Gaslighting has become a common term to describe the insidious and damaging techniques used in unhealthy relationships where one person uses subtle tactics to make their victim question their reality and sanity. It’s more recently become a way to describe tactics used by people to gain power over someone else in many ways, often without the victim even realizing it is happening.
Gaslighting slowly erodes someone’s self-confidence and sense of reality until they are left feeling helpless, confused, and unable to trust themselves.
This can be extremely damaging if not addressed quickly, leading to long-term mental health issues such as depression or anxiety for victims of this type of behavior. To defend yourself from this kind of harm, make sure you can recognize the signs and learn when it’s time to reach out for help from someone outside your situation.
Please note that this blog post is solely for educational purposes and should not be taken as a substitute for professional support, advice, or mental health services. If you or someone you care about is a victim of domestic abuse please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788 for confidential support and resources.
Warning signs someone is gaslighting you:
They have to win every disagreement.
If someone in your life can’t just “agree to disagree” and hounds you, stonewalls you, or throws a tantrum until you give in, you may be dealing with a gaslighter.
You feel something is “off.”
Your intuition is often accurate, even if you can’t explain why you feel that way. If you feel anxious or like you’re walking on eggshells but you can’t quite put your finger on why – take a closer look at the relationship.
They mock your ideas or opinions.
If someone regularly makes fun of your opinions or belittles you for your beliefs, they may be using gaslighting tactics to keep you quiet. Gaslighters often use sarcasm and “joking” or “teasing” to subtly undermine your confidence and attempt to change your thoughts and feelings.
They make promises they don’t keep, then blame you.
For example, they say that they are excited to take you out for a fancy dinner for your birthday next week, but then when the time comes and you ask about the plans, they complain that you are childish and self-centered for even suggesting such a thing. While some people are just flakey, if they get hostile or defensive or deny the invitation even happened, this is likely a signal you’re dealing with a gaslighter.
They are immature or irresponsible in other ways.
Gaslighters often lack maturity in several areas of their life, although they may look outwardly successful. They may not pay their taxes, they may have dozens of traffic tickets they haven’t paid, or have maxed-out credit cards.
They frequently use any of these phrases:
“You’re too sensitive.” “You’re imagining things.” “You can’t take a joke.” “You always think the worst of me.” “You’re paranoid.” “It’s not that big a deal.” “Get over it already.” “You always exaggerate.” “I didn’t mean it like that.” “Why are you always complaining?”
Coping with Gaslighting
Once you have recognized that this might be happening in your relationship, it may be important to take steps to protect your mental health.
When you’re dealing with a gaslighter who is not willing to change their behavior, the best thing you can do is set strong boundaries, however often they will not respect your direct requests for limits.
This may mean you need to distance yourself from the individual or work with a counselor to address your mindset and learn healthy coping skills if you can’t avoid them.
Share with a trusted friend to help you get some perspective or read books and article about healthy relationships and emotional abuse to gain insight into your unique situation.
Seeking help from a therapist or support group can be an important part of this healing process. Working with a therapist who specializes in healthy relationships can help you understand the dynamics of your situation and develop strategies for keeping yourself mentally healthy.