How to Spot – and Stop – Gaslighting In Your Relationships

Updated: May 25

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