Maybe you’ve heard about it in a movie (or on Married At First Sight!) or read about it in a book. Maybe you’ve even experienced it in your own life, but how can you know for sure?

It’s a growing buzzword these days but not everyone knows what it actually means or, how to protect themselves against it….Essentially, Gaslighting is a kind of manipulation that involves trying to convince victims that something isn’t happening when in fact it is. This is a pretty tricky thing to do and can be extremely damaging to a person’s mental state, and it’s a serious red flag if someone tries to do this!

Let’s take an in-depth look at what gaslighting is, how it happens, and how to recognise it!

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is psychological manipulation that aims to make someone question their own sanity. It’s a form of emotional abuse that is used by an abuser to trick someone into believing they are crazy, and that they are “seeing and hearing things” that don’t exist, and is the act of intentionally manipulating another person into questioning their own perception, feeling, or sanity.

In some cases, gaslighting can also be described as a form of mental abuse. The big difference between ‘gaslighting’ and lying is that gaslighting is designed to cause confusion and conflict in someone’s mind, usually to get you to do something they want, or making you think that any bad thing they (definitely) did is a figment of your imagination.

An example would be something as simple as saying “oh you don’t know what you’re talking about” or “you’re crazy!” when you literally just caught them doing something and questioned/called them out on it. It can be the start of a very dangerous road…

How does Gaslighting work?

Gaslighting often starts off small by undermining someone’s self-confidence or feelings of self-worth. The abuser will often try to isolate a person from friends and family, either by convincing them that they’re crazy or by convincing them that there is no one else who can help. This can be a powerful way to keep the victim from seeking help, as well as gaining control over them. The gaslighting abuser might also accuse that person of imagining things, or of “seeing things” that aren’t really happening. This can be quite confusing as you can never be sure whether you’re actually over-reacting or not. It can also lead to a feeling of not being in control of the situation, which is a common theme in abusive relationships. The gaslighter might also make up stories to try to confuse someone which as well as everything else we’ve mentioned is pretty f*cked up!

Gaslighting Signs and Symptoms

There are three main types of gaslighting that we see:

Dichotomous Thinking: This is where the abuser will try to convince the victim that everything is a completely black-and-white issue. There is no “grey area” of truth or lies, only “good” versus “bad”. This can be incredibly damaging to a person’s self-esteem and sense of self, and they may begin to question their own sanity.

Example: When your partner comes home hours late without an explanation of why and they argue that to tell you would mean “you are just trying to control me! No, you either trust me or you don’t!”

Recounting: This is where the abuser will keep reciting fake stories and insisting that they are true. Sometimes they will invent new stories on the spot, other times they will just re-tell old stories in a different way.

Example: Someone keeps re-telling the cause of your arguments as your moods or emotions, when really it was their lying that started the issue.

Countering: This is where the abuser will refuse to believe that the victim is telling the truth. They might not necessarily deny the truth of what the victim is saying, they might just say things like “you’re wrong” or “you’re over-reacting”.

Example: “You are always so emotional, whereas I like to think of things logically” – my Ex.

Spotting Gaslighting

Gaslighting can happen in different ways, depending on the relationship and the abuser. It can happen through arguments, relationship breakups, or even when someone is just being dismissed as “crazy” by their partner. It is easy to mistake another person’s behaviour for normal, healthy behaviour when you’re in an abusive relationship. Even if you’re not sure, you can use these tips to try to spot it!

  • If someone constantly tries to convince you that you’re wrong, or that things aren’t the way you perceive them to be, that’s a red flag that something is wrong.
  • If you often have fights with your partner where they don’t listen to what you have to say, but instead “play the victim”, that’s also a big red flag. Sometimes it even feels like you keep going around and around back to the same issue, and it’s like arguing with a child.
  • If they try to tell you that you’re hurting them by doing [insert behaviour that they are actually doing to you], that’s gaslighting. It’s actually also a massive trait of a Narcissist, which honestly go hand in hand…

What to do if you suspect someone is gaslighting you?

If you are questioning whether someone’s behaviour is gaslighting, that’s pretty much a no-brainer that it is. Trust your gut, something aint right, so just remove the question altogether. I therefore have two words: Information, and Perspective.

What’s really important is to shine more light on the situation than that person is currently giving you, and often that means getting more information and an outside view on it…

Talk to your friends, and family and see what their take is on this behaviour. Often our rose-coloured glasses or loyalty to the relationship can muddy the waters on what is acceptable behaviour.

If even they are too close to it too then talk to a counsellor; most will understand gaslighting (and other abusive) behaviours and will give you tools to help you understand what is happening.

Abusers will almost always control the flow of information and clarity to you so this is the time when you have to step up for yourself and get investigating. Ask questions, get outside perspectives, demand clarity from your partner; and if these things are being limited for you then it is time to question the relationship itself. Remember this is always with a caveat to remember to keep yourself safe at all times, and again if your safety is in question – it is a no-brainer to make a plan to get out.

Bottom line

Look, you might wonder why any sane human being would even think of Gaslighting, and the list is honestly endless. From low self-esteem, to greed, entitlement and anger there are many paths that lead a person to engage in behaviour like this. What is pretty ‘across the board’ is that in large part it comes down to control, and for some reason certain people in the world just believe they are entitled to more of it.

The one thing you should always remember is that you’re a smart cookie; you’re not dumb, and you know what’s what when it comes to seeing things that look a bit suspect. It can be really difficult to separate how you feel about a person from what you can see plain as day, and it is REALLY important to know the difference. Like for real, when you wonder how someone ends up in an abusive relationship, this is how it starts!

So when you have someone that is trying to tell you something you know in your gut isn’t right – even if you love that person with your whole heart! – allow your own judgement a spot at the table. Gaslighting is a serious red flag, and whether conscious or not, that person is taking you down a very dangerous road…trust me, I’ve been there.

Deal with things head-on, just like you do with everything else in life, and never be afraid of seeking the truth even if it means getting a little uncomfortable.