7 Ways You're Being Gaslighted — And You Don't Even Realize It

Photo: G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock
sad woman sitting alone on the bed
Heartbreak

Being gaslighted in a relationship is an experience that you want to miss. The problem is, gaslighting can be so subtle that you miss the signs.

Any relationship can make you feel self-doubt, but there's a difference between being gaslighted and having a compatibility issue.  

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that uses psychological manipulation. Often referred to as a destroyer of relationships, it's a dysfunctional tactic rooted in manipulation, where one person, intentionally or not, makes another feel completely insane and alters their perception of reality.

This dysfunctional relationship dynamic is rooted in co-dependency, and although it can happen in any kind of relationship, it does happen between couples where one person is perceived to have more authority than another.

RELATED: How I Saved Myself From An Emotionally Abusive Man — And You Can, Too

The imbalance of power and authority draws out an unhealthy power dynamic — almost like a parent-child relationship — and, at first, can feel a bit romantic. The gaslighter is thought to be charismatic and in control, but the problem is they want more control, and often, it's over their victim. 

Gaslighting begins after a major threshold in the relationship is crossed where people start to get comfortable and let their guards down. Moving in together, having a baby — if the situation emphasizes the authority and subordinate dynamic, the person likely to gaslight may show their true stripes because they need to maintain authority in the relationship. It's much like a narcissist, since these people always have to be in control of their world.

Since the victim isn't consciously aware their relationship is set up for gaslighting, it means they are blindsided and easily fooled into thinking they are to blame, even though all evidence says otherwise. 

As the relationship dynamically deepens, and the perpetrator feels their authority is at stake or they have a need to hide something (a character flaw, affair, or need for control), that person will gaslight for self-preservation to gain power over the victim.

It's a tactic used to keep their partner in the dark and even accept the lie that no one ever turned off the lights. 

"Gaslighting occurs when someone provides you with erroneous information that they then convince you is true, often against your own better judgment," says psychotherapist Linda Yael Schiller

Unfortunately, there is a thing called unconscious gaslighting, which is when the tactic is used unintentionally. This means the person gaslighting isn't doing it intentionally to abuse, but it's still happening. The concept is so new that there isn't an official term for it; "unconscious gaslighting" is like a placeholder. The best way to describe it is like recognizing murder but overlooking manslaughter.  

Gaslighting is a form of abuse that has long-term effects on its victims.

Adds Schiller, "Being the victim of gaslighting can lead to people doubting the veracity of their own truth, feeling 'crazy' for having a different opinion, and lead to serious self-doubt and lack of trust."

The same lie is deliberately delivered — "there is something inherently wrong with you that can't be fixed" — over and over again, by someone who is trusted and loved. Planned or unplanned, the objective is always the same: to control and manipulate the relationship in their favor. 

Gaslighting is one of the types of abuse that attacks and destroys a person's intuition and mental credibility.

The dangerous and disastrous power play compares to the story of the frog who is put into a pot of cool water on a stove. As the heat slowly increases, the frog can't tell because, with each increase in temperature, his tolerance of a situation grows along with the heat. Without realizing it, it's that precise tolerance that not only keeps him in grave danger, but ultimately leads him to sure death. 

How did the term 'gaslighting' originate?

The history behind gaslighting can be found in the entertainment business. The term gaslighting originated in the UK from a 1938 play, "Gas Light."

It would be a few years before "gaslighting" would be introduced to the U.S. by an old black and white 1944 film, "Gaslight," based on the British play where a charismatic husband manipulates his wife (Ingrid Bergman) into doubting herself. 

The couple's dynamic goes from one awkwardly tense situation; from the outside everything appears to be normal, switching to super sickening drama in a moment. Viewers feel sorry for the wife as she continues to try to bring the relationship back to normal, only to be forced into believing that she's going mad.

And that's how gaslighting plays itself out.

What other types of gaslighting are there outside of a relationship?

1. TrivializingTrivializing is a gaslighting technique when a person minimizes your feelings, suggests your emotions don’t matter, or accuses you of overreacting.

2. Denying: Denying is when a person straight-up lies about something that happened. If you bring up an event, they tell you that never happened or you're remembering it wrong.

3. Discrediting: Discrediting is when a person damages your credibility by telling other people that you can’t remember things correctly, or that you get confused easily or make things up.

There are also different types of gaslighting seen outside of relationships:

Medical gaslighting: Where doctors dismiss a person’s health concerns based on the assumption they are mentally ill

Racial gaslighting: Where people deny that discrimination is happening to a group of people despite evidence saying otherwise

Political gaslighting: Where political figures deny and lie in order to control people

Institutional gaslighting: Where companies or organizations hide information, lie to employees, or portray whistle-blowers who uncover problems in an organization as incompetent or having a mental illness

RELATED: Why 'Gaslighting' Is Such A Powerful Weapon Of Emotional Abuse — And What To Do If It's Happening To You

What are examples of gaslighting?

1. Unresolved emotional or undiagnosed or treated mental health disorders, like narcissistic personality disorders or narcissistic traits, desperately depend on being right. If the veil is pulled, get ready for some serious gaslighting.

2. Addict and enabler-based relationships where the active addict doesn't want their partner to know they are using, or the person enabling wants to manipulate their loved one to quit.

3. Infidelity, where the person being gaslighted senses something is wrong within the relationship. They might even try to improve the situation by requesting counseling or talking things over.

But when gaslighting is full-blown, it's not that simple. The more you insist there's a problem, the greater the risk that the manipulator feels in losing control. This makes the situation escalate and can put each party in a unique sense of danger. 

How do you know if someone is gaslighting you?

Noticing that you're being gaslighted is a bit harder than people think because the victim is already in their head trying to figure out what is real or not. To know if someone is gaslighting you, you actually have to look at yourself.

Ask yourself if you're being more anxious and less confident than you used to be. Are you often wondering if you're being too sensitive? Do you feel like everything you do is wrong, and when things do go wrong you always think it's your fault? Does your partner make you feel confused about things you used to be confident about?

If this is how you feel and think, you have been gaslighted and need to respond.

7 Signs Of Gaslighting To Look For In A Relationship

1. You're told your feelings and concerns are unimportant.

In a healthy relationship, open communication takes place, and that includes holding each other accountable when needed. But in an unhealthy relationship where gaslighting is in the mix, the gaslighter may resort to verbal abuse and slowly erode their partner's sense of mental well-being.

By invalidating feelings and concerns, they prey on the goodness and benefit of the doubt that is naturally given to someone you love. By doing so, they are able to hide whatever truth they want to conceal.

Over time, the victim starts to accept what's unwanted and enters denial, although deep down they know what they feel is real. This is one of the targets of gaslighting.

2. You're called a liar even when you tell the truth. 

Discrediting your beliefs is a gaslighting tactic that is used throughout the entire dynamic, from little inconsequential matters (like feeling that a room is too cold and being told that it's all in your head rather than offering you a sweater), to bigger matters (like feeling sick and being denied that your symptoms are real).

When you're gaslighted in a relationship, your feelings are the first thing that need to go. So, if they are under attack, there's a good chance you're being gaslit. 

3. Your mental health is always under attack. 

Everyone picks on the ones they love from time to time, but when statements are made to wound your self-esteem, that's when you know the situation is set up for failure. 

An exchange of ideas and beliefs in a safe and healthy relationship is welcomed, except if you're being gaslit. If your partner insists that the reason you think the way you do, or that your thoughts are a product of flawed thinking due to a childhood wound that you've shared, there's a problem.

People who gaslight will take their knowledge of your weaknesses and use them against you. Oftentimes, that's when they will (typically, begrudgingly, because why not add a little guilt in the mix) and offer their help (one more time) to keep you dependent on them.

But the truth is that is their way of keeping control of the situation. 

4. You're constantly told you're paranoid, even when you know your suspicions are right. 

This happens more often in relationships where one partner is cheating and you have evidence to prove the infidelity.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

When a person is confronted with receipts for flowers or dinner dates, or phone call lists made to someone that you know they are having an affair with, but are told you're wrong, there's a good chance gaslighting is happening.

A person gaslighting you could even have undeniable facts right before their eyes and still deny them.

RELATED: 18 Signs Of Gaslighting & Examples Of How It Plays Out In Abusive Relationships

5. When you bring up your hurts, you're told you're 'overly sensitive' instead.

Sensitivity is nature's way of alerting your mind and emotions that something needs to be paid attention to, but that's the last thing a gaslighting predator needs or wants.

Rather than trying to find a way to help fix the problem or change the way they handle whatever situation is hurting your relationship, the problem is turned back on you and your inability to handle stress.

If your sensitive nature is under attack and your emotions are starting to dull and numb, be mindful that you might have a relationship where you're being demeaned

6. You know you're being lied to, but your partner refuses to admit they are being dishonest.

Since the core ingredient to a gaslighting situation is the authority — subordinate power play — it's that same dynamic that keeps the game going.

The person getting gaslighted doubts their own instincts. So rather than trust their intuition, they ask their partner, the gaslighter, to help them figure out what's going on.

But the person who is doing the gaslighting doesn't want you to know what's going on because that's the whole point of the gaslighting. So, instead of admitting they are wrong or helping to clarify matters, they use this opportunity to increase the crazy.

7. When you're ready to leave, you're met with a violent reaction and then showered with romance with promises — but things never change.

​To regain control of their mental well-being, victims of gaslighting sense that the only way back to sanity is to get out of the relationship. However, that's when things can get dangerous. 

The bottom line: If you find yourself in a relationship where each question you ask seems to be met with an answer that's completely off-base, and the more you probe the more your partner puts the blame back on you, you might be in a relationship where you're getting gaslit.  

How to Respond to Gaslighting

1. Create distance between you and your partner.

Physically leave a gaslighting partner where they are to create space between you, both mental and physical. If they aren't as close to you, they can't get under your skin or into your head.

2. Speak up.

When you notice gaslighting tactics being used, call the person out on it and bring light to the situation. It's a good idea to have collected evidence beforehand to help your case against a master manipulator, but keep a steady head and remain confident in your version of things.

"Don't rush into another person's version of the story; rather, respond that you will 'think about it' or 'I’ll see if that feels right' or 'I’ll check in around that' to give you time to both self-access and get more information or facts," Schiller advises.

3. Focus on yourself.

Self-care is always important, but even more so when someone is trying to change who you are. Focus on yourself, your aspirations, and your version of what happened. This will keep your mind your own.

You can also focus on yourself by doing breathing exercises, repeating affirming mantras, counting to 10, and grounding yourself in reality.

4. Reach out for help.

When dealing with gaslighting, it's always a good idea to involve a mental health professional. And there are plenty of resources available, and seeing a therapist can help you differentiate between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse, you are not alone. Gaslighting can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor for free support, 24/7.

RELATED: 6 Heartbreaking Ways Emotional Abuse Changes You

Aria Gmitter, M.S, M.F.A. is YourTango's Senior Editor of Horoscopes and Spirituality. She's an astrologer, numerologist, tarotist and theologian.