What is gaslighting?
According to relationship expert Susan Winter, gaslighting occurs when someone tries to control someone else through manipulation by making them doubt themselves, their intuition and their reality. Note that the purpose is to make someone question their reality. It’s a specific form of abuse that can cause people to feel like they’re going crazy.
The term originated from a play called “Gaslight” in which a husband slowly drives his wife mad by turning gas lights on and off and then denying that anything is happening. Now, gaslight describes abuse that makes someone question their reality. Fortunately, there are several red flag behaviors that expose someone as a gaslighter.
Here Are 5 Behaviors That Reveal Someone Is Gaslighting You
“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” — Paramahansa Yogananda
Lying is a key behavior in gaslighting. In fact, gaslighting requires that the person in question tells blatant lies. If someone is telling you lies contradicting what you know, then it’s a red flag that they are trying to gaslight you. For example, if you know that you said something specific, and your partner tries to lie and say that you said something else, then it’s a red flag. For example, if you told your partner, “I’m annoyed right now,” and they try to change what you said to, “I hate you right now,” this is a form of gaslighting.
2. They project feelings onto you
Projection means someone is making out as you feel, think or want something that you don’t actually feel, think or want. Someone who is gaslighting you needs to be able to project something on their victim to control them. For example, if you give the abuser a neutral response, they may project an openly hostile response onto you. When someone says, “I don’t know” in response to a question, the gaslighter will project a more insidious motivation or feeling onto the person. Not only that, but they will tell you what you’re feeling, and insist that it’s true until you start to believe it.
3. They pit you against everyone else
A gaslighter wants you to believe it’s “you and me against the world”. They will make you believe that everyone else is lying to you and that they are the only person that you can trust. If a gaslighter starts to tell you that your friends and family are lying to you, this is a big red flag, especially if this is hard to believe. If your friends and family have never lied to you before, then they wouldn’t have any reason to start lying now. Someone trying to gaslight you wants you to believe that everyone else can’t be trusted.
4. They say one thing and do another
The greatest tool that a gaslighter has is confusion, and they are masters at controlling that confusion. If someone is telling you one thing, but demonstrating something else, then this is a huge sign that they are trying to gaslight you. For example, if someone tells you that they trust you but break into your phone, they don’t trust you. If someone tells you they love you but continue to berate and humiliate you, this is a red flag. If someone intentionally tries to confuse you, they’re trying to gaslight you.
Another tell-tale behavior of someone trying to gaslight you is outright denial. This goes hand in hand with lying. According to George Simon, Ph.D., “When they’re confronted, they don’t just deny, deny, deny — they deny adamantly. The script is simple: when you get confronted on something you know will expose you for the unsavory character you are, act offended and hurt, appear resolute, and question the sanity of your accuser. The script is not only simple, it’s also generally effective.”
It doesn’t matter if you have video evidence of them doing something, they will bend over backward trying to prove to you that the event didn’t actually happen. However, this mostly happens in more subtle ways. If they insulted you yesterday, they will deny that they did today. If you helped them out with something, they will deny that you ever helped them at all. Be aware of denial, as this is a red flag of someone trying to gaslight you.
6. They distort your memory
Gaslighters have a knack for manipulating your memory. They will dispute your recollection of past events, making you question your memory, judgment, and sanity. This could involve them claiming that incidents you clearly remember never happened or insisting on an alternative version of events. Over time, this continuous distortion of your memory can lead you to doubt your own perceptions and believe their version of reality.
7. They trivialize your feelings
Gaslighters often dismiss or belittle the feelings of their victims to undermine their self-esteem and invalidate their experiences. They might tell you you’re being too sensitive, overreacting, or your feelings are unfounded. By doing this, they create a narrative where your emotions are irrational or wrong, making you second guess your feelings and question your reality.
8. They use your insecurities against you
Someone gaslighting you will be aware of your insecurities and fears and use them against you. They could make snide remarks or backhanded compliments at your weaknesses, making you feel inferior and doubtful about yourself. These remarks might be subtle enough not to seem like direct insults, yet powerful enough to chip away at your self-esteem.
9. They constantly change the goalposts
Gaslighters frequently change the rules or expectations in a relationship, making it difficult to feel like you’re doing the right thing. This creates a sense of instability and constant unease, as you never know what will be expected of you next. This constant change of expectations can leave you feeling perpetually off-balance and unsure of yourself.
10. They isolate you from your support system
Gaslighters will often try to cut you off from your friends and family. They may tell you your loved ones are bad influences, have ill intentions, or don’t understand your relationship. The aim is to isolate you so that they become your only source of information and emotional support. This isolation makes it harder for you to seek help or gain perspective on their behavior, ultimately making their gaslighting tactics more effective.
Final Thoughts on Gaslighting Behaviors
Gas lighting can be a terrifying thing to go through. However, these are the main signs to inform you if gaslighting occurs. Someone trying to gaslight you will try to make you question your reality. The most important thing to do is get as much proof as possible and figure out an exit strategy with your support system. Let others know what’s happening and use them as your reality check.