10 Signs of Gaslighting And How to Protect Yourself [+ FAQs]

In the complexities of human relationships, conflicts and misunderstandings are inevitable. But sometimes, the issues we face with our partners go beyond that of ordinary disagreements. 

Have you ever found yourself continually doubting your recollection of events after conversations with your partner? Do their words leave you questioning your own judgement or even your sanity? These could be signs that you’re experiencing a subtle but harmful form of emotional manipulation known as gaslighting.

In this article, we’re going to clear up any confusion about gaslighting. We’ll look at the different ways it can show up in relationships, how it deeply affects people, and what you can do to spot and stop this hidden form of mistreatment. It’s important to understand gaslighting, whether you want to help someone else or are concerned about your own relationship. 

By knowing more about it, we can all work towards relationships that are healthier and more respectful.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation where the abuser exercises control over the victim, leading them to doubt their perceptions, feelings, and even their sanity. This manipulation, whether intentional or unintentional, can have a profound impact on the victim’s mental well-being.

Intentional gaslighting occurs when the manipulator consciously aims to control or undermine another person. Unintentional gaslighting, on the other hand, happens when the perpetrator is unaware that their actions constitute gaslighting. 

Regardless of the intent, the outcome is often the same – the victim experiences confusion, self-doubt, and a questioning of their own reality.

Woman looking down with back against the wall

The psychological effects of gaslighting can be varied and severe. They include:

Signs of Gaslighting

Understanding and addressing gaslighting is crucial, as it allows victims to break free from the harmful cycle of manipulation. This awareness is vital for setting boundaries, exiting toxic relationships, and building emotional resilience. Addressing gaslighting is also key to fostering 

For now, let’s delve into the specific signs of gaslighting, enhancing our awareness and ability to respond effectively;

1. Confusion: Questioning Reality

A key sign of gaslighting is the confusion experienced by the victim. This confusion typically revolves around questioning their own sense of reality. When abusers successfully sow seeds of doubt in the minds of their victims, they gain the power to manipulate them more easily. 

This manipulation often involves distorting reality or exploiting past kindness to cover up their deceitful actions. As a result, the victim may find themselves forgiving or overlooking the abuser’s misdeeds, sometimes without even realising they have been subjected to gaslighting.

2. Countering: Challenging Memories

Countering, a common gaslighting tactic, involves the abuser directly challenging the victim’s memories, perceptions, or experiences. In this approach, the gaslighter often questions the accuracy of the gaslightee’s recollection of events, making statements such as:

  • “Are you sure about that? You have a bad memory,”
  • “I think you are forgetting what really happened,”
  • “That’s not what happened; you must be remembering it wrong.”
  • “I never said that. You’re just imagining things.”

This tactic aims to make the victim doubt their own memory and trust the abuser’s version of events instead, leading to confusion and self-doubt.

3. Denial: Evading Responsibility

Denial in gaslighting is characterised by the abuser’s refusal to acknowledge their actions or their impact. This evasion can manifest in various ways, including outright denial of events, pretending to forget what occurred, or shifting blame to the victim. Common statements illustrating this tactic include:

  • “You’re overreacting. That never happened.”
  • “You’re making a big deal out of nothing. That’s not how it went down.”
  • “You’re just trying to blame me for something I didn’t do.”
  • “Even when you show proof, I’ll stick to my story.”

Despite clear evidence, the abuser remains unyielding in their denial. This relentless refusal to accept responsibility or acknowledge the truth leaves the victim feeling invalidated, unheard, and constantly second-guessing their own perceptions and memories.

Man sitting on the couch looking stressed out

4. Diverting: Redirecting Conversation

Diverting is a tactic in gaslighting where the abuser skillfully redirects the focus of a conversation. This technique is used to undermine the victim’s concerns or thoughts, often making them question their own validity. It involves shifting the topic away from the abuser’s actions or words to avoid direct confrontation or discussion about the issue at hand.

Examples of diverting statements include:

  • “That’s just nonsense you read online. It’s not real.”
  • “This is just another one of your crazy ideas.”
  • “You always bring up old issues. Can’t we just move on?”
  • “Why do you always talk about that?”
  • “Let’s not focus on the negative. How about we talk about something positive?”

Woman and man in an argument pointing fingers at each other

Through diverting, the gaslighter aims to disorient and confuse the victim, steering conversations away from subjects they find uncomfortable or incriminating. This tactic leaves them feeling unheard and perplexed, doubting the relevance and importance of their feelings or concerns.

5. Lying: The Foundation of Gaslighting

People who engage in gaslighting are often habitual and pathological liars and frequently exhibit narcissistic tendencies. It’s typical for them to blatantly lie and never back down or change their stories, even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. It’s not uncommon for them to utter the following lines: 

  • “You’re making things up.” 
  • “That never happened.”
  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Even when the truth is obvious, gaslighters can be alarmingly persuasive. They might reshape stories to show themselves in a better light or falsely accuse the victim of being mistaken or forgetful. A classic example is denying infidelity despite clear evidence like incriminating texts.

In some instances, gaslighters might even feign memory loss or completely deny facts, reinforcing their lies repeatedly. This relentless lying is not just a manipulation tactic but also a sign of a toxic personality, leaving the victim in a state of constant doubt and confusion.

6. Love Bombing: Manipulation Through Excessive Affection

Originating in the 1970s and associated with the Unification Church, the term “love bombing” initially described the use of excessive flattery and admiration for recruitment into the group. In the context of gaslighting, love bombing goes beyond the typical excitement and affection seen at the start of a relationship. It involves the love bomber overwhelming their partner with gifts, praise, and seemingly flattering gestures.

While appearing affectionate on the surface, these behaviours are manipulative, aimed at grooming and isolating the partner from their support network. The underlying intention is to make the partner emotionally and socially dependent on the abuser. This dependency is achieved by initially building the partner up with excessive adoration and attention.

Couple lying down looking at each other lovingly

The strategic use of love bombing is to gain the partner’s trust and learn their vulnerabilities. Over time, this knowledge of weaknesses is used against them, in a shift from elevating to undermining their self-esteem and sense of security. 

7. Projecting: The Blame Game in Gaslighting

Projecting in the context of gaslighting is a tactic where the abuser attributes their own negative qualities or behaviours to the victim. This not only manipulates the victim’s perception of reality but also adds to their confusion and disorientation by making them question their own actions and character.

Examples of projecting include:

  • Accusing one’s partner of cheating, when one is being unfaithful themselves
  • A manipulative person accusing another of being controlling or deceptive

In essence, projecting on gaslighting involves the abuser deflecting their own issues onto the victim as part of the manipulation. It adds an extra layer to the psychological abuse by not only distorting the gaslightee’s reality but also making them feel responsible for the negative behaviours projected onto them.

8. Stereotyping: Exploiting Prejudices in Gaslighting

Stereotyping in gaslighting involves using negative societal stereotypes to manipulate others. This manipulation can be based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, age or other aspects.

In heterosexual relationships, for example, a man might use prevalent gender stereotypes to dismiss a woman’s concerns, suggesting that she is being “hysterical” or “irrational.” Such stereotypes are harmful and can undermine the individual’s confidence and sense of reality.

Stereotyping as a form of gaslighting can have devastating effects on the victim. It can lead to feelings of alienation, invisibility, and even depression, as their experiences and identities are invalidated and manipulated.

9. Trivialising: Dismissing Emotions in Gaslighting

Trivialising in gaslighting occurs when the abuser minimises or dismisses the victim’s feelings. This tactic is often used to belittle the victim for having valid and reasonable reactions to issues, accusing them of being overly sensitive or dramatic.

Statements typical of trivialising include:

  • “How are you going to handle the real world? You are too sensitive.”
  • “You’re always making things up to get attention.”
  • “You’re just being dramatic; it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.”

This form of gaslighting involves downplaying the importance of the victim’s emotions, experiences, or concerns. It leaves them feeling as though their feelings are insignificant or undeserving of attention, further contributing to their sense of disempowerment and self-doubt.

10. Withholding Information: Obstructing Communication in Gaslighting

This involves someone pretending they do not understand the conversation or refusing to listen to make a person doubt themselves. For example, they might say,

  • “Now you are just confusing me,” or
  • “I do not know what you are talking about.”

Through withholding, the abuser may refuse to engage in a conversation or pretend not to understand what the victim is saying to avoid responding. They may say phrases such as:

  • “I don’t know what you are talking about” or
  • “You are trying to confuse me.”

This may also include pretending not to understand the victim’s perspective, which can frustrate and cause them to feel misunderstood.

Impacts of Gaslighting

Gaslighting can affect individuals on a psychological and physical level.

Initially, the psychological impact includes making the victim doubt their feelings and reality. They may question their judgement, feel vulnerable and insecure, experience loneliness and a sense of powerlessness, and frequently second-guess themselves. 

Stress from gaslighting can also lead to psychosomatic symptoms. Examples include headaches, fatigue, and other stress-related ailments. Understanding these impacts highlights the seriousness of gaslighting, emphasising the need for awareness and intervention.

Loss of Self-Confidence

The cumulative effects of gaslighting, such as inducing self-doubt and eroding trust, can lead to a loss of self-confidence in the victim. This process involves them questioning their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, ultimately undermining their ability to make sound judgments.

Woman leaning on rooftop railing

The abuser’s inconsistent behaviour can constantly leave the victim on edge. This unpredictability can lead to anxiety and a lack of confidence when navigating the relationship.

Increased Anxiety and Stress

This constant state of uncertainty as a result of gaslighting fosters hypervigilance, as the victim becomes increasingly anxious about when the next episode might occur. This sustained anxiety and stress not only affect their mental well-being but can also have physical repercussions.

Impaired Cognitive Function

Gaslighting’s impact goes beyond just confusion and memory issues. It can also lead to diminished critical thinking, concentration difficulties, memory lapses, weakened problem-solving skills, and impaired decision-making.

Woman hugging her legs while sitting on a chair and looking outside the window

These cognitive impairments are examples of how gaslighting can lead to physical brain disorders, demonstrating the profound effect this form of manipulation can have on mental functioning.

Strained Relationships

Gaslighting can exhaust the victim particularly when the abuser repeatedly lies to the point that these falsehoods start to seem like the truth. This relentless assault on reality can erode the victim’s trust in their own perceptions, leading to difficulties in trusting others. 

Consequently, relationships with friends, family, and colleagues may become strained, as issues with trust and communication emerge, stemming from their altered understanding of reality.

How to Deal With Gaslighting

Remaining passive or silent in the face of gaslighting is not an option if one seeks to reclaim their sense of self and truth. Here are some practical approaches to handle and respond to gaslighting:

Learn How To Recognise Signs of Gaslighting

First and foremost, it’s important to recognise the signs of gaslighting and how these tactics manifest. Remember, part of recognizing gaslighting is trusting your instincts. If something feels off or manipulative, it’s worth taking a closer look and trusting your feelings.

Set Personal Boundaries

Establishing personal boundaries is a crucial step in self-care, both as a preventive measure against gaslighting and as a response to it. 

To set effective boundaries, start by identifying your core values and limits. Communicate these boundaries assertively, ensuring you make your stance clear. If you’re dealing with a gaslighter, consider limiting your contact with them as much as possible. 

Additionally, regular self-reflection can help you stay aligned with your values and recognise when your boundaries are being tested or crossed.

Self-Care Strategies

An essential self-care strategy involves distancing yourself from habitual gaslighters when necessary. Prioritising self-care is vital for maintaining your physical and mental well-being, helping to shield you from the effects of gaslighting. 

Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfilment. This could be anything that nurtures your spirit and provides a sense of peace.

Woman making a heart shape using both hands

Taking care of yourself in these ways builds resilience, fortifying you against the emotional toll that gaslighting can take.

Seek Professional Help

Among all the strategies for dealing with gaslighting, seeking professional help is often the most crucial. If you feel caught in a mental loop of frustration and confusion, unable to see a way out, remember that it’s perfectly okay to reach out to mental healthcare professionals. 

They can provide the guidance, support, and perspective needed to navigate through the challenges of gaslighting and help you reclaim your sense of self and clarity.

If you’re considering therapy, Sofia Wellness Clinic is here to support you. We offer a wide range of counselling services such as marriage counselling, family counselling and more. 

Feel free to reach out and contact us if you ever need a listening ear.

FAQs about Gaslighting

Can therapy be helpful for those recovering from the effects of gaslighting?

Therapy can be immensely beneficial for individuals recovering from the effects of gaslighting. A mental health professional can provide not just a space to share your experiences but also guidance on coping strategies and ways to rebuild your sense of self.

Is it possible to rebuild confidence and trust after experiencing gaslighting?

Rebuilding confidence and trust after experiencing gaslighting is certainly possible, though it often requires time and effort. Engaging in therapy and seeking support from trusted individuals can significantly aid in this healing process.

Can gaslighting occur in various types of relationships?

Yes, gaslighting can occur in any relationship type, including romantic, familial, and professional. The dynamics and intensity may vary depending on the nature of the relationship. Approaches to addressing gaslighting may differ based on the relationship context, with some strategies being more suited to certain types of relationships than others.

What are common signs of gaslighting?

Gaslighting typically leads to doubt and confusion regarding one’s perceptions, memories, and beliefs. Common signs include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-blaming, a persistent feeling of inadequacy, confusion about reality, and chronic self-doubt.

Seek Help From A Professional

Speak to one of our counsellors here at Sofia Wellness Clinic. Book an appointment here.

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Written by Maria Listya, Marketing Intern 2023 at Sofia Wellness Clinic

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