5 Signs Of Gaslighting To Watch Out For With Master Manipulators

Of all techniques in a manipulator’s handbook, gaslighting is one of the most effective.

woman experiencing gaslighting in relationship novikov alex/shutterstock

What is gaslighting? It might be hard to describe if you're unfamiliar with the term. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation.

It occurs across different types of relationships — with someone you are dating or married to, with a work colleague or boss, or with a friend.

Gaslighting even happens in families.

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Potential signs of gaslighting are important to recognize in any relationship.

Or even to be able to identify if you grew up in a household where you were gaslit by parents or other family members.

Once you identify gaslighting, you can take steps to regain your confidence and capacity to trust your own judgment.

A common place for gaslighting to show up is in romantic relationships.

By the way, the term "gaslighting" comes from a 1944 movie, Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates (gaslights) his wife into believing she is insane.

She's not insane but seriously questions her mental stability and identity because of her husband’s lies and stretching of the truth. She comes to doubt her own judgment and mistrust her instincts.


But gaslighting doesn’t just happen in the movies. It's a very real and serious form of manipulation and abuse.

The five signs of gaslighting to watch out for with manipulators:

1. “You're overreacting.”

The manipulator makes statements that cause you to question your perception. He suggests you're "being too sensitive," "taking it too personally," or, "can’t take a joke." Or that you are simply "doing what you always do” by misinterpreting an innocent remark or even a compliment.

He wants you to feel guilty for misunderstanding what he was "really" saying. Meanwhile, the gaslighter refuses to take any responsibility. You're left feeling shamed, blamed, and humiliated in front of others.

For example, maybe you two are in a group chat with friends, deciding where to go for dinner. He "jokes" that no matter where you two decide to go, you'll find reasons to complain anyway. He adds that you're never happy, no matter what he does.


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2. “I never said that.”

A classic example of gaslighting is for the manipulator to say they never said something that in fact they most certainly did say. The more they deny having said “X,” the more the other person questions themself. Is their memory failing? Are they losing a sense of reality?

As time goes on, more of these situations occur, and the more the person being gaslit is convinced that they are going insane. Questioning their sanity diminishes their confidence, self-esteem, and trust in their own abilities.

For instance, you two agree on certain plans for the weekend. When the weekend arrives, he claims he never ever agreed to any plans.


You even remind him where you two were when you had the conversation. He continues to deny that the conversation even occurred. He suggests perhaps you dreamt it, rather than it actually having happened.

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3. “Are you calling me a liar?”

In this case, the denial of truth is more than “I never said that.” He may outright distort the truth, completely lie, or divert attention to his own suffering when pressed for the truth. By shifting the focus to himself, he turns the tables so that she becomes more concerned about his feelings than about her suspicions or observations.

For example, the gaslighter decides to go out with work colleagues at the end of the workday. He tells you he will be home by midnight. He ends up coming home at 2:00 a.m. When you confront him, he goes on and on about being delayed because his car broke down.


He shifts the conversation to how much the repairs will cost and how lucky he is not to have gotten hurt when he was on the side of the road waiting for AAA, and that you're just miserable for even questioning him, to begin with.

He may suggest this shows how little you care about him in order to throw you off from asking more questions.

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4. “I cheated, but it's your fault.”

Infidelity is a common place for gaslighting to occur. The gaslighter was unfaithful and deflects accusations. He turns them into statements that you are overreacting, super-jealous for no reason, and being ridiculous.

Another way infidelity and gaslighting co-occur is with the gaslighter’s justification for why he "had no choice," that you drove him to cheating; it's your fault, etc. For instance, the gaslighter is adamant that he had to have an affair because his girlfriend "never wants to have sex" and is depriving him of basic needs.


What choice did he have? Especially when women come onto him so often?

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5. “What do you mean by that?”

Gaslighters are skilled at ascribing malicious intent to something you did or said that is benign.

For example, at a large family party, you two are teasing each other about childhood photos on your cousin's wall. Especially the photos of the 1980s haircuts. Out of the blue, he accuses you of announcing to everyone that he's ugly. Actually, all you did was comment on his haircut (after he teased you about having perms in the 1980s).


At its core, gaslighting creates profound self-doubt and chronic questioning of your own truth.

Being aware of what gaslighting is, how it presents, and how it feels to be on the receiving end means you're less likely to fall prey to it again.

If through hindsight you recognize that what you thought was deep love was actually gaslighting, be gentle with yourself. Having a mindset of self-compassion will help you to move forward. There's no need to be self-critical or judgey. You had enough of that with the gaslighter!

Gaslighting is common and by definition easily disguised as well-intentioned. Reviewing your own history of being gaslit helps to distinguish healthy from toxic relationships.


Practicing assertiveness, comfort with saying "no," and trusting yourself are skills that will serve you well in relationships with others — and with yourself.

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Dr. Elayne Daniels is a renowned psychologist in the Boston area. Using cutting edge, innovative techniques, she provides treatment to men and women from the tween years through adulthood.