Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse. It can cause a person to question their sanity and take on what’s happening around them.

People use gaslighting as a form of manipulation. It involves denying, questioning, purposefully forgetting, and avoiding important topics. Over time, the person experiencing gaslighting begins to question their feelings, perceptions, and sanity.

Many people associate gaslighting with certain personality and mental health disorders, such as narcissism. While it can be a form of abuse a narcissistic person uses, anyone could gaslight another person.

Gaslighting may be challenging to identify, particularly for the person experiencing gaslighting. As with other forms of abuse, it can also look different in separate circumstances. Still, several common tactics and signs of gaslighting exist that can help you identify abusive behaviors.

Trivializing occurs when a person belittles or offhandedly dismisses your feelings. They may say something similar to “you take things too seriously,” “you’re overreacting,” or “you’re too sensitive.”

A trademark feature of gaslighting is that the person attempts to make you believe your reality isn’t true. Examples of trivializing can include:

  • Your partner says an outfit makes you “look fat.” You confront them about how it made you feel, and they tell you not to be “so sensitive,” and it’s just a poorly fitting shirt.
  • Your spouse spends too much money at the store when rent is due. You confront them, and they respond “What’s the big deal? You can just pay it when you get paid.”

Withholding occurs when a person either doesn’t want to listen to you or pretends to not understand what you’re saying. The tactic can make you start to second guess yourself and manipulate your feelings.

This behavior could look like:

  • You confront a person about staying out late and they respond with “Not this again” and then walk away from the conversation.
  • You ask them about some receipts you found and they respond with “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Countering involves a person calling your memory into question. Over time, you may begin to question whether you really do have a bad memory or question your sanity.

Examples could include:

  • “That’s not what happened, you have a really bad memory.”
  • “That’s what you remember? That’s not what I said at all.”
  • “I never said that! That was you!”

Denial or forgetting involves the person intentionally “forgetting” something they told you or promised, or denying that it ever happened in the first place.

Some examples of denial or forgetting can include:

  • “I never told you that!”
  • “You’re just making stuff up again to make me look bad.”
  • “I don’t remember telling you I’d help with that.”

A person who uses diverting or blocking calls to question your credibility or changes the subject when confronted. This can make it difficult or impossible to discuss topics important to you and, over time, may cause you to drop the topic altogether.

Examples may include:

  • “Is that another one of your [family member or friend] ’s ideas?”
  • “That’s nothing more than nonsense you read on the Internet again. Someone needs to stay off social media for a while.”

In a 2019 study, researchers sought to challenge the perception that gaslighting is purely a psychological issue and may be a sociological phenomenon. They theorize that gaslighting is rooted in social inequalities, such as gender or racial disparities.

The researchers suggest that people who use gaslighting use institutionalized inequalities to help create a false sense of reality for the person experiencing gaslighting.

This may look like: “Go ahead and report me. No one believes women about abuse.”

How to respond to gaslighting

One of the first steps is to identify gaslighting behavior. Often, the person will use the same tactics over a variety of settings, but their words or actions will also make you doubt yourself or question your worth.

Once identified, you can try to:

  • keep notes about important conversations
  • lean on trusted friends and family
  • create boundaries
  • engage in self-care

For more information, check out our resource page on how to respond to gaslighting.

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Gaslighting can take an emotional toll on a person. It can make you question your feelings, reality, memory, and perceptions. It is a means to help the person gain some control over your actions and thoughts.

Several national organizations exist that can help if you are in an abusive relationship. Some helpful sources to contact include: