In 1938, a Victorian playwright by the name of Patrick Hamilton wrote a thriller play based on the premise of a husband who isolates, deceives, and brainwashes his wife into believing in her own insanity in order to steal from her. The play was titled, “Gas Light,” and is credited as the origin of the term “gaslighting” that we use today to describe a manipulation tactic that causes its’ victims to feel disoriented and distressed about their mental state and reality as a whole.
While not every gaslighter has as insidious of schemes as the antagonist in the play, the effects of their exploitations remain detrimental to the mental and emotional health of those they are gaslighting. Educating yourself on the signs of gaslighting can help you maintain a protective boundary against those who may try to take advantage of you in this way. Identifying their ill-intent can help you minimize a gaslighter’s attempts to control you through stirring mistrust in yourself. Here are 5 signature signs a conversation you’re having involves gaslighting and that you may not be involved in a typical disagreement with someone:
They Invalidate Your Feelings
It’s normal for disagreements to cause emotional distress in all parties involved. However, if you find that someone makes comments such as, “You’re being sensitive,” or, “You’re so weak,” when you express your needs, take it as a possible sign that gaslighting may be involved. Gaslighters prefer to not take your emotions and opinions into account, because their objective is to mold reality to fit their needs best. By convincing you to believe that you’re the problem instead of them, they strip themselves of the need to take accountability for their own misbehaviors or flaws.
When facing a gaslighter who invalidates your feelings, remember first and foremost that your feelings are valid – whether someone else confirms that to you or not. While your instinctive response might be to either become enraged at their statement or anxiously consider the truth of it, recognize that your capacity to identify and speak out about your emotional needs is a sign of emotional intelligence. You can choose to dismiss their words and stick to your truth instead. Gaslighters gain strength when others fall prey to their strategies – but we know you won’t!
They Make You Question Yourself and Your Sanity
Disagreements have the potential for good – they can help us shift your perspective and broaden what might’ve been a narrow and limiting thought process for you. By listening to others and gaining deeper understandings of their points of view – which might be vastly different from your own – there’s a possibility that these types of disagreements can leave you better off than before. A gaslighting red flag, however, will not only leave you worse off but will create feelings of self-doubt within you that lingers long after the conversation is over.
Notice how you feel after your conversation – do you feel you have more clarity, or do you feel less sure of yourself and the situation as a whole? Gaslighters can manipulate your perception of yourself by intentionally making hurtful remarks about your intelligence, memory capabilities, or competence, which then allows them to brainwash you into thinking their perception is more accurate.
Quickly spot out their plan when this happens and put a stop to it by either disengaging entirely or by refusing to react to their words and maintaining a strong sense of self.
They Intend to Make You Feel Small
Going into a disagreement with the goal of gaining a better understanding or finding clarity can often help to direct you and your conversation partner to succeed in that intention. If you listen with a desire to understand where someone’s intent lies in their conversation with you, it’ll become clear with enough effort. A gaslighter’s trademark purpose is to make you feel small, undervalued, and alone. You’ll find that their words and phrases are used in malicious ways that can benefit them by keeping you mentally where they want you to be and bringing gradual harm to you both mentally and emotionally.
Gaining the upper hand in a conversation with a gaslighter starts by understanding their behavior from their point of view. In knowing their goals and intentions, you’re more quickly able to divert the discussion or prepare the proper mental defense shields to combat their offenses.
They Don’t Take Responsibility for Words/Actions
After a disagreement, it’s not uncommon for there to be apologies and accountability taken on the side of all parties involved. Once heated emotions are expressed, acknowledged, and dealt with, it’s natural to feel more open to recognizing ways in which we have contributed negatively to a difficult conversation. Gaslighters are the exception – instead of taking responsibility for ways they’ve hurt you or admitting to their faults, they’re more likely to lie and make statements to the extent of, “I’ve never said that before,” or, “Your memory is terrible – I’ve never done that!”
It may be difficult, and in dire circumstances, even dangerous to refute a gaslighter’s lies when they appear, but even so, it’s important to not allow their attempts to skew your sense of reality to succeed. If you’re able to discredit them vocally, do so with a sense of conviction. If not, keep in mind that the more important thing to salvage is your mental well-being and choose to move on, even if this means not getting the apologies or fairness you deserve.
You Feel Anxious About Interacting With Them
If a relationship is strained enough, you may both begin to feel tense at the thought of interacting with one another. Not everyone enjoys the challenge that disagreements pose – unless you love debates – and it’s normal to find them anxiety-inducing. But if you start to find yourself walking on eggshells around a particular person, consider that the reason might be due to the way they purposefully make you feel negative about yourself when in conversation with them.
These manipulative tendencies in someone else can cause you to desire as minimal interaction with them as possible, which is a normal reaction. Yet this can be difficult to do, especially if the person in mention plays a big enough role in your life, for example, if they are a spouse, a close friend, a family member, or even a boss at work. Knowing these interactions are inevitable might lead to a spiral of negative feelings, one that causes you to feel stuck. The best plan of action here is to make a plan of action! Write down a list of the ways your gaslighter has negatively influenced you in the past and besides those memories, write down ways in which you had responded instead. And remember, a response could be no response at all – which can also be the strongest thing to do in certain moments.
Also, before immediately assigning your discomfort of interacting with someone as a red flag for gaslighting, be sure to consider whether other signs simultaneously pair with this one. Those uncomfortable feelings could be due to other reasons, like intimidation because of differences in age or hierarchy positions, for example.
If there’s one takeaway you have from this resource, let it be that at the end of the day, you are not responsible for the behaviors of a gaslighter – no matter how much they may try to make you believe so. It’s not up to you to make them change their ways, and their inability or unwillingness to do so is not a reflection of your worth as a person.
Be sure to check out our Psych2Go YouTube channel for more videos like the one below on signs you might be dealing with a gaslighter!
Laderer, Ashley, and Sara Rosen. “How to Spot Gaslighting: 6 Things That Gaslighters Say to Manipulate You.” Insider, Insider, 13 Sept. 2021, https://www.insider.com/gaslighting-examples.
Mcauliffe, Kathleen. “Gaslighting at Work: How to Recognize IT-and Stop It.” Career Contessa, https://www.careercontessa.com/advice/gaslighting-in-the-office/#signs.
Morris, Susan York. “Gaslighting: Signs and Tips for Seeking Help.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 24 Nov. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/gaslighting.
Sarkis , Stephanie. “11 Red Flags of Gaslighting in a Relationship | Psychology …” Psychology Today , 22 Jan. 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-red-flags-gaslighting-in-relationship.
Shuavarnnasri, Jayda. “7 Signs of Gaslighting in Relationships + How to Stop It.” Mindbodygreen, 25 June 2021, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/signs-of-gaslighting-in-relationships.
Stinson, Annakeara. “6 Signs of Gaslighting That Can Seem like Innocent Behaviors, According to Experts.” Bustle, Bustle, 29 July 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/6-signs-of-gaslighting-that-can-seem-like-innocent-behaviors-according-to-experts-18225544.