Have you ever known somebody who makes you doubt your own thoughts and memories? You know something happened, but after talking to them, you suddenly feel crazy and upside down.
The lines between truth and lies, reality and imagination, all become blurred. It’s as if they’re scrambling your brain.
This is what it feels like to be gaslighted.
Gaslighting isn’t new, but how do you truly know if it’s happening to you?
We’ll discuss ten signs of gaslighting to look out for and what to do about it.
- What Is Gaslighting?
- What Are The Earliest Signs of Gaslighting?
- Can Someone Be Gaslighting and Not Know It?
- 10 Signs Of Gaslighting That Are Big Red Flags:
- 1. They Tell Blatant Lies:
- 2. They Deny Any Wrongdoing:
- 3. They Use What You Love Against You:
- 4. Their Words And Actions Rarely Align:
- 5. They Poke and Prod With Little Statements:
- 6. They Alternate Between Lies and Positive Reinforcement:
- 7. They Project Their Behaviors:
- 8. They Call You “Crazy”:
- 9. They Manipulate Relationships Around You:
- 10. They Attempt To Change How Others View You:
- What Should I Do If I’m Being Gaslighted?
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which a person breaks their victim down with psychological games to the point they begin to question their own reality.
Gaslighting is all about power and control. The more an abuser can make their victim unsure of themselves, the more codependent they become.
Abusers will lie, deny accusations, and often turn an argument around on their victim to solidify the idea that they are always 100% right and the victim is always 100% wrong.
What Are The Earliest Signs of Gaslighting?
Gaslighters are highly manipulative people. Rather than build love and trust in a relationship, they secure their partners through manipulation and prey upon vulnerabilities.
Gaslighting often starts through love bombing.
Love bombing is precisely what it sounds like: an overwhelming display of affection to catch and hook their victim. This may look like lavish gifts, frequent excessive compliments, or major leaps in the relationship too soon.
If you recognize signs of love bombing in a new relationship, it should raise some red flags.
An abuser does these things for two reasons:
- To form an emotional attachment quickly, and
- To learn what upsets or triggers their partner
The latter piece of information comes in handy when the gaslighting begins. As soon as they can tell their partner has become attached, they switch up their game.
Gaslighting tends to happen gradually, so knowing telltale early signs is helpful. If you spot the signs early, you can leave the relationship before you’re in too deep.
Early signs that may indicate you’re being gaslighted include:
- Your partner changes the subject when accusations arise
- Your partner ignores your personal space early on
- Your partner never allows you to make any decisions
- You start to feel a lower sense of self-esteem around them
Can Someone Be Gaslighting and Not Know It?
This is where the gaslighting (as a concept) gets tricky. Answers to this question vary but can be summed up by viewing gaslighting as a spectrum.
Many people who engage in gaslighting behaviors struggle with antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder (or tendencies), or an authoritarian nature.
These three personality disorders are incredibly difficult to break through.
This means some people may not realize they’re gaslighting their partner but rather view their behavior as the truth.
Others know precisely what they’re doing and may even work on ways to improve their “craft.”
In either case, you want to avoid the gaslighter. It doesn’t matter if they are struggling with a personality disorder, doing it on purpose, or both. The end result is the same.
10 Signs Of Gaslighting That Are Big Red Flags:
Now that we have a better understanding of what gaslighting is, let’s look at some larger warning signs.
If you feel frustrated, unseen, unheard, or left confused after an argument, you may already sense something isn’t right. These ten signs may confirm your suspicions.
Prefer videos? Here’s a great video that explains ten warning signs of gaslighting:
1. They Tell Blatant Lies:
Do you often catch your partner in deliberate lies? Does it seem like your partner lies easily, even if you have indisputable evidence? This is a classic sign of gaslighting behavior.
Your abuser wants you to question your own reality by insisting you have every situation entirely wrong.
2. They Deny Any Wrongdoing:
You may be gaslighted if you attempt to confront your partner about an issue, and instead of communicating, they simply deny, deny, deny.
For gaslighters, denial is the best policy.
Again, even if you have proof, they’ll still deny it. This excessive denial is intentional. They want to make you doubt your perception of events.
They’re never wrong.
Even in situations where they are clearly wrong, they will find a way to pin that culpability on you and have you believe it.
3. They Use What You Love Against You:
After the initial love bombing phase, victims often let their guard down, exposing intimate details with their partner. Gaslighters then use this as ammunition later on.
They’ll attack the foundation of your being to break your self-esteem, and make you afraid to walk away.
For example, if your partner criticizes or makes hurtful statements about your parenting, they’re doing so to make you question yourself, your decisions, and your identity as a good parent.
This is disorienting.
Because you care deeply about being a good parent, you’ll start to question yourself in other areas of your life, which threatens your confidence and ability to make decisions for yourself and your children.
4. Their Words And Actions Rarely Align:
Does your partner tell you one thing and then do another?
If what your partner says and what they do, are two different things, you might be getting gaslighted. Manipulative individuals are often smooth talkers.
That’s why people say to trust actions over words. It’s true with gaslighters, too.
5. They Poke and Prod With Little Statements:
“Guess you forgot to buy milk again” or “You must have used our extra spending money on yourself” are two examples of gaslighting statements.
Does your partner make small, frequent jabs indicating you failed to do something you said you would do or did something wrong (even if you didn’t)?
This is by design.
They want to damage your self-esteem and make you question your own memory. Let’s take the milk statement as an example.
If you never said you would buy milk, and nobody mentioned being out of milk to you, your immediate reaction might be, “But wait? I didn’t forget. I didn’t even know we needed milk.”
Your gaslighter will then act like it’s absurd for you to have not known about the milk. In turn, you’ll start running back the tape of the past few days.
Did we actually talk about getting milk, and I just forgot? I don’t remember talking about milk. Is it possible it slipped my mind? I do forget things. Did I make a note of it somewhere?
The compounding effect of conversations like these is an inability to trust your own memory and judgment, which is the point. Eventually, you’ll accept the narrative of your gaslighter.
You’ll start to see yourself as someone who forgets things and misinterprets conversations.
I must have forgotten to get milk. Why do I forget things all the time?
6. They Alternate Between Lies and Positive Reinforcement:
Love bombing doesn’t stop at the beginning of the relationship. Gaslighters frequently use this tactic to keep their victims from leaving.
If the entire relationship were toxic and miserable, nobody would stay.
To keep people around, abusers will mix in compliments, kind gestures, or gifts amidst lies, denial, and manipulation.
In turn, victims will question whether they’re the problem for believing such a loving partner would intentionally hurt them.
Surely the relationship is not so bad. Just look at how incredible they’re being! And round and round we go.
7. They Project Their Behaviors:
Let’s say your partner was unfaithful, and you’re trying to navigate your relationship in the aftermath.
Every time you bring it up, your partner turns to “whataboutism,” accusing you of doing the same thing they are guilty of. They may say, “I saw the way you flirted with our waiter tonight. No self-respecting woman would do that”.
This is an example of projection.
They take their toxic behaviors and try to pin them on you to shift blame and cause doubt and confusion.
If both of you are “bad” (as they see it), their behavior gets a pass.
Of course, that’s not what’s going on or how any of this should work, but it’s what the gaslighter wants you to believe.
8. They Call You “Crazy”:
Gaslighters know what they’re doing. They thrive on confusion and chaos. The rest of us are the opposite. We need stability and peace.
Once a gaslighter has gotten into your head, they might start saying things like, “You’re crazy” or, “You need serious mental help.” This typically happens when you try to defend yourself or call them out for gaslighting you.
They will confidently tell you that what you say is happening isn’t actually happening. They might even feign concern for you, delivering Oscar-worthy performances.
“Babe, that never happened. Are you okay? This is freaking me out. I never did that. You need help.”
All of this is by design.
They want to avoid responsibility for their behavior while making you question your reality. You look/get called “crazy,” and they get to flip the script by playing the role of “concerned partner.”
Here are some additional phrases gaslighters might use to control you:
9. They Manipulate Relationships Around You:
Another warning sign of gaslighting involves your partner stirring the pot with friends and family.
This can take many forms, like fabricating lies about those close to you, such as, “Your friend Sasha told me she doesn’t trust you around her husband. But don’t worry, I told her she was overreacting”.
This achieves two goals:
- Your partner gets to look like they have your back
- Your friend looks like an untrustworthy backstabber
The net effect is you trust your partner more and your friend less. After a while, you may find yourself isolated from old friends and even family members.
And because you can no longer trust yourself or your judgment, you cannot see who truly has your best interest and who doesn’t.
This is exactly how the gaslighter wants you to feel.
10. They Attempt To Change How Others View You:
Sometimes gaslighters will try to turn us against our family, but other times, they charm our family members into believing they are good, trustworthy people, and we are probelmatic.
In the latter case, when your gaslighting partner gets pushback from you, they might pre-empt your conversations with friends and family by expressing “concern” to them about your behavior.
“She’s been acting strange lately, forgetting things and accusing me of talking to women I’ve never even met. I don’t know what’s happening with her. Maybe she’s stressed from work? I don’t know what to do.”
Your loved ones are less likely to believe you when you come to them for help if your abuser has already filled their heads with lies.
By confusing everyone and working both sides of the field, everybody retreats to their corners, and the gaslighter gets to carry on as normal.
What Should I Do If I’m Being Gaslighted?
If you’ve been nodding “yes” to one or more of these signs of gaslighting, the next question is, “What do you do about it?”
To be blunt: you leave.
But sometimes, leaving is a process in itself.
- Start by collecting evidence of their gaslighting. These can be screenshots of messages, recorded conversations, or journal entries. This is how you regain control over your reality.
- Next, be prepared for more love bombing. If your gaslighter senses a shift in the power dynamics, they will try to win you back with grand gestures. Don’t let them. As good as it feels to be loved, you already know they’re doing it to keep you trapped. Reject their efforts.
- Get a good counselor. An objective third party can help you regain independence, trust, and belief in yourself. They can also guide you as you end the relationship (which is what you need to do – your gaslighter won’t change).
- Reach back out to family and friends. If you’ve been isolated or your partner has manipulated your external support network, reach out and tell them what’s been happening. If those relationships have been badly strained, your counselor can provide strategies for reconnecting with loved ones after an abusive relationship.
It takes time to recover from a manipulative relationship where gaslighting was used, but you absolutely can do it.
As soon as you recognize the signs of gaslighting, it’s time to take bold steps away from your abuser and towards a happier version of your life.