The Complete Guide to Gaslighting

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March 24, 2020
“You’re exaggerating.”
“You’re lying.”
“That never happened.”
“I only did it because you made me.”

The subtle escalation between these phrases is where gaslighting starts. Just like physical abuse rarely starts with a punch, gaslighting starts small and grows. Soon, you don’t even recognize yourself.

In this piece, we’re going to:

  • Define gaslighting
  • Talk about gaslighting’s origin
  • Discuss gaslighting in relationships
  • Give gaslighting examples
  • Discuss top gaslighting phrases
  • How to recognize you’re being gaslit
  • How to stop gaslighting

If you think you are being gaslit, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

What is Gaslighting?

What is gaslighting?

The definition of gaslighting is the use of tactics to manipulate another individual’s reality.

Wikipedia defines gaslighting as “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem.”

Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting, although its effects are often felt strongest by women. It’s commonly used by abusers, dictators, and cult leaders in order to gain control or power over a victim. Narcissists and sociopaths tend to use gaslighting as a way to…well, get their own way.

The process of gaslighting is a slow distortion of reality — which is why it works.

To define gaslighting, we must look at the origin of the phrase.

Gaslighting Origin

The term gaslighting originates from a 1938 stage play titled Gas Light. In the play, the husband performs acts to distort his wife’s reality including slowly dimming the gas lights throughout the performance. His goal is to manipulate her reality and have her believe she is going insane to gain power of attorney over her.

The term gaslighting has been used since the 1960’s to describe the manipulation of another person through distorting their reality.

Gaslighting in Relationships

Gaslighting is often seen in emotionally abusive relationships where the abuser wants to be in control and have power over his partner.

There are some early gaslighting warning signs, including:

  • Lying
  • Love bombing
  • Separating you from things and people who are close to you
  • Verbal abuse including cruel jokes
  • telling your support system negative stories about you
  • taking what you say out of context in arguments and conversations,
  • making decisions for you and insisting it’s because you’re not as capable of making them

The three most common forms of gaslighting are:

  • Hiding — The abuser hides information from the victim and covers up the truth
  • Changing — The abuser starts to mold the victim into their fantasy. Can include changing their appearance, personality, career, how they dress, etc…
  • Control — The abuser gets pleasure in having full control over the victim’s thoughts and actions and will isolate them from any outsiders

Some other gaslighting techniques include:

  • Withholding information — Will not provide full details of a situation
  • Countering — Counters your version of reality with their own
  • Blocking/Diverting — Changes the subject to avoid questioning
  • Trivializing — Making the victim’s needs and opinions unimportant
  • Denial — When an abuser “forgets” or straight denies something occurred

Some gaslighting examples include:

  • Lying about an incident
  • Denying something happened
  • Actions do not match words
  • Projecting their problems onto you
  • Saying you’re crazy or mentally ill
  • Manipulating what you look like or how you act

Gaslighters project their own reality onto another individual. It’s likely that whatever they’re saying you did, they did.

We like to say that it’s like every abuser is handed a playbook because they all use the same tactics. They even use the same phrases once you spot the pattern. Some gaslighting phrases include:

  • “You’re crazy”
  • “That never happened”
  • “You’re exaggerating”
  • “I never said that”
  • “You’re being too sensitive”
  • “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”
  • “You’re lying”
  • “No one likes you”
  • “What are you talking about?”
  • You’re not telling my side of the story
  • I only did this because you made me
  • You were the one that caused this

We could go on and on with gaslighting phrases, but we hope you get the point. These gaslighting phrases are designed to distort your reality and have you question everything about yourself, your opinions, and simple facts. Taking what the gaslighter says seriously forces you to also take some, or often all, of the responsibility for whatever abuse has occurred.

How to Deal with Gaslighting

First, you must recognize that you are being gaslit. To do this, ask yourself if you’re feeling any of the following:

  • You’re too sensitive or emotional
  • You feel constantly confused and/or even crazy in the relationship
  • You’re always apologizing.
  • You’re frequently making excuses for your partner’s behavior
  • You start lying to avoid negative interactions
  • You start having trouble making simple decisions
  • You’re to blame for every problem that occurs between you and your partner

It can be a scary realization when someone is gaslighting you. You realize that your whole world has been manipulated. It’s normal to feel scared, nervous, emotional, or embarrassed. Do not blame yourself for the gaslighting — it is never your fault.

If you’re asking yourself how to stop gaslighting in a relationship, it’s likely that it’s gone so far that you can’t. If someone is trying to control you and your reality, it’s not a healthy relationship. It’s likely that you’re experiencing other types of abuse in a relationship with gaslighting. If you’re still not sure if this is happening to you, we recommend reaching out to a friend or domestic violence advocate about what’s been going on in your relationship. Telling someone you trust about the types of arguments you’ve been having with your partner might be less intimidating, and they can even call a hotline with you to safety plan if that’s a next step that you think will work for you.

In reality, you can’t just stop gaslighting. People who are gaslighters will likely never take responsibility for their actions and admit to their problems.

The safest thing to do is to come up with an exit strategy for the relationship. This may involve safety planning and letting someone know what is going on.

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