You’ve probably heard of the term “gaslighting,” but what exactly does it mean? Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that drives people in relationships to question their sanity (or even their reality). It’s unfortunately common in romantic relationships and occurs when one person repeatedly manipulates the other. It’s definitely as bad as it sounds — the person is exerting power in the relationship to try and gain control over their partner or inflict some sort of emotional damage.
So, why would someone resort to such troubling behavior? If they have low self-esteem, it might be a twisted way to make themselves feel better. In other cases, research has shown that some people really just enjoy the feeling of control they get from gaslighting another person.
Regardless of the reason, gaslighting is never okay, and the signs are generally the same. Here are 15 signs to look out for:
1. Constant Lying
A big part of gaslighting is trying to challenge someone’s perception of events or sense of reality. To do it, the gaslighter will constantly distort the truth to frame things in their favor. Every lie, no matter how small, makes you question yourself, and they’ll keep it up regardless of whether you start to catch on.
2. Denying Even if You Have Proof
Let’s say you tell a little white lie to your partner. (It happens.) If you’re caught, you immediately fess up and probably feel embarrassed. When it comes to gaslighting, the person will deny lying, even if there’s proof. In fact, they tend to double down on their “innocence,” making you question whether you’re making things up.
3. You’re Always Making Excuses
Do you feel like you’re constantly making excuses for your partner to friends and family? It’s exhausting, yet you continue to do it. Why? Their combative behavior leads to so much conflict that your inner circle is probably becoming involved. You might start to feel distanced from your loved ones, which, unfortunately, works to the gaslighter’s benefit.
4. They Use What You Like Against You
Because gaslighters are master manipulators, they learn what is near and dear to your heart and use it against you. For example, if you appreciate feeling seen in a relationship, they might say something like, “I’m the only one who understands you.” They’re also extremely skillful in tearing down your confidence and self-worth by questioning things you like about yourself.
5. They Use Your Personal Relationships Against You
Gaslighters thrive when you are isolated from other people in your life because they get to control the narrative without being challenged by outside perspectives. So, what do they do? They make you feel guilty about being close to people outside of the relationship. They accuse your friends of lying, manipulating you, or that you’re not yourself around them. They make you question your other relationships, which plays right into their manipulative hands.
6. They Tell You You’re Being Crazy
Gaslighters love to make you feel stupid or silly for how you feel. Even if you have a valid reason for a certain reaction, they’ll convince you that you’re overreacting or being crazy. This constant manipulation might lead to you letting things go more often, even when you shouldn’t, just to avoid coming off as “overly sensitive.” This allows the gaslighter to further get away with their destructive behavior.
7. Constant Projection
Gaslighters are notorious for lying, but to add to the manipulation, they accuse you of lying. This causes you to defend yourself, which shifts the attention from their behavior to yours, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.
8. Words and Actions Don’t Match Up
The old adage, “actions speaks louder than words” has never been more true. A gaslighter may tell you they have your best interests in mind, but what do their actions say?
9. They Tell You How You’re Supposed to Feel
Not only do gaslighters dismiss your feelings, they tell you how you “should” feel. They’ll say things such as, “You should be happy I did that for you,” or “You should be more grateful.” Along with every other gaslighting manipulation, this makes you question your gut reaction to things.
10. You’re Always Apologizing
If you’re constantly apologizing (even when you’ve done nothing wrong), you’re likely being gaslighted. You’d rather say sorry to keep the peace than have them attack your character again, which is both unhealthy and personally draining.
11. You “Walk on Eggshells” Around Them
Do you feel like you’re always walking around on eggshells, fearful that you’ll set your partner off? Not only is it stressful, it’s also a sign of gaslighting. They’ve messed with your head so much, your goal becomes to keep them happy at all costs. You prioritize their feelings over your own, mainly because they’ll criticize you for having them.
12. They Add in Positive Reinforcement to Confuse You
Since gaslighters are expert manipulators, they realize they cannot act in control 100% of the time. Therefore, they’ll throw in some “good” behavior from time to time — just enough to keep you in the relationship. One loving act could be enough to make you think, “Maybe they aren’t so bad.” If it’s rare to see their positive, caring side, it’s probably time to rethink the relationship.
13. They Align People Against You
Gaslighters will lie about your friends and family to make you believe they’ve turned against you. They might say, “My sister agrees that you overreacted,” or “My friends couldn’t believe you acted like that.” Is it true? Probably not. The more people they have “on their side,” the more you question your own actions, which is exactly what the gaslighter wants.
14. You Feel Isolated From Your Former Life
More outside perspective means less control for the gaslighter. They want to isolate you to maintain absolute control, and if your friends and family draw attention to their behavior, it’s over. So, they try to keep you away from anyone who might throw a wrench in their manipulation.
15. You Just Don’t Feel Like Yourself Anymore
Constant manipulation can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. If you’re feeling anxious, defeated, or exhausted, the gaslighter has won. Trust your gut — if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
So, What if You Are Being Gaslighted in Your Relationship?
One of the first things you can do is reach out to your inner circle for advice. If you think it’s all in your head, they will be quick to help you realize that you’re a victim of gaslighting. While there are times people try to work through it, it’s not easy.
Gaslighting is incredibly unhealthy and damaging to a relationship, and the best option is to end it. At the end of the day, it’s important that you focus on yourself and your needs — practicing self care, learning to trust your instincts again, and reclaiming your identity. Remember, a gaslighter might try to control you, but they’ll never be able to change who you are.