What Is Gaslighting and 18 Ways to Spot It

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that involves manipulating someone into questioning their reality, sanity, and judgment. It can seriously damage the victim’s mental health, often causing confusion, insecurity, and emotional distress. While the tactics abusers use can vary, spotting any of these 18 common signs can let you know if someone is gaslighting you.

Frequent Denials

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Gaslighters often blatantly deny saying or doing things, even when you have clear evidence to the contrary. Forbes says, “The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim.” Always put your thoughts and memories first, call out such denials, and don’t question your personal judgment.

Keeping You Isolated

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Gaslighters know that external input from close friends and family can make their victim less susceptible to manipulation and control, so they’ll often try to isolate you from other people. If someone constantly makes negative comments about you or tries to prevent you from contacting your support network, they may be trying to increase your dependence on them—not good!

Trivializing Your Feelings

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Gaslighters are very persuasive and excellent at convincing their victims that their feelings or experiences are invalid or irrational. They may dismiss your emotions as “overly sensitive” or “dramatic” as a way to invalidate your emotional responses and make their abusive actions seem acceptable and ‘correct.’

Shifting Blame

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Psychology Today states that not all blame shifting indicates gaslighting, but that gaslighters are adept at deflecting blame onto their victims and making them feel responsible for problems they didn’t cause. This can make you feel unfairly guilty and replace your sense of self-confidence and self-worth with constant doubt.

Lying

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If you find yourself constantly confused by apparent lies, you may have a gaslighter on your hands. Such abusers use lies to trick and manipulate you and to alter your sense of what is accurate or fair, making it easy for them to prey on your confusion and lack of confidence. OnRecord warns that blatant lies are a hallmark of gaslighters.

Withholding Affection

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Gaslighters tend to blow ‘hot and cold’ when it comes to keeping their romantic partners happy. Verywell Health writes, “This may involve a cycle of giving then withholding affection, sex, compliments, money, or even celebrating special occasions.” This form of control provides enough positives to keep you around while making you unduly grateful and dependent on them.

Constant Criticism

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If you feel confident and deserving, you won’t be easy to gaslight, so abusers often chip away at their victim’s self-esteem by constantly criticizing them and putting them down. This relentless stream of negativity may focus on your flaws, mistakes, or insecurities and always makes you feel inadequate and worthless.

Projection

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In this tactic, the gaslighter projects their own negative traits or behaviors onto you. Although they may seem crazy, jealous, or needy, they will instead accuse you of these things. Not only is this confusing, but it distracts from the main problem (their behavior) by tangling you up in a constant debate about your own actions.

Reputation Damage

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According to NBC News, gaslighters may try to associate you with negative things or people to damage your reputation and self-confidence and isolate you from others. They might spread rumors about you, manipulate situations to make you look bad, or even pressure you into doing things that ultimately paint you in a negative light.

Questioning Your Sanity

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This is a specific form of gaslighting known as “crazylighting,” where the abuser uses various tactics to make you question your own sanity and even make you feel you require psychiatric help or intervention. This extremely damaging tactic exploits your existing insecurities and doubts to make you feel like you’re ‘losing your mind.’

Silent Treatment

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Emotional abusers like to get their way, and they use silence as a way to accomplish this or as a punishment. If they suddenly withdraw, refuse to speak to you, or give you the cold shoulder for extended periods, they may not be as hurt as they claim, but they’re actually trying to manipulate you as you try to ‘win back’ their approval.

Breaking Boundaries

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Gaslighters have no respect for your boundaries or personal space, and they constantly invade your privacy and try to control how you spend your time and with whom. This lack of trust and respect can make you feel stressed and unsafe and can manifest as anything from checking your phone without permission to canceling your plans behind your back.

Moving the Goalposts

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Inconsistency is a powerful gaslighting tool, making you feel constantly drained and confused. If you feel like you’re always being set up for failure, given impossible tasks, or expected to meet shifting expectations, you may be the victim of a gaslighter. Constantly moving the goalposts leaves you feeling inadequate, no matter how hard you try.

Trivialization

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Healthline says gaslighters “minimize your feelings, suggest your emotions don’t matter, or accuse you of overreacting.” Anything that matters to them or makes them look important or correct is worth focusing on. In contrast, your own feelings, happiness, goals, and achievements are dismissed as silly, unimportant, or irrelevant.

Diversion

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Gaslighters are excellent at changing the subject whenever you’re close to proving a point or catching them in a lie. This tactic distracts you from the truth of their behavior by re-focusing your mind on something else. They often use volatile language, hurtful words, or false accusations to elicit an emotional response and ‘throw you off.’

Questioning

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A loving, supportive relationship or friendship involves acknowledging the other person’s feelings and experiences, even if you don’t share them. Gaslighters constantly counter your assertions with questions about their validity—they often state you remembered things wrong, overreacted, misunderstood, or made a mistake.

Fogging

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People are easiest to control and manipulate when they are confused and dependent on their abusers. Gaslighters often make contradictory statements, overload you with irrelevant details, or go off on tangents. The overall effect is brain fog, making you vulnerable and incapable of making sense of the situation.

Seeking Pity

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Some gaslighters use pity to gain sympathy and play with your emotions. They may feign helplessness, play the victim, or guilt-trip you by making you feel responsible for their problems or unhappiness. This emotional manipulation can make you feel obligated to do what your abuser wants, even at your own expense.

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