Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Learning How To Recognize Signs Of Gaslighting
Published Nov 17th, 2020 & updated on Mar 20th, 2021
Hands up if you’ve heard these phrases before and may not have recognized them as signs of gaslighting.
Stop being so sensitive.
I never said that.
That never happened.
Why can’t you just take a joke?
No one is ever going to love you how I do.
Why can’t you let go of the past?
Why are you always so angry?
I’m sorry you choose to feel this way.
You have no right to feel like this.
You actually don’t feel this way.
It’s not that bad.
Other people have it so much harder than you, stop being a victim!
You might have even used these yourself before without realizing the kind of impact they were having. That’s okay. You’re here now and you’re ready to learn. And because the term gaslighting gets thrown around quite casually, it’s important that we unpack it.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What Does Gaslighting Mean?
Many of us have heard the term gaslighting. It’s been used in conversation, on TV, and it’s become well known over the last few years. The term originates from a play in the 1930s called Gas Light. In this play, a man tries to drive his wife to madness by turning down the gas lamps in their home and denies that the lights are changing at all. Eventually, she does go mad because her husband plays with and distorts her mind.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that makes survivors feel like their memories and experiences were made up and that their feelings aren’t real. It makes them question every memory that they have about certain events and traumas. Abusers use this as a way to gain power over another person and excuse their own behaviour because the abuse they caused “didn’t happen.”
At the very core of gaslighting are power and control. Abusers exploit their victim’s attachment to them and use that to invalidate their memories and feelings, all while keeping them in the relationship.
It’s most common in romantic partnerships, but it can appear in any relationship dynamic. The people who gaslight sometimes lack the self-awareness to even realize that they’re being shitty and abusive. They might have learned this behaviour from a past relationship or even because they grew up around it. Either way, it’s no excuse to act like garbage.
A survivors’ perception of reality is often completely distorted. They are continually told that they’re wrong or that what they experienced didn’t even happen at all! They feel like they’re “going crazy” because they’re constantly denied reality. What they know to be real is erased by the gaslighter and they start accepting this new reality formed by their abuser.
Wow, That Sounds Brutal
It is. There are many reasons why some people don’t just say “Eff you!” and walk away from their gaslighter. If they’ve grown up in an environment being gaslit, they’re conditioned to think that this kind of behaviour is normal. When they then enter into an adult relationship, they don’t know that this isn’t what a healthy relationship looks like.
Another reason is because most of us are nice people! We don’t assume that a person is gaslighting us because we rationalize their actions with things like, “Oh they probably didn’t mean it like that.”
Men most commonly are the gaslighters and women are the ones being gaslighted. That’s not to say that women can’t be a gaslighter — the numbers just happen to skew that way more. This is likely because society has taught women to doubt themselves, feel as though they aren’t good enough as they are, and like they have to constantly apologize for their actions – especially to their male counterparts.
Remember, gaslighting is not the same as being sensitive or having a genuine disagreement. It’s different because only one of you is considering the other’s feelings and perspective while the other is negating any feelings and saying that a reaction is “crazy” or irrational.
Like we said, gaslighting can happen in almost any kind of relationship and it can be extreme or mild. Either way, it’s important to remember that gaslighting is a form of abuse.
So, let’s break down the different ways that it can show up so that you can recognize the signs of gaslighting if it’s happening to you.
Gaslighting In Romantic Relationships
People in romantic relationships who are victims of gaslighting experience many of the feelings that we just covered in the introduction. They’re made to think that what they know to be true is not. They’re told that they are just overreacting, their emotions and feelings are minimized and negated, and that they’re just being too sensitive.
Unfortunately, gaslighting in a relationship can manipulate a person into questioning their own sanity. Well, of course, they feel this way because their world is constantly being turned on its head!
Some people remain in romantic relationships with the person gaslighting them because they might have fear of abandonment. Even though they’re being hurt day in and day out, they don’t want to lose the person they love.
This is a totally valid fear! Leaving someone or being left by someone is never easy, especially if your significant other has made you feel dependent on them and has diminished your sense of self-worth.
Gaslighting can often occur in conjunction with other kinds of abuse and is then used to make the victim feel like what they are going through isn’t “that bad.” But realistically, it’s all bad.
Gaslighting In Friendships
This can look a little different than gaslighting in romantic relationships. Often, friends who are gaslighters love to gossip. They do this by taking any kind of information they can and use it against people.
They gossip, but only so that they can gain information that benefits them. Friends who gaslight also thrive on creating drama. Let’s be honest, we all love a little drama now and again, but they enjoy it a lot more than the average person.
If you notice that a friend is gossiping (like… A LOT), limit how much info you tell this friend because they will probably use it against you. If you’re hearing about other people’s lives behind their backs, this toxic friend is probably talking to other people about you behind your back too. They do this because, like we said, they love creating drama. Their goal is to see a fight and create conflict, just because they can.
Sometimes, if this friend doesn’t have any information to start this drama, so they might make something up! So, if you think your friend is a gaslighter and tells you information about a friend that will potentially start a fight — assume that what they tell you is false. They probably don’t really have anything to gossip about, so they’ll make shit up just to cause a stir. And if you don’t know how to deal with a toxic friend because you haven’t had one in your life up until now, it’s time to learn.
Watch out if you notice that this toxic friend is befriending your partner. They’ll likely gossip with them about you and say that you think you’re having relationship issues. They’ll talk to your partner and create unnecessary tension between the two of you and start the drama that they love so much.
Pay Attention To The Small Things
Gaslighting among friends can also happen with really small things. For example, a dish duty argument among roommates can turn into full-on gaslighting. If your flatmate has made a big mess in the kitchen as you ask them to clean it up, they might say something like, “I didn’t make that mess,” or “That wasn’t me.” This puts the responsibility on you for not only cleaning up the mess, but for the mess itself.
Being left out of plans is another example. A gaslighting friend might invite everyone but you to a gathering they’re having. Not only do they leave you out, but this person also invites everyone to the gathering while you are standing right there. You are blatantly and intentionally left out of this event, and when you confront your friend about it, they say, “You’re just being too sensitive.”
In case you needed to hear it today, you aren’t being too sensitive and your friend was rude, unkind, and mean for doing anything like this to you. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to be respected and invited to things!
Gaslighting In Parenthood
This is a really tough situation to be in and grow up with. A narcissistic parent uses this to create a certain kind of dynamic within their home and maintain power and control over their household. They are exceptionally conditional with their love and create a dynamic in their home that only benefits them.
If you grew up with gaslighting parents, you’ve probably experienced being either the golden child or the scapegoat child. The golden child can’t do much wrong in the eyes of the gaslighting parent. They aren’t punished much or at all, they’re always praised and lauded, and are very obviously the favourite.
If you are the scapegoat child, you’ve probably been gaslit a lot by your parents. The scapegoat child is never considered to be good enough, their feelings are invalidated, and they’re mentally beaten down so much that they lose their sense of self or worth.
Often, the scapegoat child will feel like they don’t have a purpose and feel extremely lost and unsure of what to do with their life. This is because the gaslighting parent has manipulated and invalidated this child so much that they don’t even believe themselves or their experiences anymore. This makes a lot of sense because if you don’t believe yourself, how can you believe IN yourself?
A gaslighting parent wants you to rely on their memories more than your own. The same goes for opinions. To them, their child’s opinion isn’t valid, but theirs is. These parents want their kids to trust and follow what they say blindly, and if the kids don’t, they get punished and berated for it.
It’s All About The Parents’ Needs
Gaslighting parents also feel like their needs are more important than anyone else’s. For example, if your parent is depressed, they’ll make everyone know about it and have them feel sympathetic for what they’re going through. But when you go to your parent for the same issues of depression, they tell you “You aren’t depressed. Stop being so sensitive and suck it up.”
They have the unrealistic expectation that they can control how you feel, what you like and don’t like, and that they’re always right and you’re always wrong. When you approach them about their behaviour, they become defensive and make it seem like you’re actually the one with the problem.
In their eyes, they can do no wrong. Gaslighting by parents has serious consequences.
Gaslighting In The Workplace
This is a tricky and very sensitive situation. It’s one thing to experience gaslighting in your home, but the workplace is a wholllleee new territory because your mental health AND career are on the line.
A gaslighter at work will want you to stop succeeding at all costs. They’ll sabotage your efforts and take credit for your good work. They’ll even try to pass the blame onto you if they ever fuck up so that they don’t have to take the fall for it.
One example of gaslighting at work is if your boss or supervisor was ever to harass you physically or sexually. When you confront them about it, they might say something like, “Wow, can’t you take a joke?” or “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re so sensitive.” or “That never happened!”
If this is happening or has happened to you, be sure to write everything down. And we mean EVERYTHING! Document emails, conversations, and write it down in a place that isn’t on work property (like a locked folder on your personal cell phone).
If you confront your gaslighter, do it in a gentle way to avoid setting them off and becoming defensive. If they do become defensive and deny their actions and gaslight you more, take your evidence to HR or their supervisor.
You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your career for anyone. Especially not a gaslighter!
How To Deal With Gaslighting When It Happens
There is no easy solution that will immediately stop a gaslighter from trying to manipulate you. Your best bet is to combine your efforts on multiple fronts and reinforce boundaries wherever they are being broken. But that’s really hard to do, you’re right. Let’s break it down into smaller things you can do on a daily basis to deal with gaslighting.
1. Recognize That You’re Being Gaslit
Ok, first thing’s first. You have to realize that you’re being gaslit. If you’re reading this article, congrats! You’re already doing or have done the hardest part.
2. Write Everything Down
Keep a safe journal or a log of your conversations with your gaslighter so that you have an account of what’s really happened. That way, you won’t be made to feel like you’re imagining things or making things up and can determine the truth from the falsities your gaslighter is trying to create.
You’ll sometimes feel like a detective looking through your own life while trying to fit the pieces of your memories back together, but having documentation of what’s happening can help you remember that what you know to be true is really true.
3. Feel All Your Feelings
This is a long and difficult process to work through. You’re going to have a lot of feelings, and all of them are totally valid!
After having your world turned upside down and sideways for so long, it’s going to be hard to start believing in yourself again. So, go through all the motions. Cry if you need to! Do whatever you need to do to process this. We support you!
4. Focus On How You Feel Instead Of Being Right Or Wrong
It can be hard not to want to focus on being correct when you’ve been made to believe that what you think is wrong. But if your conversation makes you feel bad or second guess yourself, that is what’s most important!
Your gaslighter will likely still try to invalidate you during this process and keep trying their darndest to make you feel like what you experienced isn’t true or real.
They’re going to try to make you feel like down is up and that the sky is green, so focus on how you’re feeling during all of this because that’s the most important thing!
5. Talk To Your Friends And Family
Talking to people who you love and trust can make you feel validated and help you remember that it’s not all just in your head. They can give you the kind of support that you need while you’re fighting for yourself and remind you that your experiences are real and that they’re valid.
6. Remain Defiant
Don’t give in. Stay strong! This allows you to trust your version of reality. You know what you know and no one can take that away from you, no matter how much they try to bully you.
7. Accept That You Will Never Get Accountability
Unfortunately, narcissists use gaslighting often to help them feel superior and to manipulate situations and people to benefit them. One key trait about narcissists is that they never think that they’ve done anything wrong.
They think that other people’s reactions to their actions aren’t their problem. Their logic runs along the same lines as “I intentionally stepped on your foot? Well, your foot shouldn’t have been where I wanted to step.” The blame will forever be put onto someone else other than them.
Unfortunately, this means that they won’t ever acknowledge that they did anything wrong. If you think that the person can respond to logic or reason, they won’t. You can try to get some kind of closure, but this is often a fool’s errand.
Being gaslit can be a really painful experience because you’re grappling with your own mind, reality, and a person who is telling you that you’re wrong. We hope that this article gave you some information about the signs of gaslighting and that it helps you be more confident in yourself and the truth.