Have you ever found yourself in those conversations where the person is twisting the facts leaving you confused and doubting your perception of reality? This is one of the subtle signs of gaslighting, a form of emotional manipulation present in all spheres of our social lives.
Anyone can be a gaslighter — your parent, friend, partner, or coworker. This person has the objective to mentally and emotionally destabilize you to gain power over you. People diagnosed with various mental disorders often resort to gaslighting.
Gaslighting victims often can’t tell they’re being abused. This covert manipulation strategy is so devious that it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re at fault and not the gaslighter. Give this guide a read to learn about gaslighting and how to fight it.
Gaslighting Examples: What Is Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” appears in the 1938 play Gaslight and the movie of the same name. The story revolves around a man manipulating his wife into thinking she’s going insane so he can steal her jewelry while convincing her it’s all in her head.
This is a clear example of an abusive romantic relationship, but it can also happen in the family or workplace. The gaslighter repeats the same pattern of manipulation to cloud the person’s judgment and assert dominance.
Their objective is to make you dependent and inferior and to question every aspect of your reality, especially your sanity. Gaslighting is repetitive and constant, and it can co-occur with bullying, emotional blackmail, ridicule, or intimidation.
Signs of gaslighting
Being gaslit has many mental health implications, and victims often experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Here are the most common symptoms of gaslighting abuse:
- Finding excuses for the abuse. Deep down, you probably know you’re not being treated right and that the situation is making you feel unwell, but you downplay the seriousness of the manipulation and tell yourself you need to toughen up.
- Feeling confused. Gaslighters are often volatile and quickly change their behavior. This tends to confuse the victim, especially if you’re dating someone diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies.
- Second-guessing yourself. One of the most apparent gaslighting signs is constantly questioning if you remember things the way they actually happened and having trouble making decisions because you can’t trust yourself anymore.
- Feeling like a failure. You lose all sense of self-worth and think you’ve let everybody down. It feels like every step you make is a mistake, and you’re simply not good enough.
- Walking on eggshells. You feel insecure, vulnerable, and at the mercy of your gaslighter, and you fear their reactions. You often choose to say nothing instead of confronting them to avoid an abrupt reaction, which leaves you feeling miserable.
- Constantly apologizing. Always finding faults with yourself convinces you you’re constantly disappointing everyone, so you need to apologize for everything all the time.
- Being disappointed in yourself. Another one on the list of signs of gaslighting is feeling devastated about how you’re handling the situation. You feel powerless and passive and don’t understand why you can’t stand up for yourself.
- Believing misconceptions about yourself. Your manipulator will brainwash you into believing you’re wrong, stupid, insane, incompetent, etc. In addition, you live in the illusion that it’s how everyone else sees you, too.
- Isolating yourself from other people. Gaslighters are good at distancing their victims from other people. They trap you in a downward spiral where you believe everyone thinks you’re crazy and mentally unstable, so you’re afraid to reach out for support.
How to Recognize Gaslighting
Gaslighting and NPD
Gaslighting is often associated with people who have various mental disorders, such as narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), etc.
Narcissists, in particular, have a superiority complex that drives them to try to control others, so they may resort to gaslighting to achieve this goal.
Although not all narcissists are gaslighters by default, this form of manipulation falls into typical narcissistic tendencies, so check out this narcissist gaslighting checklist to see if any of these situations sound familiar:
- They refuse to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts
- They twist the facts and tell false recaps of past events to blame you for anything wrong that’s happened
- They insist you did things you can’t remember doing or know you didn’t do
- They won’t listen to your side of the story
- They tell lies about you to other people, trying to convince them of your inadequacy
- They call you crazy, incompetent, weak, overly sensitive, and the like
Gaslighting is a common occurrence in narcissist relationships and fits their behavior pattern. Whether it’s narcissist gaslighting or not, you can experience it from family members, friends, partners, and coworkers, so let’s go over some specific examples.
Gaslighting in the family
It’s a known fact that children manipulate their parents at a very young age, but parents do it too, sometimes throughout your life. Psychologists differentiate three types of family gaslighting:
- Narrative gaslighting: the child remembers a specific sequence of events, but the parents are gaslighting the child by insisting on a story of their own and convincing the child its memories are wrong. For example, you stayed outside with friends after school because your mother explicitly allowed it, but when you came home, she criticized you, saying she never said you could stay because you didn’t ask her.
- Emotional gaslighting: a child who is still insecure about their feelings is easy prey for gaslighting parents who often try to make the child believe their feelings are wrong or senseless. One of the most trivial signs of gaslighting from parents is your mother convincing you you’re just sleepy when you complain about being hungry just to avoid making food.
- Personal gaslighting: the parent gradually sabotages the child’s self-confidence and capacities by undermining its sense of self. For example, you’re taking piano classes and becoming quite good at them, but your father doesn’t want to pay for them anymore. They tell you it’s probably for the best to quit the lessons because you aren’t really that good anyway.
It’s tough to avoid gaslighting from parents because they’re the first form of authority in our lives, and it’s hard to free yourself from the trap once you grow older because you don’t want to hurt them.
Examples of gaslighting in a relationship
There are many reasons for relationship gaslighting, mainly to establish dependency and total control. Imagine this situation — you and your partner went out on a date night. At the bar, you see your partner openly flirting with the waitress.
When you confront them about it, they enrage and accuse you of being paranoid and insecure and conveniently remind you of that one male friend of yours who you’re probably flirting with or even cheating.
Finally, they add that the waitress does look better than you because you’ve let yourself go lately. You were angry and hurt, but their reaction made you back away, disarmed, ashamed, and even more insecure than before the confrontation.
One of the signs of gaslighting in a relationship is twisting the facts so that the other person starts second-guessing the reality they’ve seen with their own eyes. Denying, blame-shifting, and making excuses to justify their behavior are all typical gaslighting tactics.
Examples of gaslighting in the workplace
Your workplace is competitive, so if you advance to a higher position, your colleagues or bosses might try to gaslight you. The challenge is even greater if you’re dealing with narcissists who do their best to make you feel incompetent.
Gaslighting at work may take the form of sabotage, such as hiding or deliberately not sharing important information with you. Still, when you confront them, they’ll respond your new promotion is stressing you out, so you’re imagining things.
You might experience public shaming or subtle provocations like, “not everyone can handle this position.”
Gaslighting when seeking medical care
Doctors often gaslight their patients when they downplay their symptoms and complaints. They may refuse to prescribe treatment and advise you to go to therapy instead. You give in because they’re the expert in the room, so you don’t dare to question that authority.
How to Fight Gaslighting
Understanding gaslighting helps you fight back, so here are some steps you can take to deplete your gaslighter:
- Distance yourself whenever you can. Leave the room, change the subject, and practice relaxation techniques in situations where you can’t physically remove yourself.
- Don’t fight back. The only way to beat a gaslighter at their own game is not to let them provoke you. Stooping down to their level won’t fix things either, so the best you can do is leave the discussion and end the relationship (if you can).
- Keep notes. A consequence of gaslighting behavior is self-doubt and confusion, so write down everything that happens as evidence you can rely on later.
- Define boundaries. You have the right to be heard and validated, so make it clear that you won’t let anyone minimize the importance of your feelings and thoughts.
- Reach out to other people. We’ve mentioned how gaslighters love isolating their victims, so don’t let it happen. Maintain your relationships and seek support from your loved ones.
- Don’t blame yourself. You’ve fallen victim to someone who’d do the same to everyone, so don’t use yourself as a justification for their actions.
The above-stated gaslighting examples can occur to anyone, and this form of manipulation is usually tricky to recognize because it can be very subtle. You might be a victim of a skillful manipulator and not notice it for years.
If any of the described situations sound familiar to you, don’t hesitate to take action against your gaslighter and remove them from your life. Your mental health and well-being should always be a top priority.