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20 Gaslighting Examples and How To Spot Them, Per Relationship Experts

#6 should definitely ring some alarm bells.

By Nylah Burton | Women's Health Magazine | Original Article

You may have come across the term “gaslighting” while casually scrolling on TikTok or in an Instagram infographic, and wondered if it's happening you.

ICYDK, the origins of the word “gaslight” come from a 1944 film by the same name. In Gaslight, a woman starts to suspect her new husband might be intentionally trying to make her seem out of her head when she notices strange things occurring, including gaslights that always appear to dim on their own. When the woman, Paula (Ingrid Bergman), tries to confront her partner, he questions her sanity.

The film was popular at the time and remains a zeitgeisty topic of conversation, as it resonates with people who have been made to question their reality—by employers, partners, friends, parents, or even medical physicians.

Gaslighting is about “one person trying to gain control of someone else,” says board-certified behavioral analyst Reena B. Patel. “[It's] breaking down someone’s trust and using their vulnerabilities to dismiss them and make them confused about what they think is really happening.”

Meet The Experts

Reena B. Patel, BCBA, is a board-certified behavioral analyst and positive psychologist. Chandler Chang, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the clinical director of Therapy Lab. Laura Rutledge, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor and primary therapist at GIA Miami, a mental health clinic in Miami, Florida.

That’s what makes gaslighting unique and deeply damaging—it’s an attempt to get you to doubt yourself, your surroundings, and those you trust. It can make you feel like you’re losing your mind, or that you’re all alone. And it’s a common tactic used by abusers in relationships.

If you think someone in your life might be pushing you to question your reality or simply want to learn how to spot common tactics, read on to discover what gaslighting is, why it happens, what it looks like, and what to do if you find yourself being gaslit, per relationship experts.

What is gaslighting?

As mentioned, gaslighting describes making statements or actions to compel someone else to question their reality in order to gain control over that person or shift blame away from yourself to avoid accountability.

Gaslighting is “a behavior someone does when they’d rather pin something on someone else rather than take accountability,” says Chandler Chang, PhD, a clinical psychologist. It’s an abuse tactic that’s most often used by the gaslighter as a defense strategy to protect their ego, Chang adds. “Their intention is to make the other person feel bad because the accused or the confronted just can’t stand the discomfort of feeling that they’re being criticized.”

Gaslighting is different from simply “lying” (which also sucks!) because it’s not just an omission of truth, it’s an intentional attempt to confuse, shame, and manipulate the thoughts and reality of another person. Being lied to is always hurtful, but gaslighting can be destructive.

What are some common examples of gaslighting?

There are some tried-and-true tactics that people use to gaslight others—here are a few that you can learn to recognize, according to the experts:

1. They dismiss your needs.

In a work relationship, this tactic might show up as the gaslighter claiming a request for a raise is unreasonable even when the employee has proved themselves worthy, or denying time off by making the person feel guilty for needing a break.

2. They withhold information.

“Withholding” describes when a gaslighter pretends they don’t understand the reason for a conversation or refuses to talk about it at all, says Patel. “It’s a form of dismissal,” she says. And afterwards, “they’ll often try to change the subject.”

3. They deny they’ve hurt you.

When they deny harming you and refuse to take accountability for their actions, that’s a prime example of gaslighting, says Patel. “Oftentimes they’ll blame someone or something else.” For example, they might claim that your friends and family are trying to turn you against them or that, in fact, you are the one gaslighting them.

4. They claim to have forgotten entire events and statements.

“Forgetting” is related to denial but it’s a bit more specific than that, says Laura Rutledge, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor at GIA Miami. When a gaslighter is using it as a tactic, they’re denying entire events and statements, and sometimes things they said mere minutes ago—again, as a way to make you question what you know to be true.

5. They weaponize love.

Like other abusers, a gaslighter will often claim that the only reason they’re acting this way is because they love you so much, or that they are the only person in the world that loves you. They might even say, “If you really loved me, you’d let me do what I want,” says Patel, as a way to avoid accountability and get you to agree to their demands. Gaslighters weaponize love to distort what kind of love you think you deserve, and also to further isolate you from others who can help.

6. They shift blame onto you.

According to Patel, when gaslighters want to shift blame from themselves, they’ll often not only dismiss your complaint, but divert the conversation to talk about something they claim you’ve done. They might bring up something that happened years ago, a simple mistake, or that didn’t happen at all to shift focus away from themselves and their actions. “This [gaslighting tactic] usually deals a blow to your self-esteem,” Patel points out.

7. They use your vulnerabilities against you.

Another common way a gaslighter might shift blame is by using your vulnerabilities against you, says Rutledge. “The gaslighter will often find a vulnerability, something the victim might be insecure about, or a piece of information that is sensitive” to make the other person feel guilty, she explains.

Someone who takes medication for a mental illness, for example, might unfairly be asked by a gaslighter, “Have you taken your meds?” when confronting them. This is the gaslighter’s way of invalidating their concerns and feelings to avoid taking accountability.

8. They constantly criticize you or disapprove of your actions.

By constantly criticizing you, the gaslighter aims to shift blame from themselves and place it squarely on you. Not only that, but it also keeps you in an unhealthy cycle where the aim of your affection and conversations become about gaining their approval, not about advocating for yourself.

What are some common phrases gaslighters might use?

If you believe you’re being gaslit or simply have a weird feeling about a connection you have, watch out for these sayings:

  • “That’s not what happened.”

  • “I never said that.”

  • “Are you crazy?”

  • “You’re gaslighting me!”

  • “I would never do/say that. You’re making it up.”

  • “It was just a joke, stop being so sensitive.”

  • “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be saying this.”

  • “I’m the only person who stands by you. Everyone else thinks you’re crazy.”

  • “My only fault is loving you too much.”

  • “I’m worried about you. You’re acting irrationally.”

  • “[Insert name of someone defending you] doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”

  • “You’re just trying to make me look bad.”

What do I do if I’m being gaslit?

1. Consult a friend.

If you suspect you’re being gaslit, the first thing to do is “trust your intuition,” says Rutledge. Consider leaning on your community and disclosing your feelings to a trusted confidant. “Talk to someone or several people who you trust. Hopefully, if they’re close to you, they’ll be able to validate that you’re being manipulated and help you see the reality [of the situation],” adds Rutledge.

2. Determine whether it’s safe to confront them.

While it’s within your right to confront the gaslighter, often confrontation is not a safe or advisable option, says Rutledge. “Confrontation is likely to trigger the gaslighter to do what is familiar—gaslight again,” she explains.

“If you’re considering confronting the person, ask yourself what goal you are trying to accomplish, and remember you cannot ‘make’ someone understand you or see the truth, especially if they have an abusive defense mechanism, like gaslighting.”

3. Consider having a conversation.

While gaslighting is hurtful, not every gaslighter is a horrible, evil, or irredeemable person. If you wish to cut off that connection, you’re definitely in the right to do so. However, if you want to resolve things with the person gaslighting you, there are ways to go about that safely, per Chang.

“One approach might be to find a really calm time and broach the conversation with the other person about what you’ve noticed,” says Chang. “Set aside some time to discuss the issue and ask ‘permission’ from the other person to talk about something that may be difficult,” she suggests.

You want to avoid having this talk while the other person is actively gaslighting you. Why? “Because the person is already feeling defensive and probably not able to take in information in a constructive way,” Change explains.

When having the conversation, describe specific examples of times when you recently felt gaslit, Chang says. “Try to use ‘I statements’ like, ‘When that happened, I felt [blank].’” What was going on for you when that instance of gaslighting happened? What feelings were brought up? Ground the conversation in your experience, while also allowing space for them to share their viewpoint. Most importantly, ensure you’re both actively listening and have a goal to look for a bridge or solution.

4. Check-in.

If they respond positively to your discussion, plan to check in after a few days or a week to reflect on your progress as well as discuss any points of disagreement or more gaslighting, says Chang. “Agree to work on this together and to be open for the sake of improving your trust and closeness.”

5. If their behavior doesn’t change or you feel unsafe, cut ties.

No matter how much you might want to preserve a relationship, sometimes it’s better to end the bond altogether, especially if you know the person gaslighting you is unlikely or unwilling to unlearn their abusive behaviors.

If the history of the relationship shows the person isn’t good at taking responsibility, trying to repair things may not be ideal, says Rutledge. “From the victim’s stance, they’re used to listening to what the perpetrator is saying and taking it as truth. So confronting the gaslighter directly might make one more vulnerable, especially in heated times.”

To end an unhealthy relationship with a gaslighter, Chang suggests trying a phrase like: “I feel hurt by the patterns in our communication. I don’t feel good about the way we disagree or fight. For this reason, I’ve decided I want to break up. This is not working for me.”

If you’re being gaslit, remember that you’re not alone. You most likely have other people in your life you can turn to, to unpack your experience and offer a listening ear. There are also plenty of resources and hotlines that you can access if you need professional assistance. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 if you ever need immediate help, and sites like Psychology Today offer a database of therapists in your area.

Only you know what’s best for you and your wellbeing. And you have the right to protect your body, mind, and heart—even if it means ending a connection that’s not serving you.

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