Have you been in a relationship where you often questioned your feelings, instincts, or sanity?
For example, let's say you find a personal email your partner wrote to a co-worker, and you think it's inappropriate and hurtful.
You approach your partner about it, but he or she insists you misinterpreted the email or that you're overreacting.
Your instincts are telling you otherwise, but you may second guess yourself enough to give in and go along with the story your partner is telling you.
Or maybe your spouse breaks a promise to take care of the kids for the day, and then blames you for making him or her feel bad about it.
These are classic gaslighting examples in marriage or a relationship. One partner uses manipulative tactics to gain power over another and makes the victim of gaslighting question reality.
This form of persistent manipulation causes you to doubt your beliefs and to eventually lose your sense of perception.
What is Gaslighting in a Relationship?
The gaslighting term originates from the 1944 movie, Gaslight, in which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into believing she is crazy. This movie depicts an extreme form of this type of emotional abuse that people use to control and manipulate others.
Being in a relationship with a gaslighter is a form of mental abuse, and you need to recognize it when it is happening so you don't fall for it.
While you may not be experiencing the level of abuse shown in the movie, it is important to know how to deal with gaslighting abuse as it tends to get worse with time.
What is a Gaslighting Personality?
Someone who is a gaslighter can be outgoing and charismatic. They can be kind (at first or sometimes), generous (when it suits them), and charming.
A gaslighter can be a regular Joe or Jane who appears responsible and confident or more of a secretive, mysterious type who draws you in by letting you into his or her world.
The common denominator with all gaslighters is manipulation. They have learned or discovered tactics to maintain control in the relationship and keep you off balance. They don't use these tactics unintentionally. They know exactly what they are doing and the outcomes they want to achieve to maintain control and power.
Many gaslighters have an authoritarian type of personality, and some have a personality disorder like an antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. They may lack empathy for others or have an inflated sense of self-worth.
Gaslighting Behavior Examples
Before we cover the signs of gaslighting, let's take a look at some additional examples of this behavior that you might recognize.
- You ask your spouse why he didn't take out the trash as you know he promised, and he says, “I never said I'd take it out.”
- You let your partner know that you have an issue with her behavior, and she somehow turns it around to be the victim of your insensitivity.
- Your spouse comes home with a new car, and you're shocked, as you never agreed to this big purchase. He outright lies and says you gave him the go-ahead.
- You're becoming more and more successful in your career, but your partner finds ways to sabotage your confidence and put down your successes.
If any of these scenarios seem familiar, you may be in a gaslighting relationship. Let's look at some of the signs of gaslighting in a relationship.
Quick note: Are you feeling drained and worn down from living with a verbal abuser? Check out this resource that can help you discover all the signs of emotional abuse.
- What is gaslighting in a relationship?
- Here are 35 disturbing signs of gaslighting in a relationship.
- 1. You're often reminded of your shortcomings.
- 2. You feel insecure.
- 3. You question your worth.
- 4. You are constantly walking on eggshells.
- 5. Your partner does not admit their own flaws.
- 6. Your partner acts like a victim when criticized.
- 7. You make negative comments about yourself.
- 8. You say “I'm sorry” a lot.
- 9. You keep seeking acceptance from the gaslighter.
- 10. You make excuses for the gaslighter's behavior.
- 11. Your partner tells clear lies.
- 12. They deny something that you have proof of.
- 13. They attack your foundation.
- 14. They gradually wear you down.
- 15. They are all talk.
- 16. They confuse you with morsels of positive reinforcement.
- 17. When you do receive praise, it's for something that benefited your partner.
- 18. They try to confuse you.
- 19. They project their wrongdoings.
- 20. They use people against you.
- 21. They isolate you.
- 22. They call you crazy.
- 23. They claim everyone else is lying.
- 24. You start to wonder if you are too sensitive.
- 25. You wonder why you aren't happy anymore.
- 26. You start to lie to your partner to avoid being put down.
- 27. You start to question simple decisions in your relationship.
- 28. You feel defeated.
- 29. Your partner corrects everything you say.
- 30. You trust other people's judgment more than your own.
- 31. You stop trusting yourself.
- 32. You feel like something is “off.”
- 33. You become insecure.
- 34. Your energy is drained.
- 35. Your partner doesn't practice what they preach.
35 Disturbing Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship
1. You're often reminded of your shortcomings.
One of the clearest gaslighitng techniques is when your partner regularly reminds you of your weaknesses or flaws. This makes you feel like you’re never doing anything right or you are not good enough.
In this circumstance, the gaslighter does not make these statements to solve a problem but rather to make you defensive. By causing you to feel vulnerable, the gaslighter has created a power differential in the relationship.
2. You feel insecure.
If you are in a relationship with a partner who gaslights you, you are probably often unsure of yourself.
You may be insecure about your behaviors, uncertain about your partner's motives, and nervous about your partner's response to you at any given time.
3. You question your worth.
You might even start to question your worth as a person in your relationship. You may wonder if you are not a good partner, or you don't measure up to the people around you.
Because your partner makes you feel as though your perceptions are wrong, you wonder about your own judgment.
4. You are constantly walking on eggshells.
People who are being gaslighted also often feel like they can't speak freely in front of their partner without being criticized.
They feel tense and anxious as they anticipate their partner ridiculing or contradicting them. On the other hand, they feel more confident and free when they are away from their partner.
5. Your partner does not admit their flaws.
Because a gaslighter is frequently in attack mode, they rarely, if ever, own up to their own flaws or shortcomings. If they are criticized, they are quick to blame others or make excuses.
Even when the truth seems crystal clear to you, a gaslighter will refuse to admit that he or she is wrong.
6. Your partner acts like a victim when criticized.
If you criticize a partner who's a gaslighter, he or she will revert to victimhood to disguise inadequacies, and try to divert blame to you by creating a new round of accusations and untrue claims.
By doing this, the gaslighter can take the focus off himself and get away with his denials and deflections.
7. You make negative comments about yourself.
Since your partner's goal is to twist your perceptions, you may start to question yourself and believe some of the gaslighter’s accusations about you after some time has passed.
You may even begin to reject your own qualities and values and say things like, “I'm just an idiot. I'm not good at decisions.”
8. You say “I'm sorry” a lot.
One of the most common signs of being a victim of gaslighting is finding yourself frequently saying, “I’m sorry,” even when there is obviously nothing to be sorry about.
If your default response to anything is to apologize, this is a red flag that you don't feel safe to speak your truth.
9. You keep seeking acceptance from the gaslighter.
Despite being treated poorly, you are constantly working to gain your gaslighter's acceptance.
Often hoping to avoid tension and receive better treatment, a gaslighting victim may become increasingly compliant.
Because the gaslighter has the power to give acceptance to their partner, they can also take the acceptance away.
10. You make excuses for the gaslighter's behavior.
Some victims feel ashamed about being powerless in a relationship.
They either go into denial and pretend everything is fine, or they come up with excuses for their partner's behavior, telling other people, “It is my fault” or “I'm acting too sensitive.”
Victims of this abuse have a hard time admitting or understanding what's really going on.
11. Your partner tells clear lies.
You know your partner is telling a lie, but she is saying it with a straight face.
A gaslighter is simply setting a precedent for their future behavior by doing this. The goal is to make their partner unsteady and feel crazy.
12. They deny something that you have proof of.
You are positive your partner said he would do something — you know without a doubt how the conversation went because your friend was in the room. However, he firmly denies it.
This makes you start questioning what you know to be true and wondering if your reality is different from your partner's.
The more this denial happens, the more you question your own thoughts and start to blindly accept his.
13. They attack your foundation.
Gaslighters know the things that are near and dear to their partners and use these things in their attack.
For example, your partner may know how important your child is to you, so your parenting may be one of the first aspects of your life they attack.
He or she may tell you that you should have never had a child and that you're a terrible parent, even though you know it's not true.
14. They gradually wear you down.
A gaslighter does their work gradually. A lie here, a rude comment there — and then it hits a slippery slope.
Even the most self-aware people can be slowly sucked into a gaslighter's abuse without realizing it because it is so insidious.
15. They are all talk.
When you are dealing with a partner who gaslights, their actions and their words often do not match up. What they say means nothing, as their actions often don't reflect their words.
They can be bullies, full of bluff and bluster, but unable to follow through on threats or grandiose statements.
16. They confuse you with morsels of positive reinforcement.
This person who is always cutting you down sometimes praises you for something.
This makes you feel confused because you start to question if your partner really is as bad as you think.
This praise is a calculated attempt to keep you on edge, to control you, and to question your reality.
17. When you do receive praise, it's for something that benefited your partner.
Think about what you did to earn the few moments of praise. Is it always something that benefits your partner in some way? Does praise only come along when you do what your partner wants?
If so, this is just another variation of abusive gaslighting since you don't get praised for the things that really matter to you.
18. They try to confuse you.
Gaslighters are aware that people prefer to have a sense of stability. Their goal is to disrupt this and make you question everything.
During this time of instability, you are likely to turn to the person that will help you feel a sense of stability, which unfortunately is often the gaslighter. It becomes a vicious cycle of pain and confusion.
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19. They project their wrongdoings on you.
They are cheating on you, but they are constantly accusing you of being the cheater. They lie consistently but blame you for being a liar.
This is done so much that as you try to defend yourself, and you are distracted from your partner's behavior. That's exactly what your partner wants.
20. They use people against you.
Gaslighters know who will defend them no matter what, and they try to make you feel these people don't like you.
The abuser will say things like, “My mom knows you're stupid,” or “Even my best friends don't like you.”
It is important to remember that these things may not have been actually said. As a constant liar, the gaslighter uses this tactic to make you feel like you have no one to trust.
21. They isolate you.
By making you question who you can trust, a gaslighter is putting you in isolation to only trust him or her. This isolation gives them the control over you they desire.
It becomes a twisted dynamic where you can only turn to the person who is mentally tormenting you.
22. They call you crazy to others.
This lie is an effective tool for a gaslighter because if he or she makes other people question your sanity, they won't believe you if you say the gaslighter is abusive.
23. They claim everyone else is lying.
By telling you that everyone else is lying, it makes you question your truth.
This deflection is a manipulation technique that makes people turn to their abusive partner for the “true” information, which isn't correct at all.
24. You start to wonder if you are too sensitive.
You have never felt like you were too sensitive in this past, but now that you are constantly being told that this is an issue, you start to wonder if it is true, which it's not.
The gaslighter's behaviors still wound you, but you feel you can't say anything because you're overreacting.
25. You wonder why you aren't happy anymore.
You have so many good things going on in your life, so why are you not happy?
Why have you gone from feeling relaxed to constantly feeling on edge ever since you became involved in this new relationship? This reaction may be due to your partner's abuse.
26. You start to lie to your partner to avoid being put down.
You begin to learn when the insults or put-downs are about to come.
When you know they are imminent, you make up a lie or avoid having a conversation just to dodge the bullet of verbal abuse.
27. You start to question simple decisions in your relationship.
Perhaps you and your partner are going out to dinner, and you are picking the place.
You may put way too much effort into this decision for fear of making a “wrong” choice that isn't exactly what your partner wanted.
28. You feel defeated.
You may start to feel like there is nothing you can do right, so you are completely defeated.
This feeling can result in complying with anything your partner says, which is ultimately their goal.
29. Your partner corrects everything you say.
Do you often find yourself saying, “Oh, I thought you said …” just to have your partner insist that you are wrong?
If they are always causing you to question your memory of certain things that have happened in the past, it is a big red flag.
This tactic is often used to cause confusion to cover up things that they know are wrong.
30. You trust other people's judgment more than your own.
Your partner has you questioning what is or isn’t normal in a relationship. He may say things like, “Every couple fights like we do,” or “You don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like.”
So you often doubt your own judgment and think that other people are more logical than you are.
31. You stop trusting yourself.
Not only do you no longer trust yourself, but you also have trouble making your own decisions.
You assume that whatever decision you make will be wrong, even if it does not regard your partner.
32. You feel like something is “off.”
You may not be able to put your finger on it, but your gut is telling you that something is wrong. You may be afraid to admit it or speak up to other people about it.
But now that you're reading some of these signs, you think you know why things are off.
33. You become insecure.
It is common to become insecure if you are in an abusive relationship like this.
Both partners are insecure, but the person who is being manipulated lacks security that goes beyond their abuser's insecurities.
The victim loses their security and takes on the identity given to them by their significant other.
34. Your energy is drained.
Being in this type of relationship will drain you of your energy because you will spend so much time thinking about what you should do or say next that won't be critiqued.
You will constantly feel drained of energy after spending time with your partner.
35. Your partner doesn't practice what they preach.
When you have a relationship with someone who gaslights, it may be difficult to understand their motives.
You may have a conversation with them where they sound intelligent and caring. However, when you live with them, they act in a different way.
They tell you they love you but they do things that hurt you. It is important to know that gaslighters are best understood by observing their actions.
How to Deal with Gaslighting in a Relationship
If you want to turn off the gas, there are several things you can do to take care of yourself and manage your reactions.
The only hope for ultimate change is to act differently and move on. To do this, you have to recognize your strengths and abilities. This will give you the courage you need to improve your situation.
Do You Recognize Gaslighting in Your Relationship?
If you are in a relationship with a gaslighter and want to move on, you need to find your inner power and reclaim your dignity.
You have to learn how to tell the difference between truth and lies and acknowledge when someone is trying to manipulate you.
You will not get out of a gaslight situation if you don't accept that your abusive partner is not likely to change no matter what you do.
But once you face the truth, as painful as it may be, you can take the first step towards being free.