We often see gaslighting in the media with politicians and celebrity interviews, but there is a much more insidious use for gaslighting when we are talking about narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths. It is one of their favorite emotionally abusive mind games simply because it’s highly effective in controlling their victim.
In this article, we will discuss:
What Is Gaslighting?
Signs of Gaslighting Abuse
Thoughts & Feelings You Will Have
21 Examples & Techniques
Game Over: Shutting It Down
What Is Gaslighting?
Wiki’s Gaslighting Definition: a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs.
Gaslighting can be used by anyone. Teachers, bosses, lawyers, parents, siblings, cult leaders, dictators and romantic partners which is mostly what I will discuss.
The term "gaslighting" originates from the 1938 play "Gaslight" that was released as a film in the 1940's. This wicked story portrays a husband who will do anything to protect a secret, even if that means committing his wife to a mental institution. So, he systematically brainwashes her until she believes she is delusional and questions her own reality. One gaslighting technique he uses is to dim the gas lights, which she notices and he tells her she is going mad and it is not happening. She starts to feel she is losing a grip on reality.
Here's a little clip of the movie ->
You are going to see this term a lot if you are researching emotional, financial, psychological or narcissistic abuse because it’s a munipulators favorite tool.
It’s highly effective at destroying someone's self worth, inner power, and sense of reality while deflecting any responsibility on the abuser. This gives the narcissists the one thing they want the most over their victim….. control.
Depending on the abuser, gaslighting can look very different. Overt narcissists are the type of abusers we are used to seeing. They may always brag about their accomplishments, how much better they are than others and almost look down on anyone who is not them.
They don’t hide their abuse towards others and are often looked at as bullies. They are open and explicit and most people wouldn’t have a hard time pointing them out.
But, the more dangerous gaslighters are coverts. The reason they are so much more dangerous is because their abuse usually goes unnoticed to everyone around them, including the victim themselves. They are master manipulators as disguising their abuse.
Over time, their victims can appear to be unstable and deranged while the abuser appears as the misunderstood victim that is being made to look like the bad guy. They drop subtle hints of abuse that confuse you and appear to be unintentional. But, it’s very calculated.
Signs of Gaslighting Abuse
Gaslighting builds over time. The controlling partner will sprinkle it into exchanges early on in the relationship. It can be very subtle in the beginning as they are learning about you, and then gradually worsens over the course of the relationship, just like with any other type of abuse. I’m going to go over some of the thoughts and feelings you may have, and I also identified with almost every single one of these.
Symptoms of Gaslighting: Thoughts & Feelings
- Confused and feeling like you are going crazy
- Feeling of doubtfulness
- Questioning your own reality
- Feel like a failure or disappointment
- You start making excuses for their behavior
- You are tense around them and may not understand why
- Attacked or outburst over minor matters
- Asking yourself “Am I being too emotional or sensitive?”
- Asking yourself “Am I asking/expecting too much?”
- You are constantly apologizing
- You don’t understand why they are upset much of the time
- Your intuition is telling you something is off but you can’t identify it
- You may lie to avoid put-downs or them twistings things
- You have trouble making simple decisions
- Second-guess your decisions
- Nothing you do is good enough for them
- You have stopped doing things you love
- You distance yourself from people, events, and places you once enjoyed
- Your self-esteem has hit rock bottom
- You feel they don't support you
- You are focused on your flaws more than ever
- You don’t know who to trust and often turn to the gaslighter for answers
- You start withholding from family and loved ones so you don't have to explain or feel ashamed
- You Feel like your feelings or pain doesn’t really matter and maybe you are over sensitive
- You find yourself writing long emails and letters to try to get them to fully hear you out
- You are disconnected and different from the person you were before the relationship
That last one really stands out to me and one you should really sit and think about if you think you are being gaslighted. I know by the end of my relationship with a gaslighting narcissist, I was so different and my two older children had pointed that out to me during the relationship, but my response was I’m just trying to become a better person. As I began healing, I started feeling like myself more and more.
How Do You Know If It’s Really Gaslighting?
This is a great question because sometimes terms can be overused or misunderstood. Two people not agreeing does not mean either of them are trying to gaslight the other. We all have our own perception, but there is a clear line between someone’s perception of events and someone abusing you.
Gaslighting is distinct because only one person cares to solve the issue or come to an understanding.
So, the victim is listening, empathetic and wants to understand the other's perspective while also stating their view in hopes of working through it. While the gaslighter is dodging responsibility, making confusing statements, insisting you are wrong and emotional and that your thoughts are unimportant. They really want to run you in circles and keep you confused.
In healthy relationships, it is normal to not always agree and have your own opinions on topics, events, your values, etc. However, if you strongly resonate with the feelings and thoughts listed above, you're probably being gaslighted.
But, let’s also discuss techniques and examples of a gaslighter.
Gaslighting Techniques & Examples
- Lying - Just about everything revolves around a lie with a narcissist. You can even have proof and they will lie with a straight face.
"She just wants to cause problems cause she wants me, I never did that"
"I never even talked to her"
- Partial Truths - There is an element of truth wrapped with lies. They can insert something they know you believe to be true or appear to be taking responsibility so their lie seems more believable.
"I know I cheated, I feel horrible for it, but I tried everything to make it work and she is going out of her mind. Comes by my work, calls and text and accuses me"
In reality, they may have cheated many times, one being last week with a girl from work when they went missing for hours and you text them asking when they would be home. You are now viewed as the crazy one that is not trying to make the relationship work and you just can't get over his past mistake even though he is trying to be a good guy.
- Repetitive Falsehoods - Repeating lies frequently to reinforce them as truth and override existing perceptions.
"Look how well I treat you. Look at all I do for you"
"I seen you flirt with that guy, it's obvious to everyone"
"I told you I was at work, stop accusing me every time I walk in the door"
- Countering - Vehemently question your memory even though you know you have remembered it correctly and fight to understand how they don't.
"That's not how it happened at all, it's crazy how you see things"
"Remember the last time you were wrong about what you THOUGHT you remembered?"
"Obviously you never loved or believed in me if you think like that"
"You are so negative in your thinking"
- Trivializing - Minimizing, Invalidating and shaming you for how you think and feel to make you doubt your truth.
"Listen to yourself, you are not okay"
"I don't know why you are making a big deal over this"
"You just can't get over the past" (even though it was never resolved)
"Why are you being so sensitive"
"That is not abusive, you are trying to make me look bad"
"You are going to let something that small come between us?"
- Denial - Refusing to acknowledge your feelings or thoughts. Sometimes by being silent and not responding and other times with blatant denial even with concrete evidence.
"I never said that"
"I'm not sure how you see it that way, but I never cheated"
"You must be remembering it wrong"
- Faking Compassion - Using their mask to appear as if you have it all wrong and they really have your best interest at heart
"No Baby, I did that to protect you."
- Reframing - Twisting what you said, even if subtle, to suit their favor
- Circled Conversations - Nothing is ever resolved, they just keep running the conversation into circles. I've spent hours and hours without the one single problem getting resolved.
- Words & Actions Not Aligned - Even when you believe them, their actions are not aligning with their words. They may tell you they love you, but are cheating on you the next day and not taking any responsibility for it.
- Love & Hate Rollercoaster - One day/hour/min they love you and you are the best thing that happened to them and the next they can't stand you. They have this look in their eyes that tells you they have such a hate for you.
- Discrediting Your Character - Gossip behind your back and make people believe you are unstable, irrational, crazy. Basically projecting everything they are onto you.
- Projection - The gaslighter diverts their actions back to the victim, refusing to validate the victims claims. This could be cheating, starting fights/drama, acting crazy.
"You just love drama, it's always around you." Even though they may have been the one to start the conversation AND the drama.
"You just can't let it go" Could have been something you have caught the in a lie many times, even recently but they want to avoid taking any real responsibility.
- Intermittent Reinforcement - They may bring you up by praising for something they admire or you did well, just so they slam you back down. This makes you question if they are really bad, because there are good aspects of their actions.
- Indirect Criticism - Compliments wrapped with insults. They cleverly make you feel insecure and question yourself.
"I've seen you as pretty as those girls before"
"You are almost as thin as Sally was after having her baby"
"I know if you had more time, you would have done a better job" When the job you did looks fine, maybe even great.
- Selfish Praise - They will praise you for something but only because it benefits them.
"You really did a great job with this dinner"
"I'm so glad you stood up for me"
- Blocking - Changing the subject to divert from taking responsibility or answering a question.
You ask "Did you cheat on me?" They ask "How many times have I caught you with talking to other men?"
- Diverting - Questioning the validity of your thoughts
"I didn't say this Thursday, I said next Thursday"
"I never said I like pineapples" (when they told you they loved them)
- Pretend Forgetting - Pretending they forget things that occured.
"I never said I would pay for all of these things you just bought"
"I don't remember it like that at all"
"I never said that"
- Toxic Amnesia - Deliberately forgetting hurtful behaviors, verbal abuse and betrayals they've engaged in.
- Stonewalling - Deliberately refusing to communicate or cooperate while continuing to listen to your concerns. This can be a subtle form of manipulation and often used by coverts.
- Withholding - Pretend they have no idea what you are saying and it's hard to understand.
*Popular tweet about the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard recorded conversation below posted on Feb. 6, 2020.
JD: "You're defending yourself, against something I didn't fucking do."— Elle-Rose (@AutumnOnVenus) February 6, 2020
AH: *typical narcissistic, gaslighting response* "You're attacking me!"
ALL SHE DID FOR THE 29 MINUTES SHE TALKS AT HIM WAS ATTACK HIM AND MANIPULATE HIM.#JusticeForJohnnyDepp pic.twitter.com/QLUJcgHP4t
Caught On Video By Police
I thought it would also be useful to show you an example of gaslighting caught on camera by police. Now hopefully, this is a much worse situation than what you are going through, but I think it's the perfect example to show you how someone can manipulate and lie even if there is video proof.
Take a look at this women who was taped talking to a man about having her husband killed. The husband was not killed, but the police continue to play it out and confront her that her husband is dead.
She could win an academy award for her frantic crying and painful shouts. Then when it's revealed to her that he is alive and well, and she had been taped, she goes into her toolbox of gaslighting tactics and speaks with her husband.
How To Deal With Gaslighting
First rule, you don’t. By that, I mean, you are not going to convince a gaslighter or narcissists that they are seeing things the wrong way. One of the reasons they are gaslighting is to avoid responsibility altogether while they play with your mind. This gives them control over you and they are not going to stop doing it simply because you bring it to their attention.
DO NOT tell them you have figured them out. This is only going to increase the gaslighting so they get better at what the are trying to do, and the abuse can get more intense. If they have not already, they will probably incorporate flying monkeys into the relationship so they can have more control over since are starting to figure things out.
When a victim is already questioning their own reality and thoughts, the gaslighter getting better at gaslighting does not help the situation and usually victims will stay longer while they try to figure things out.
They simply won't and don't want to try to see your point of view, and if by a chance they do, trust me they are not taking responsibility for it, it will all play into their game.
You must stop looking at them for answers, validation, closure or acceptance of what they are doing. By doing this, it's delays your healing because all your focus is on something you can't control or change with a person that doesn't want to change.
Don't give them that type of control over you, they don't care about your healing, in fact, they don't want you to heal and become stronger, even if they have discarded you.
In healthy relationships, you would talk and work things out, but this is not a healthy relationship, it’s an abusive one.
A Good Question to ask yourself is “Are they listening to you and really trying to work the problem out, or make excuses and causing confusion? Do their actions match their words?" If so, write out a list so you can get clarity around this.
Game Over: Shut It Down
- Don’t Engage: If someone is trying to gaslight you, do not engage or try to get clarity from THEM. They want you to stay confused.
- Journal: Write things down for YOU. We are often confused and don’t trust ourselves, so writing things down will bring you more clarity and this shouldn't be left where they can read it.
- Support System: Create a support system around you. I’m going to tell you right now, even though friends and family have great intentions, many do not understand narcissistic abuse on a deep level and their advice or help will further confuse and re-traumatize you. Lean on them for love and support, but you don’t have to go into details, save that for a therapist or coach.
- Therapy: The same goes for therapist, not all of them understand this abuse. Be sure to get a therapist that understand narcissistic abuse, gaslighting, Cluster B Personalities and C/PTSD.
- Recovery & Life Coaches: Getting Coaching is a wonderful part of healing. Many narc abuse recovery coaches are survivors themselves, so they can relate to what you are going through. They can validate your experiences, strategize next steps, and support you in your healing journey and evolution.
Do you have an experience with a gaslighter? Tell us more and if you were able to shut it down, please share.
If you have any questions, please do ask as it would be useful in approving this content for other victims.