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How to Spot – and Stop – Gaslighting In Your Relationships

Updated: May 25, 2022

The words “me” and “you” and “gaslighting” appear on a background along with a lit match

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that can be hard to spot. A gaslighter might make their partner start to question reality or think that they are "crazy," leading to feelings of self-doubt and low self-worth. Here's how to spot – and stop – gaslighting in your relationships.

Key takeaways:

  • Gaslighting is trying to invalidate someone’s experience as wrong when it’s not.

  • The goal of gaslighting is to make someone lose trust in themself, their perception, their memories, and their sanity.

  • Gaslighters use common phrases to make you feel like you’re too sensitive or somehow mentally unstable and always at fault; the fault is never with them.

  • Gaslighting can occur in any interpersonal relationship but can be particularly toxic in romantic relationships because of the intimacy and vulnerability involved.

  • It’s a form of emotional abuse and can be used as part of a larger campaign of controlling and abusive tactics.

Gaslighting is a term that has become more popular in the past few years, even being named as one of the most popular words of the year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2018. The dishonest actions of politicians and the normalization of “therapy speak” and pop psychology have increased its popularity.

The term “gaslighting” was made popular by a 1944 mystery thriller called Gas Light, in which a husband manipulates his wife into doubting her perception of reality. In one scene, he causes gaslights in the home to flicker and tells her it’s in her mind, even though she is clearly witnessing it. It was dubbed “gaslighting,” and the term as we know it today was born.

Gaslighting is typically used by people with narcissistic tendencies to make their partners feel unsure of themselves and co-dependent. The goal of gaslighting is to make you lose trust in yourself, your perception, your memories, and your sanity. It is insidious, sneaky, and hard to catch.

What does gaslighting look like?

In simple terms, gaslighting looks like trying to convince you that you’re wrong about what you saw, heard, felt, or experienced….even when you’re not. This continuous invalidation of your feelings, over time, can make you feel as if you’re imagining things. Sometimes, it’s done unintentionally, and other times it’s done intentionally, as a way of one partner controlling the other’s behavior. Here are some common signs of gaslighting:

  • Blaming yourself for things that happen

  • Feeling like you might be overreacting, overly sensitive, “crazy,” or jealous

  • Questioning yourself and your memory/account of events

  • Walking on eggshells in your partner’s presence

  • Your partner never takes accountability for anything and always treats you as if you’re the problem

  • You’re made to feel wrong or irrational for having a different opinion

  • Feeling indecisive because you’re questioning reality

  • Feeling sad/depressed in this particular relationship

  • Feeling confused/crazy

  • Feeling like you always need to apologize for something

  • Finding yourself needing to make excuses for your partner

  • Struggling with low self-esteem/low self-worth

When gaslighting is happening to you, these feelings are not occurring organically, because of an underlying problem with depression or anxiety for example – although they may certainly exacerbate the feelings if one is present. The feelings are happening because your partner is actively engaged in trying to make you question the reality that you are experiencing.

Things gaslighters might say

Gaslighters may use common tactics and phrases to make their partners question themselves, or to dismiss or invalidate their feelings. If you’re constantly hearing these phrases, you might be being gaslighted:

  • “You’re insecure.”

  • “You’re imagining things.”

  • “That’s in your head.”

  • “No one will believe you.”

  • “You are always overreacting.”

  • “You’re too sensitive.”

  • “It was just a joke.”

  • “You don’t remember how things really happened.”

  • “That never happened.”

  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  • “You’re paranoid.”

  • “You’re a drama queen/king.”

They use phrases like this to convince you that you are “too sensitive” or somehow mentally unfit, and the fault is with you – not them. This behavior is used to avoid accountability on their part, and control you. It can be a sign of abuse, and gaslighting on its own can be abusive, let alone when deployed as part of a campaign of abusive behaviors.

What should I do about gaslighting?

First, recognize that you aren’t responsible for stopping your partner’s behavior – but you are responsible for setting boundaries and sticking to them. This can be hard after someone has made you question your reality, self-worth, and sanity. Typically, the longer the gaslighting has gone on, the more difficult it is to disentangle yourself from the web of illusion. Here are some ways you can start:

  • Take inventory of your relationships, and ask yourself if you’ve ever had these patterns of feeling “overly sensitive,” “jealous,” “crazy,” or “confused” in any of your other current or past interpersonal relationships — or is it only this one?

  • Ask for outside perspectives from neutral family and friends who can help you see the situation in a new way.

  • Start journaling conversations, as well as your feelings afterward, so you have a record that cannot be easily dismissed or invalidated.

  • Set firm, non-negotiable boundaries with your partner. Your partner may not like this and they may push back. Always consider your safety first.

  • If you feel that your partner is intentionally gaslighting you, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit their website for help.

Gaslighting can occur in any interpersonal relationship, not just romantic relationships. However, it is particularly toxic in romantic relationships because of the level of intimacy and vulnerability involved. If you’re experiencing gaslighting in your relationship, therapy may be a helpful option for you.

Get support from a qualified, caring therapist in the South Florida area

Recognizing – and taking steps to stop – gaslighting in your relationship can be a powerful step towards reclaiming your power and self-worth. Individual therapy can help you learn to set boundaries again and help you rebuild your self-image, as well as challenge any negative or harmful ideas you may have built about yourself due to the gaslighting.

Couples therapy can help you and your partner improve your communication skills, understand each other better, break harmful patterns and roles in the relationship, and work through your issues together. It’s important to know that you don’t have to wait until your relationship is in crisis or at its breaking point to seek help. Seeking help and working through these issues is important for your healing. NOTE: Never attend therapy with a partner who is abusing you.

The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help facilitate healing within yourself and your interpersonal relationships, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 786.571.4636 for a free 20-minute consultation.


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