulate you into believing they’re the victim. This is why you need to prepare before confronting them, as in that way, they can’t BS their way to forgiveness. Keep a journal, secretly record your conversations, save some text messages, or even set up a security cam if needed.
3Confront the gaslighter.
If the gaslighter is physically abusive to you, we recommend leaving immediately. If you want to talk to this person, make sure that you’re not alone. When confronting the gaslighter, make sure to prepare your evidence, so if they start making up stories or twisting the facts, you can strongly stand on your truth.
4Leave the relationship immediately.
If the person admits the gaslighting and wants to make significant changes for themselves and in the relationship, then good for them to realize their vile behavior. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll need to stay in the relationship.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, so no matter what they say right now, the manipulation may still happen as long as you’re with them. So after confronting your partner, it’s best to end the relationship and never look back. Let yourself heal from the pain and let the other person work through their issues.
5Disengage with the abuser.
If your ex-partner is still in denial about the situation, expect that they would try everything to disrupt your life. They may try to put themselves as the victim over social media or send hateful messages. They may even spread rumors over your friends and family to turn them against you.
In this situation, the best thing to do is to disengage, focus on your healing, explain the truth to your loved ones while showing evidence. Don’t ever try to engage or outsmart the gaslighter, as it’ll just fuel them to attack you. Block them on social media and ask your loved ones to do it as well, if possible.
6Report the abuser to the authorities.
If your partner has physically and sexually abused you, take them accountable for their horrific actions. By doing this, you’re not just getting inner peace knowing that they’re not free and roaming around, but you’re also stopping this manipulator from abusing other people. We suggest consulting legal counsel and prepare the evidence of abuse. You can also check the links below for further information.
- The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 (Republic Act 8353)
- Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9262)
- The Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009 (Republic Act 9995)
7Seek support from loved ones and professionals.
Being in a relationship with a gaslighter may leave you with low self-esteem, stress, confusion, distrust of others, and distrust in yourself. Building yourself up may take a long time as you’ll need to heal from the trauma caused by the emotional abuse.
This is why as you try to move on from the situation, we recommend seeking support from your family and friends; let them help you heal from it. We also highly recommend consulting a professional and getting therapy. The therapist or counselor can set you up on a program that’ll guide you towards healing.
Gaslighting is one of the most difficult and painful forms of emotional abuse that an individual may go through. Despite these resources showing signs of gaslighting, it’s still difficult to spot as start in a subtle manner. However, the effects of this abuse can be life-changing, as the victim may take a long time to heal from the emotional trauma involving confusion, low self-esteem, distrust of everyone, and dependency issues.
If someone in your life is showing signs of gaslighting, or a gaslighter themselves, take time to have a thorough discussion with them about it. Who knows, that one serious conversation can save someone’s life.