The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play “Gas Light” in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking that she is losing her mind by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home and then denying that the light had changed when she pointed it out.
This is a common tactic used in gaslighting: the manipulator will deny or distort the victim’s reality, and when the victim challenges them, the manipulator will make them feel crazy or foolish for believing their own experiences.
It is a subtle and insidious form of abuse that is often hard to recognize because it is done in a gradual and calculated manner. And the signs can be difficult to spot at first, but they are important to be aware of so that you can protect yourself from them.
That said, here are 18 subtle signs of gaslighting.
1. The gaslighter constantly denies the truth.
One of the key signs of gaslighting is when your abuser consistently denies the truth, even when presented with facts or evidence to the contrary.
For example, if you confront your abuser about something they said or did, they may deny ever saying or doing it, even if you have proof. They may also deny the reality of events or experiences that you both witnessed, or even claim that you are making things up or are crazy.
This constant denial of the truth can make you doubt your perception and recollection of events, and can leave you feeling confused and unsure of what is real.
2. Constantly changing of the rules.
Another common tactic of gaslighting is to constantly change the rules or expectations, without any explanation or justification.
For example, your abuser may tell you that they expect you to be home by a certain time, and then punish you for being late, even if they didn’t give you advance notice of the change in plans.
Or they may tell you that they want you to handle a certain task in a specific way, and then criticize you for not doing it the way they originally instructed.
This constant changing of the rules can make you feel like you can never please your abuser, and can leave you feeling anxious and unsure of how to act.
3. The gaslighter tries to isolate you.
Gaslighters often try to isolate their victims from their friends, family, and other support systems. They may do this by criticizing the people in your life, making it difficult for you to see them, or by telling you that you don’t need anyone else in your life.
This isolation can make you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to or confide in, and can leave you feeling alone and vulnerable.
They may discourage you from spending time with your friends or family, or try to drive a wedge between you and the people you care about.
They may even go so far as to sabotage your relationships with others, causing you to feel more alone and dependent on them. This isolation can make you more vulnerable to their manipulation and control.
4. Denying events or actions that have taken place.
One subtle sign of gaslighting is when the manipulator denies that certain events or actions have taken place, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.
For example, if you confront your partner about something they said or did that hurt you, they may deny ever saying or doing it, even if you have witnesses or proof. This can make you doubt your memory and perception of the situation.
5. Discrediting your thoughts and feelings.
Another common tactic of gaslighting is to make you question your thoughts and feelings. The manipulator may tell you that you’re overreacting, being too sensitive, or just plain wrong.
They may use phrases like “You’re crazy” or “You’re just imagining things” to make you doubt yourself. This can make you feel like you’re going crazy, and cause you to second-guess your own emotions and experiences.
6. Withholding information or giving false information.
Gaslighters often use withholding or deception as a means of control. They may withhold important information from you, or give you false information to confuse you and keep you in the dark.
For example, a gaslighter may lie about their whereabouts or activities, or withhold information about their finances or other important decisions. This can make you feel disoriented and unsure of what is true and what is not.
7. You are made to feel like you are the problem.
Another common tactic used by gaslighters is to make you feel like you are the one who is causing problems in the relationship. They might do this by constantly criticizing you, or by saying that you are being too sensitive or that you are overreacting.
This can leave you feeling confused and like you are walking on eggshells around the person who is gaslighting you, because you are always trying to avoid doing or saying anything that might trigger their anger or criticism.
8. Invalidating your experiences or feelings.
Gaslighters often dismiss or belittle the victim’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, making them feel like their reactions are unreasonable or exaggerated.
For example, a gaslighter might tell the victim that they are “too sensitive” or that their concerns are “not a big deal.” This can make the victim feel like they are overreacting and cause them to second-guess their judgment.
Gaslighters often try to shift the blame for their actions onto the victim. They might make the victim feel like they are responsible for the gaslighter’s behavior, or that they are the one causing problems in the relationship.
This can make the victim feel guilty and confused, and can make it difficult for them to see the situation clearly.
Related: 6 Signs Someone is a Narcissist
10. Makes you question your sanity.
A gaslighter will often try to make the victim doubt their own sanity by constantly questioning their perceptions and memories.
For example, they may ask the victim if they are sure that something happened the way they remember it, or they may suggest that the victim is “overreacting” or “being too sensitive.”
This can be incredibly damaging to the victim’s self-esteem and can make them feel like they are “crazy” or “unstable.”
11. “Gaslighting phrases.”
Gaslighting phrases are specific words and phrases that the abuser uses to manipulate the victim into doubting their perceptions and memories.
Some common gaslighting phrases include: “I never said that,” “You’re imagining things,” “You’re being paranoid,” “You’re overreacting,” and “You’re being too sensitive.”
These phrases are designed to make the victim feel like they are misremembering things or are “crazy,” which can be incredibly damaging to their sense of self.
12. Manipulates the victim’s emotions.
Gaslighters often use emotional manipulation to control their victims. They may make the victim feel guilty, ashamed, or inadequate, and then use these negative emotions to manipulate the victim into doing what they want.
For example, a gaslighter may constantly criticize the victim’s appearance or abilities, and then use the victim’s resulting self-doubt to control their behavior.
13. The abuser tries to control the victim’s behavior and decisions.
In a gaslighting relationship, the abuser may try to control the victim’s actions and decisions. They may tell the victim what to do, or try to make them feel guilty or ashamed if they don’t comply.
For example, an abuser might say “You shouldn’t wear that” or “You should do what I say” to control the victim’s choices.
14. Constantly changes the subject.
Another tactic that gaslighters use is to change the subject whenever you try to bring up something that makes them uncomfortable.
For example, if you try to talk to the abuser about a sensitive issue, they might quickly change the subject to something more neutral or benign. This can make you feel like you’re not being heard, and it can make you question whether your concerns are valid.
Also read: 5 Defining Traits of Highly Toxic People
15. The gaslighter plays the victim.
Gaslighters are often skilled at playing the victim, which can make it difficult for the victim to see the situation for what it is. For example, the abuser might act like they are the one who is being mistreated, and they might try to make you feel sorry for them.
This can make you feel guilty and confused, and it can make you less likely to confront the abuser about their behavior.
16. They use “crazy-making” tactics.
Gaslighting often involves using tactics that are designed to make the victim feel crazy or unstable. This can include gaslighting the victim with contradictory statements, lying to the victim, or even gaslighting the victim with their actions.
For example, an abuser might tell their victim that they are being unreasonable, and then turn around and do something unreasonable themselves. This can make the victim feel confused and unsure of themselves, and can lead them to doubt their sanity.
17. They use emotional appeals to manipulate you.
Gaslighters are often skilled at manipulating the emotions of their victims. They might use guilt, flattery, or other emotional appeals to try to convince you that their version of events is the correct one.
For example, they might say something like, “I can’t believe you would accuse me of such a thing. I thought you trusted me.” This can make you feel guilty for doubling them, and you might start to doubt your recollection of events.
18. You apologize or make excuses for your abuser’s behavior.
Gaslighting can cause you to doubt your own perceptions and experiences, and as a result, you may find yourself apologizing for things that are not your fault. You may make excuses for your abuser’s behavior, blaming yourself or external circumstances for their actions.
For example, you may think that you “provoked” them or that they were “having a bad day.” This tendency to take responsibility for their behavior is a common response to gaslighting, but it is important to recognize that you are not to blame for your abuser’s actions.
These are just a few of the subtle signs of gaslighting to look out for. It is important to remember that gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, and it can be extremely damaging to the victim’s mental health.
If you suspect that you are being gaslighted, it is important to seek help from a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.