Even though the term “gaslighting” may sound new, the act of gaslighting has been around for a long time. Still, the concept can seem a bit abstract – it’s normal to look at the meaning of gaslighting and ask yourself, “What is gaslighting?” Because it may seem like a foreign concept until it happens to you.
To complicate matters even more, gaslighting can take many different forms. Hearing phrases like “That never happened” or “You’re overreacting” can be a sign of gaslighting. And it’s important to know when this is happening in order to have a healthy relationship.
Ultimately, gaslighting can happen to anyone. Clinical Psychologist Sari Chait Ph.D. “It is often used as a way to gain or maintain control over another,” she says. But how do you know if someone is gaslighting you? Experts share what you need to know about the nature of psychological manipulation.
What is gaslighting?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, gaslighting is the act or practice of misleading someone, especially for your own benefit. This can happen in almost any situation, from personal relationships to the workplace. Erin Wiley, M.A., L.P.C.C. Willow Center’s executive director, describes gaslighting as “a psychological tactic to create confusion in a person so that they feel that they are to blame for the problems in the relationship.” You may have recognized the behavior of gaslighting but never knew the signs. This form of manipulation can make you feel drained about your thoughts and feelings. “Gaslighting tends to happen consistently over time,” explains Chait. “So the victim usually begins to doubt themselves, believe an alternate truth, and even wonder whether they are losing their minds.”
How do you know if someone is gaslighting you?
Gaslighting is difficult to recognize because it’s usually done by someone you trust — such as a partner, says Chait.
It’s a sign that someone is gaslighting you if they:
- constantly minimizing or invalidating your feelings
- avoiding taking responsibility for one’s actions
- regularly remembering events differently from you
- using words like crazy, hyperreactive, dramatic, hypersensitive or crazy
- feeling self doubt
- don’t feel seen or heard
Examples of gaslighting
Gaslighting can happen in a number of different scenarios. It is important to be aware of common phrases or signs of gaslighting. Wiley says that examples of gaslighting include:
Isolating you from supportive friends and family
Example: “They only tell you that we should break up because they are jealous of how close we are. They don’t have your best interests at heart.”
Telling you your assumptions are wrong
Example: “I was not critical; I was just trying to help you see how other people see you.
Invalidate your feelings
Example: “You are very sensitive to your well-being. You always think that I am hurting your feelings and no one else except you will think that my words are hurtful!
Downplaying your worries
Example: “Nobody else bothers with things like this – only you. You are on top!”
Make you feel like you’re losing your memory
Example: “Actually that didn’t happen at all – you’re obviously not remembering it correctly.”
You are being accused of being a manipulator
Example: “That didn’t happen at all – you’re turning that situation around so you look good and I look terrible.”
What to do if someone is gaslighting you?
If you find that someone is gaslighting you, it is important that you take steps to protect your well-being. There are several ways to take action in a situation where someone is gaslighting you. Here’s what the experts suggest:
Face the person
People’s point of view will always differ. Learning to respect them and address it in a healthy way can help with communication and building relationships. Wiley suggests that you can also talk to someone outside of the relationship to get a sense of the situation.
Find a support system
It is important to remember that you are never alone in this. As Chait suggests, it’s important to find a strong support system, whether it’s friends, coworkers, or family members. Being able to make connections and gain perspective can help.
Putting yourself first doesn’t make you selfish—and that can be especially important in gaslighting situations. Wiley suggests developing strategies and coping skills to help you manage when it happens to you and how to move forward in the future.
Ask for help
As Chait recommends, a therapist can help you manage your feelings after a relationship with a gaslighter has ended. (See our tips for finding the right therapist.)