What Is Gaslighting?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 04, 2022
6 min read

Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive strategy that causes someone to question their feelings, thoughts, and sanity. If someone gaslights you, they’ll attempt to make you question reality. The purpose of gaslighting is to convince you that you can’t trust your thoughts or instincts.

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.

There are many types of gaslighting. It can happen in abusive or nonabusive relationships. You might notice gaslighting with:

Relationships. Experts suggest that gaslighting is common in domestic violence situations. But it can also happen in otherwise nonabusive relationships. Anyone can gaslight another person in a relationship. It can happen in various types of romantic relationships.

It’s more likely that women will be gaslit by men in romantic relationships. This is because gender inequalities present the possibility for gaslighting. It often takes away women’s social power and gives men more of an opportunity to abuse the situation. But gaslighting still happens to men by women, it’s just not as common.

Co-workers. Certain stereotypes are present in the workplace. This may be due to your gender, role, level, age, or other factors. You may find that someone you work with misuses these differences to gaslight you. For example, in many work environments, there are gendered beliefs that masculine people are rational and feminine individuals are not. This inequal balance can allow for gaslighting to be more common in the workplace.

Doctors. Medical gaslighting can happen when a medical professional downplays your concerns. This can happen within the workplace. For example, a doctor or an expert who’s older may disregard another medical professional’s concerns or advice.

In addition, some physicians use gaslighting to dismiss people’s (specifically women’s) medical concerns. They may cause you to feel crazy or irrational about certain medical fears or concerns.

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.

Gaslighting can happen in many ways. It can make you feel confused or crazy to feel a certain way, even if you were sure about something before. Here are a few examples:

If someone downplays your medical concerns. You may notice certain pain and want to get it checked out by a doctor. Even though you know your pain is real and has actual side effects, your doctor might still blame your symptoms on other, less serious conditions. They may tell you that you’re too anxious or worried.

A specific example would be a doctor telling you that pain from endometriosis is simply normal period pain. Or some professional may insist you just have anxiety, when, you could have symptoms of heart disease.

If your friend or partner makes you question reality. People who gaslight may flip stories or lie about details to make you believe something in the past happened differently. Even though you think you remember what really happened, this person may be able to convince you that you said or did something else.

In extreme cases, someone may claim they saw you do something that you didn’t do. For example, a partner may claim they or someone else saw you cheat, when you really didn’t.

The use of manipulation with outside factors. Some people may claim that outside forces (like the police or immigration authorities) are watching. This may happen in situations where a person fears certain legal situations. A gaslighter may use this against them.

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.

If you feel that your doctor is gaslighting you, it may be a good idea to switch to a new one. When it comes to your physical and mental health, you should always feel as though you can speak your mind and are being taken seriously. Don’t stay with a physician who makes you feel uncomfortable when you bring up concerns.

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.