Is Someone Gaslighting You? 15 Signs to Look For

Understanding the Manipulative Behaviors Toxic People Use to Control You

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In a suspense-thriller film from the 1940s entitled Gaslight, a manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. Not only does he disrupt her environment and make her believe she is insane, but he also abuses and controls her, cutting her off from family and friends.

Consequently, the wife is constantly second-guessing herself, her feelings, her perceptions, and her memories.

Additionally, she feels neurotic, hyper-sensitive and out-of-control, which is the goal of gaslighting—to leave the targets feeling off-kilter and unsure of what is true and what isn’t.

Because the film was an accurate portrayal of the controlling and toxic actions that manipulative people use, psychologists and counselors began to label this type of emotionally abusive behavior gaslighting.

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships. It is an insidious, and sometimes covert, type of emotional abuse where the bully or abuser makes the target question their judgments and reality. Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to wonder if they are going crazy.

While gaslighting primarily occurs in dating and married relationships, it is not uncommon for it to occur in controlling friendships or among family members as well. Toxic people use this type of manipulation to exert power over others in order to manipulate friends, family members, and sometimes even co-workers.

 For this reason, it is important to be aware of the tactics of gaslighting as well as the signs that you are a victim of gaslighting.

What Are the Tactics Used in Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a technique that undermines your entire perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you often second-guess yourself, your memories and your perceptions.

Most of the time after communicating with the person gaslighting you, you are left feeling dazed, confused, and wondering what is wrong with you. Here are some of the tactics they might use to confuse you and cause you to question your sanity:

  • Lie to you: People who engage in gaslighting are habitual and pathological liars. They will blatantly lie to your face and never back down or change their stories even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. Lying is the cornerstone of their destructive behavior. And even when you know they are lying, they can be very convincing. In the end, you start to second-guess yourself.
  • Discredit you to others. In other words, the gaslighter spreads rumors and gossips about you to others. They may pretend to be worried about you and "your behavior" while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or crazy. Unfortunately, this tactic can be extremely effective and many people may side with the abuser or bully without knowing the full story. Additionally, the gaslighter may lie to you and tell you that other people think you are crazy. Keep in mind though, that these people may never say a bad thing about you, but the gaslighter will make every attempt to get you to believe they do.
  • Deflects the topic at hand. When you ask a gaslighter a question or you call them out for something they did or said, they may change the subject by asking a question instead of responding to the issue at hand.  Or, they may blatantly lie about the situation by saying something like: "You're making things up. That never happened."
  • Minimize your thoughts or feelings. By trivializing your thoughts and feelings, the gaslighter is able to gain power over you. They might make statements like: "Calm down," "You're overreacting," or "Why are you so sensitive?" All of these statements minimize how you are feeling or what you are thinking and communicate that you are wrong. When you deal with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, your feelings or your beliefs, you will begin to question them yourself. What's more, you never feel validated or understood which can be extremely difficult to cope with.
  • Shift blame to you. Blame-shifting is a common tactic that gaslighters use. Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that has occurred. Even when you try to discuss how their behavior makes you feel, they are able to twist the conversation and end up blaming you. In other words, they manipulate the situation in such a way that you end up believing that you are the cause of their bad behavior. They claim that if only you behaved differently, they would not treat you the way that they do.
  • Deny any wrongdoing. Bullies and abusers are notorious for denying that they did anything wrong. They do this in order to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices. But it also leaves the victim of gaslighting confused and frustrated because there is no acknowledgement of the pain they have caused. This also makes it very hard for the victim to move on or to heal from the bullying or abusiveness.
  • Use compassionate words as a weapon. Sometimes when called out or questioned, a gaslighter will use kind and loving words to try to smooth over the situation. In other words, they might say something like "You know how much I love you. I would never hurt you on purpose." These words and apology are what you want to hear but they are not authentic, especially if the same behavior is repeated over and over. When you are dealing with someone who uses gaslighting as a manipulation tool, you have to pay very close attention to actions and not words. Is this person truly acting loving or is only saying loving things?
  • Twist and reframe conversations. Typically, this tactic is used when you are discussing something that happened in the past. For instance, if your partner shoved you against the wall and you are then discussing it later, they may twist the story in their favor. He may say that he didn't really shove you, that you stumbled away from him and he tried to steady you which in turn caused you to fall into the wall. When stories and memories are constantly retold in his favor, you can begin to doubt your version of things, which is exactly his goal.

15 Signs You Are a Victim of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is harmful to those on the receiving end for a number of reasons. For instance, it can cause anxiety and depression. It also has been linked to panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. For this reason, it is extremely important to recognize when you are being gaslighted. The best way to determine whether you’re experiencing this covert form of manipulation is to ask yourself if any of the following statements is true about your life:

  1. You find yourself doubting your feelings or your sense of reality, and try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or that you are too sensitive.
  2. You doubt your judgment, perceptions, reality and/or abilities. As a result, you are afraid of “speaking up” or expressing your emotions. You have learned that sharing your opinion usually makes you feel worse in the end. So, you stay silent instead.
  3. You feel vulnerable and insecure. As a result, you often feel like you “walk on eggshells” around your partner/friend/family member. You feel on edge and lack self-esteem.
  4. You feel trapped, alone and powerless. And you are convinced that everyone around you thinks you are strange, crazy or unstable just like your partner/friend/family member says you are.
  5. Your partner/friend/family member's words make you feel like you are wrong, stupid, crazy or inadequate. Sometimes you even find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
  6. You are disappointed in who you have become. For instance, you feel like you are weak and passive and that you used to be stronger and more assertive in the past.
  7. Your partner/friend/family member's behavior confuses you—with actions that appear like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  8. Your partner/friend/family member minimizes hurtful behaviors or words by saying something like: “I was just joking" or "You are too sensitive." Even if they were teasing, it still needs to be acknowledged.
  9. You feel like something terrible is about to happen when you are around your partner/friend/family member. This may include feeling threatened and on-edge but you don’t know why.
  10. You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
  11. You feel like you are never “good enough." As a result, you try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable.
  12. You frequently second-guess your memories and wonder if you accurately remember the details of past events. You may have even stopped trying to share what you remember for fear that it is wrong.
  13. You apologize all the time for what you do or who you are, assuming people are disappointed in you or that you have somehow screwed up.
  14. You wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. In other words, you worry that you might truly be crazy, neurotic or “losing it.”
  15. You find it hard to make decisions because you distrust yourself. You would rather allow your partner/friend/family member make decisions for you or avoid decision-making all together.

A Word From Verywell

If you can identify with any of these signs of gaslighting, it is important that you seek professional help right away. Your doctor can recommend a counselor who is equipped to help you process and deal with what is happening to you. In the meantime, remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. The person gaslighting you is making a choice to behave this way. He or she is to blame. You did not ask for it. You did not cause it. And you did not bring it upon yourself. 

Source:

Breines J. "Call Me Crazy: The Subtle Power of Gaslighting," Berkeley Science Review, April 16, 2012. http://berkeleysciencereview.com/call-me-crazy-the-subtle-power-of-gaslighting/ 

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