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Gaslighting: Signs to Look For

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is an emotionally-abusive strategy that causes someone to question their feelings, thoughts, and sanity. Someone who employs gaslighting tries to convince the other that their own perception of reality is wrong. The purpose of this is to convince the person being gaslit that they can’t trust their own instincts or thoughts.

A gaslighter may try to convince you that your memories are incorrect, that you overreact to situations, or that something is “all in your head.” They may then try to convince you that their version of events is the truth. This tactic can be used in both personal and professional relationships to gain control and power.

This kind of abuse is often subtle in the beginning. For example, the gaslighter will change small details in stories or memories. Eventually, the person being gaslit begins to discredit their own intuition because these incidents begin so subtly. Over time, the gaslighter will break down the other’s ability to trust themselves. Eventually the gaslighter attempts to gain dominance in the relationship as you might begin to doubt your own memory.

Signs of Gaslighting

An abuser may use several different gaslighting techniques in order to maintain power over their target. They are all intended to make the person being gaslit second-guess their own reality. These are some of the most common signs of gaslighting.

Withholding

A person who is gaslighting may use the withholding technique. This means that they may refuse to listen to what the person being gaslit has to say. The gaslighter might also accuse you of being the one trying to confuse things. They will pretend that they don’t understand your perspective.

Lying

Using this gaslighting tactic, the gaslighter will tell you outright lies. They will do this even when you know for a fact that they’re lying. This is meant to make you question yourself and your version of events.

Countering

This technique questions your memory or version of events. The gaslighter will claim that things didn’t happen the way that the target (correctly) claims, and will even add on details that never happened. For example: “You’re wrong. You never remember things correctly.”

Denial

The gaslighter may deny that they ever said or did something you know they did. They will pretend that the person being gaslit is making it up. Again, this gaslighting technique is intended to discredit your memory and make you question yourself.

Diverting

Another sign of gaslighting is diverting. This is when the gaslighter changes the subject to get the target’s attention away from a topic. They may even twist things and accuse the target of getting a certain idea from someone else, like a friend or family member.

Trivializing

Using this technique, the gaslighter aims to make the target’s thoughts and feelings seem unimportant. The gaslighter will accuse the target of overreacting to situations or of being too sensitive. This can cause the target to begin to believe that their feelings are invalid or too drastic.

Constantly Apologizing

This isn’t a technique that the gaslighter will employ. Instead, when being gaslit, you may find yourself constantly apologizing to the gaslighter for your thoughts or reactions. You may also apologize to others unnecessarily, or make apologies for the gaslighter’s behavior to others, since apologizing becomes a habit.

Dealing With Gaslighting

If you recognize these signs as being present in a relationship, it’s important to address them. The first thing to do is try to imagine the situation from the point of view of an outsider. This will help you see if the behavior is really gaslighting, and will let you assess it a little more clearly.

Next, remind yourself how healthy relationships, both personal and professional, should operate. Healthy relationships should have honesty, trust, and communication. They should also be respectful and supportive. If you realize that your relationship with the gaslighter is missing these qualities, it’s time for a change.

You then need to evaluate if the relationship is worth saving, or if you simply need to leave. A therapist may be able to help you talk about these issues, sort out your feelings, and make an action plan.

Gaslighting often takes a huge toll on your mental health. It’s important that you learn to trust yourself again. Remember that this may take time, as well as the support of family, friends, or a professional. With time and the right support, you can, and will, recover.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Good Therapy: “Gaslighting.”

Mercy Cedar Rapids: “What is Gaslighting?”

National Domestic Abuse Hotline: “What is Gaslighting?”

Relate: “Gaslighting - What are the signs and how can it be addressed?”

Sea Sanctuary: “Gaslighting - 10 Warning Signs and What You Can Do to Help Yourself.”

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