10 Signs of Gaslighting

Published May 7, 2024 by Zencare Team

One of the greatest benefits of living in the age of content is the popularization of psychological concepts and the increased literacy around toxic relationship patterns. This information helps many people address or exit unhealthy relationships, which can have huge effects on their lives. Perhaps the most well-known unhealthy relationship pattern in contemporary discourse is gaslighting, which is the topic of many social media posts, movies, TV shows, and books.

While the term “gaslighting” is now commonly used to describe interactions with romantic and sexual partners, medical professionals, and managers at work, what exactly is gaslighting? What are some examples of gaslighting? And how should someone respond to gaslighting?

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What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting describes a form of emotional abuse through manipulation where one person exerts their power by diminishing another person’s ability to tell what’s real. Gaslighting is a way to control another person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can also be used to socially isolate a person, leaving them to rely on their abuser — and stay in the relationship despite its incredibly harmful dynamics.

When someone is on the receiving end of gaslighting, they begin to question their emotional reactions to certain situations, as well as their instincts and their memories. Over time, they may even question their sanity, leading to a high level of distress.

Gaslighting examples

To distort a person’s grasp of reality — and to exert control over a person — many people who engage in gaslighting use phrases like:

The receiver of these highly problematic comments may begin to second-guess themselves and their memories, asking themselves what really happened, even if they have clear memories of the event. Experiencing gaslighting leads to feelings of confusion, shame, and hopelessness, and it can lead to issues making simple decisions. People who receive gaslighting also often say that they know that something is wrong in their lives but can’t quite understand what it is, except that they aren’t happy.

Types of gaslighting

Just like there are many different types of relationships where gaslighting can happen, there are different types of gaslighting. Here are five types of gaslighting that occurs in toxic relationships:

  1. Coercion. When coercion occurs, one partner engages in manipulation to control the other person in the relationship, usually through emotional or verbal abuse, specifically through threats or force. Coercion can also happen through gift giving or showering a partner with affection right after a fight.
  2. Blatant lying. Blatant lying is a common type of gaslighting that emphasizes one partner’s reality over the other partner’s — even though it’s a false reality. Sometimes, a lie that is only a few degrees away from the truth can be just as harmful as a blatant lie.
  3. Scapegoating. Scapegoating is the pattern of deflecting blame away from the partner seeking control and towards the other person. When scapegoating occurs, the receiver of gaslighting is blamed for things outside of their control.
  4. Reality questioning. This describes the manipulation tactic of making one person question what’s real and what they can believe. Once they start believing that they’re wrong — or that their grasp on reality is lacking — they then must rely on their partner to make sense of what’s happening, which can keep them in an abusive relationship.
  5. Trivializing. This is when one partner minimizes the other person’s feelings or understanding of an experience. They might be dismissive, especially when it comes to the successes or accomplishments of the other person, leaving them to feel insignificant and small.

What are the 10 signs of gaslighting?

There are many signs of gaslighting, though it’s important to acknowledge that some people who engage in gaslighting aren’t aware that they’re doing so. Rather, from their own insecurities or emotional discomfort, they’re exerting control over their partner. That being said, gaslighting is a clear form of relationship abuse and is unacceptable.

Below are 10 signs that can help someone gauge whether they’re experiencing gaslighting. It may be gaslighting if a partner:

  1. Regularly tells small lies, even if those lies are relatively inconsequential.
  2. Second guesses the other person’s decisions, making them question their instincts about how they want to live their life.
  3. Takes the other person’s concerns and turns them around, making it about themselves.
  4. Isolates the other person from their social networks, reducing their interactions with friends and family members.
  5. Makes every conflict a lose-lose for the other person so that eventually, the other person stops bringing up their needs or concerns.
  6. Changes the subject even when important conversations are happening.
  7. Makes the other person feel empty and small by minimizing their emotions and leaving them with shame.
  8. Never apologizes, even when they’re wrong.
  9. Uses love against the other person, saying things like, "I only did that because I love you.”
  10. Downplays the other person’s needs while frequently bringing up that their own needs are unmet.

Download Your 10 Signs of Gaslighting

How to respond to gaslighting

Gaslighting, no matter how often it happens or how seriously it impacts the other person, is a highly toxic relationship pattern that has serious consequences. For many people, exiting the relationship is the healthiest step they can take. For others, there are ways to respond to gaslighting to limit its impacts and to set boundaries.

Next, we’ll share some phrases to shut down gaslighting for those looking for ways to respond to harmful comments.

Phrases to shut down gaslighting

Gaslighting is a grab for power within a relationship, and by shutting down the conversation, a person can affect those power dynamics.

When faced with gaslighting, here are a few ways to respond to either shut down the conversation or set strong boundaries:

Another practice to consider when on the receiving end of gaslighting is called the “grey rock technique.” When faced with gaslighting comments, acting like a rock – boring, non-responsive, unengaged – can be extremely helpful to shut down the other person’s harmful comments. If they don’t get a reaction out of their partner, then they aren’t getting what they want.

Gaslighting in a relationship

There are many gaslighting examples that can be applied to different types of relationships, with romantic relationships generally the most referenced in educational and pop culture content. However, gaslighting can occur in the relationships people have with their medical team, their parents or other family members, their friends, and their colleagues.

Gaslighting might not happen until well into a romantic relationship, which might appear healthy at its outset. Eventually, however, one partner might begin to engage in unhealthy or toxic patterns such as love bombing or gaslighting. Gaslighting tends to occur over time. However, when one person in the relationship begins to exert control over the other person — whether consciously or unconsciously — the pattern of gaslighting can slowly erode a sense of reality. Ultimately, gaslighting is emotional abuse used to gain cooperation and dependence within the relationship.

Gaslighting in a romantic relationship can be especially detrimental to a person’s well-being because it can lead to a general mistrust of other people, including future partners. The trauma of past toxic relationships can result in fear of commitment, attachment issues, or codependency.

Gaslighting at work

Gaslighting can also happen in relationships at work and can be particularly challenging because of the inherent power dynamics in a workplace. When gaslighting happens at work, it might not be possible to exit the relationship — especially when the gaslighting is happening in a manager-employee relationship. It’s important to address gaslighting in the workplace, whether that means involving HR or setting strong boundaries with colleagues to maintain well-being.

Therapy to help navigate gaslighting

Gaslighting is a highly impactful form of emotional abuse in relationships and its aftermath can be detrimental to a person’s mental health. Talking to a mental health professional is an incredibly helpful step for those on the receiving end of gaslighting, whether in the past or present. A therapist can provide an objective yet informed perspective on the relationship, and help their client develop strategies to manage their relationship dynamics or the consequences of past toxic relationship patterns.

It’s important for those who have experienced gaslighting to remember that it’s not their fault that it happened, and they aren’t responsible for what occurred in the relationship — in a world where connection to others is everything, unknowingly receiving gaslighting is not a fault in character. Being emotionally vulnerable is a huge part of what makes relationships worthwhile, and unfortunately many people take advantage of that vulnerability for their own insecurities.To find a local therapist to help with relationship conflicts, the Zencare therapist directory offers filters to narrow down the search. With many therapists specializing in working with people in toxic relationships — or working with couples — therapy seekers can find the right therapist for them while they’re looking for help with the detrimental effects of gaslighting.