13 Signs Of Unconscious Or Unintentional Gaslighting Everyone Should Know

Is gaslighting always intentional?

Is it possible someone has gaslit you unknowingly – or that you have been an unconscious gaslighter?

Gaslighting is a serious form of emotional abuse that can leave a person feeling confused, uncertain, and questioning their sanity.

This harmful tactic is often associated with intentional manipulation, but you may be surprised to learn that it can also happen without the person realizing they're doing it.

Unconscious gaslighting is a subtle yet harmful behavior that can profoundly impact the victim's mental and emotional well-being.

Whether you've experienced it firsthand or simply want to learn more, you need to understand this harmful behavior.

What Is Unintentional or Unconscious Gaslighting?

Unintentional or unconscious gaslighting occurs when someone dismisses or negates someone else's emotions or experiences without realizing the potential impact of their words or actions.

Unconscious gaslighting can be especially sinister because it isn’t done with malicious intent and may be hard to detect.

However, it has the same damaging effects as intentional gaslighting, leaving the victim feeling confused, invalidated, and unheard.

Unconscious gaslighting usually rears its head into our lives because:

  • A person dismisses or negates someone else's emotions or experiences unintentionally.
  • An individual may not be aware that their words or actions are causing the other person to doubt their own reality.
  • Someone has a biased perspective that influences others to believe something that isn't entirely true.

Can Gaslighting Be Unintentional When the Person Is Aware Of Their Behavior?

Yes, gaslighting can be unintentional, even when the person knows what they are doing.

This is because the individual may not understand or consider the potential harm their words or actions could have on another person.

sad women talking signs of Unintentional Gaslighting

For instance, a couple may struggle to communicate effectively, and one partner begins feeling overwhelmed. The other partner may attempt to explain their point of view, but in doing so, they may make comments that disregard their partner's feelings or invalidates their experience.

In this situation, the individual is aware of their words and actions and understands they are hurtful but does not fully understand how it affects the other person. 

As a result, they may unknowingly gaslight their partner even though they know they aren’t controlling their emotions. 

It can also affect the gaslighter as well, as they are likely unaware of the impact they're having on another person.

Unconscious gaslighting can lead to guilt and shame, alienation from others, a lack of support, and even isolation.

13 Signs Of Unintentional Gaslighting Everyone Should Know

1. Invalidating or Minimizing Someone Else's Feelings

Invalidating or minimizing someone else's feelings happens when you dismiss, belittle, ignore, or trivialize the emotions and experiences of another person.

The minimization of emotions often occurs due to a disagreement or a conversation in which the other person expresses their feelings in a vulnerable moment. 

Invalidation can take many forms, such as telling someone they are being dramatic, saying that their emotions are unwarranted, or simply ignoring what they are saying.

2. Blaming Others for Your Actions

Blaming someone else for your actions or mistakes is a classic gaslighting tactic. 

By shifting the responsibility onto the other person, the gaslighter attempts to make the victim question their own memory or perception of events. Blaming others can shift the attention away from the actual problem.

People often use this tactic when they are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their wrongdoing. And they may unconsciously project this onto others if they haven't addressed their own unresolved issues.

3. Overgeneralizing Someone's Emotions or Experiences

Assuming that we know how someone feels or what they have experienced without listening to them can be a subtle form of gaslighting. 

Overgeneralization invalidates individual experiences and emotions and can lead to losing trust in oneself.

If someone can't listen actively to others and acknowledge their unique emotional experiences, they may unintentionally generalize another person's experience.

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4. Dismissing or Ignoring Someone's Perspective

Refusing to consider someone else's opinion or belittling it may seem like a healthy debate, but it can be a sign of subconscious gaslighting. 

Someone may constantly try to add counterpoints to the conversation or point out the flaws in the other person's argument.

Instead of being a logical and even debate, this situation can easily turn into a one-sided conversation, where the gaslighter doesn't take the other person's perspective into consideration.

5. Using Someone's Vulnerability Against Them

When someone shares their vulnerabilities with us, we need to honor their trust and respect their experience. 

Gaslighters often use vulnerabilities as ammunition, weaponizing them to hurt the person later or undermine their credibility. And the most problematic part of this is that the gaslighter may not even be aware that they are doing it.

6. Overly Criticizing Someone

Nobody likes to be criticized, but many people have been raised and conditioned to accept it as normal. These individuals don't see themselves as being overly harsh; rather, they may think they're helping improve the other person’s character.

However, since we all react differently to criticism, this kind of behavior can be seen as gaslighting when it becomes excessive or out of context. 

If someone is constantly trying to fix or change the other person, it may be a sign that they are unconsciously making a person feel less than they are.

7. Questioning Someone's Memory or Perception of Events

It's normal to have a fuzzy memory when it comes to the past. We actually remember much less than we think we do, and we have highly biased memories as well.

So when someone asserts that their recollection of events is the only valid one, they are actually questioning the other person's memory or reality. 

couple sitting on sofa intense conversation signs of Unintentional Gaslighting

This form of unconscious gaslighting can feel like a simple discussion of what happened but may have a deeper and disempowering meaning for the person being gaslit.

7. Using Language That Suggests Someone Is Overreacting

Have you ever tried comforting a friend by telling them they're overreacting? Perhaps you did this to try to de-escalate a situation, but it can also be a form of gaslighting.

When someone implies that the other person is too emotional, they may actually be ignoring the other person's request for emotional support and understanding. 

So even if someone is simply trying to provide comfort, they may be engaging in a form of gaslighting if their words belittle the other person's feelings.

8. Telling Someone They Should Feel Differently

Well-intentioned advice like “cheer up” or “look on the bright side” can be unintentional gaslighting. While the advice might come from a good place, it's important to recognize that nobody has the right to dictate how someone should feel.

Telling someone to feel differently implies that their emotions are invalid or not worth acknowledging, and this can make someone question their own validity of their emotional identities.

9. Using Harmful or Condescending Language

The language we use that's “off the cuff” can be hurtful and perpetuate feelings of self-doubt and confusion. For example, giving someone a hard time or making an inappropriate joke may cross another's boundaries and make them feel like they're not being heard.

Profanities, slurs, sexist terms, and other demeaning words can be especially damaging. They create an environment where expressing oneself without fear of retribution or consequence is difficult.

10. Playing the Victim

Playing the victim can be a form of unconscious gaslighting because it involves a person denying responsibility for their actions and blaming others for everything that goes wrong.

By playing the victim, they can create a distorted reality and twist the truth to make others feel guilty or responsible for their problems. This can make it difficult for others to express their dissatisfaction with the situation or stand up for themselves.

Although this person may genuinely feel like a victim, others may also feel like they're being victimized. It's a challenging dynamic to navigate, and it can be disempowering for everyone involved.

11. Calling Out Someone's Advantage

If someone comments on another person's privilege in an insinuating way, it can be seen as a form of gaslighting. 

For example, if someone is trying to make a point about the struggles of people from certain backgrounds and then turns around and tells someone else that they have all these advantages, it can come off as invalidating their experiences.

While it's true that some people have more privilege than others, it's not necessarily helpful to call out someone's advantages in a way that makes them feel guilty or wrong for acknowledging their own struggles.

12. Saying “I Told You So”

No one likes to hear these four words; even when used in a well-intentioned way, this phrase can be a form of gaslighting. 

Telling someone “I told you so” implies that the person was wrong and didn't take your advice, which implies that they didn't have the right judgment despite their own knowledge and self-awareness.

It can be invalidating to be told that you were wrong just because someone else said so.

Moreover, it implies that the person telling you “I told you so” is better equipped to make decisions than you are. This type of statement can lead to feelings of inferiority and confusion about what the right thing to do is.

13. Over-Worrying About One's Well-Being

Caring about our loved ones is an essential part of having healthy relationships. But there's a point where caring crosses a line and begins to invalidate another person's autonomy.

Worrying excessively about someone's well-being or constantly checking in on them can make them feel like their own judgment isn't trusted or valued.

couple sitting on sofa in silence signs of Unconscious Gaslighting

It also gives off the impression that there isn't trust or respect in the relationship, which can chip away at a person's sense of self-confidence and security.

Unconscious Gaslighting Examples

Unconscious gaslighting statements can be subtle and difficult to detect because they often come across as well-intentioned advice or casual conversation. Especially when it comes from a trusted friend, partner, or family member, it can be difficult to recognize that the words they're saying are actually hurting you.

Knowing a few key phrases associated with gaslighting can help you identify when it's happening, so you can take steps to protect yourself and the relationship.

An unintentional gaslighter may make the following statements:

  • “Everything will be fine.”
  • “You're making a big deal out of nothing.”
  • “Calm down; it's not that serious.”
  • “Don't be so sensitive.”
  • “You're overreacting.”
  • “It's all in your head.”
  • “You have to learn to take a joke.”
  • “Maybe you should try not to think about it so much.”
  • “I never said that.”
  • “I did it for your own good.”
  • “You just don't understand.”

It's crucial to keep an eye out for these signs and phrases when someone is speaking to you or someone you know. By recognizing these behaviors, you can take control of the moment rather than letting your feelings of confusion take over.

How Does Gaslighting Impact People?

While someone may not use unintentional or unconscious gaslighting with malicious intent, it can still have harmful effects on the person being gaslit. It can lead to confusion and self-doubt and damage self-esteem over time.

Here are a few ways gaslighting can affect the other person:

  • Feeling invalidated and unheard
  • Having overwhelming feelings of confusion, anxiety, and depression
  • Experiencing difficulty believing in oneself or one’s abilities
  • Losing self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Feeling diminished trust in others and oneself

Since the person exhibiting this toxic behavior isn’t aware of these underlying causes (or may not know what gaslighting is), it can be hard for them to eliminate the pattern of gaslighting.

How to Stop Unintentional Gaslighting

If you’re concerned about inadvertently manipulating others and want to prevent unintentional gaslighting, don't worry, there are things you can do. Here are a few tips to help you stop unintentional gaslighting:

  • Listen actively: When someone expresses their feelings or opinions, actively listen and try to understand their perspective instead of minimizing and dismissing them.
  • Avoid overgeneralizing: Refrain from assuming you know how someone else feels, as this can be misleading and counterproductive.
  • Validate their experience: Acknowledge their feelings and experiences, even if you don't agree with them.
  • Apologize and accept responsibility: When you make a mistake or hurt someone's feelings, apologize, accept responsibility, and make an effort to change your behavior in the future.
  • Be mindful of your language: Be conscious of the words you use and the impact they may have on others.
  • Educate yourself: Educate yourself about gaslighting and learn how to recognize it, so you can make sure you're not accidentally doing it.

If you feel like you've been unintentionally gaslit by another, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and build relationships based on more authentic communication:

  • Be assertive: Speak up and express your feelings, needs, and boundaries in a direct yet respectful manner.
  • Set boundaries: Know what you're comfortable with and be sure to walk away if someone is crossing them.
  • Take time for self-care: Make sure to take care of yourself and practice self-care on a daily basis. Step away and engage in one of your favorite healthy activities if you feel gaslit by someone in your life.
  • Seek support: Surround yourself with people who understand you, validate your feelings, and offer emotional support.

Final Thoughts

Gaslighting can be a destructive behavior, whether done intentionally or not. However, by being aware of our language and actions, we can prevent unintentional hurtful behaviors and create a safe and supportive environment for everyone.

By taking these small steps, we can empower ourselves and others to stand up to gaslighting and create more positive and healing connections in our lives.

Remember, we all have the power to make a difference, one interaction at a time!