Gaslighting is a term used to describe a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim in order to make them question their own sanity. The term comes from the 1944 film ‘Gaslight‘, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she is going insane by making subtle changes to the environment around her. Gaslighting can be incredibly damaging to one’s mental health, and it’s important to understand the seven signs so that you can recognize when it’s happening to you or someone you know.
The Seven Signs of Gaslighting
The following are the seven signs of gaslighting to look out for, including constant lying, denial of evidence, use of gaslighting phrases, isolation of the victim, projection of the abuser’s own actions onto the victim, creation of confusion, and convincing the victim that they need the abuser.
1. They Lie Constantly
The first sign of gaslighting is that the abuser will constantly lie. This is often about things that are easily verifiable, such as where they were or what they said. They do this to make the victim doubt their own memory or perception of reality. The victim may start to second-guess themselves, and this plays right into the hands of the gaslighter. They will continue to lie, deny, and manipulate the victim until the victim starts to question their own sanity.
Gaslighters will lie about things they previously said or did, which can be particularly confusing for the victim who is trying to make sense of what is happening. They may try to convince the victim that they never said or did certain things, or that the victim misunderstood what they said or did. In some cases, the gaslighter may even try to make the victim believe that events that actually took place never happened.
This constant lying creates a sense of unease in the victim, and they may find themselves struggling to trust their own memory or perception of reality. They might start to feel like they are losing their grip on reality, which is exactly what the gaslighter wants. By making the victim doubt themselves, they gain greater control over the victim.
2. They Deny Things Even When Evidence Is Presented
The second sign of gaslighting is denial of evidence. The gaslighter will dismiss any evidence provided, trying to convince the victim that their evidence is fake or not credible. This perpetuates the victim’s self-doubt and reinforces the gaslighter’s control over them.
The gaslighter may also challenge the validity of the evidence by questioning the source, the timing or the reasons behind it. They might ask, “How do you know that’s what happened” or “Why are you bringing this up now?” They may even accuse the victim of planting false evidence or trying to trap them. The goal is to create confusion in the victim’s mind, making them doubt what they know to be true.
For the victim, the denial of evidence can be extremely confusing and frustrating. They may feel like no matter what they do, they can’t convince the gaslighter of the truth. This reinforces the gaslighter’s control over the victim, as they continue to deny and minimize the victim’s experiences until the victim begins to question their own sanity.
3. They Use Gaslighting Phrases
The third sign of gaslighting is the use of gaslighting phrases. Gaslighters use certain phrases to make the victim question their own perceptions and feelings. They might use phrases like “you’re crazy” or “you’re imagining things” to make the victim doubt whether they are accurately perceiving their reality. They might also use phrases like “you’re too sensitive” or “you’re overreacting” to invalidate the victim’s feelings and make them doubt their own emotions.
By using these phrases, gaslighters are attempting to make the victim doubt themselves and their own internal experiences. They are sending a message that their perceptions aren’t valid, that they are overly emotional or irrational. This can leave the victim feeling confused, isolated and disconnected from their own sense of self.
Further, these phrases can have a powerful impact on the victim’s self-esteem. By repeatedly calling the victim “crazy” or “overreacting”, gaslighters are essentially attempting to ‘break’ the victim and diminish their sense of self-worth. This can make the victim more dependent on the abuser, opening the door for them to commit more gaslighting.
Another tactic of gaslighters when using these phrases is to make the victim feel guilty or ashamed. If the victim starts to believe that they are being “too sensitive” or “overreacting”, they come to believe that in fact they are the ones to blame for the problems in the relationship, even though it is the gaslighter’s behaviour that is causing the issues.
4. They Isolate The Victim
The fourth sign of gaslighting is the isolation of the victim. Gaslighters often try to isolate the victim from friends and family who would normally provide them with support or validation.
Gaslighters may criticize or belittle the victim’s friends and family to create a sense of doubt in the victim’s mind about their support system. They may also create situations where the victim is forced to choose between their loved ones and the abuser.
This can happen in a variety of ways – for example, they may criticize their family members or friends to the point where the victim feels like they have to choose sides. They might start conflicts or create drama in social situations, so the victim withdraws and spends more time exclusively with the gaslighter.
Over time, this isolation can cause the victim to become more isolated, lonely, and dependent on the abuser. They might start to believe that they have no other options or support systems in their life, and that the abuser is the only person they can turn to. This further reinforces the gaslighter’s control over the victim, making it more difficult for the victim to recognize the abuse and leave the situation.
5. They Project Their Own Actions Onto The Victim
The fifth sign of gaslighting is projection. When gaslighters are confronted with their own negative behavior or actions, they might attempt to project those onto the victim instead. They will often accuse the victim of doing things that they themselves are guilty of. This is done to make the victim feel guilty or ashamed, and to deflect attention away from the gaslighter’s own behavior.
Projection is a powerful tactic used by gaslighters because it causes the victim to question themselves and their own moral compass. When a victim is accused of doing something that they know they didn’t do or would never do, it can be incredibly disorienting. This is exactly what the gaslighter wants – to make the victim doubt themselves.
Additionally, by projecting their own negative behaviour onto the victim, gaslighters deflect attention away from their own behaviour.
The goal of projection is to make the victim feel guilty, confused, and off-balance. The victim starts to wonder if they are really in the wrong and they might start to believe that they are the problem, rather than recognizing that the gaslighter is the one who is soley responsible for their own actions and behaviour.
6. They Create A Sense Of Confusion
The sixth sign of gaslighting is inconsistency. Gaslighters will often engage in behaviours that create confusion and disorientation for the victim. They might change their story or behaviour from one moment to the next, or use contradictory language that makes it difficult for the victim to make sense of what’s happening.
By constantly shifting the narrative or shocking the victim with sudden changes in behaviour, gaslighters can keep them off-balance and uncertain. This makes it difficult for victims to recognize patterns of abuse and feel confident in their own understanding of reality. When victims are constantly feeling confused, they may start to doubt themselves and question their memories or perceptions more than they would otherwise.
Gaslighters also use this tactic to control information. By creating a constant state of confusion, they can prevent victims from collecting evidence or facts that could be used against them later on. This further increases the victim’s dependence on the gaslighter as they start to believe that only they are in touch with reality, which reinforces the abuser’s power over them.
7. They Convince The Victim That They Need The Abuser
The seventh sign of gaslighting is dependency. Gaslighters will often convince the victim that they are the only one that can help them, and that they need the gaslighter’s guidance and support. This creates a sense of dependence on the abuser, as victims become convinced that they cannot make decisions or solve problems without the abuser’s help.
This tactic makes it harder for victims to leave or seek help, as they become dependent on their abuser for emotional, financial, and even physical support. The gaslighter is aware of this dynamic and takes advantage of it by using threats or other forms of manipulation to keep the victim under their control.
The tactic works because it reinforces the victim’s belief that they are not capable of taking care of themselves without their abuser. Victims might start to feel helpless and hopeless if they don’t have their abuser around to provide guidance or advice. This traps them in an unhealthy cycle where they constantly depend on their abuser for validation, support, and direction.
Advice for People Who Are Experiencing Gaslighting
Acknowledge the Signs. Take some time to reflect on your relationship and recognize patterns of manipulation or behaviour that do not feel healthy. Gaslighters often rely on shock tactics or subtle psychological tricks to control their victims. This means you should look out for signs like sudden changes in behaviour or denial of events that actually happened.
Talk to Someone. Reach out to someone you trust who can provide an outside perspective on the situation and validate your feelings and experiences. Talking to a friend, family member, or professional therapist can help you gain confidence in yourself and understand how to best protect yourself from gaslighting in the future.
Set Boundaries. Once you become aware of the manipulative behaviors happening in your relationship, establish boundaries to protect yourself. Define what kind of behaviour is unacceptable and let your abuser know that it won’t be tolerated.
Seek Professional Help. If you’re having difficulty dealing with gaslighting on your own, seek out professional help from a therapist or counselor. Talking to a trained professional can provide invaluable guidance in recovering from and protecting yourself against gaslighting in the long-term.
Final Thoughts on the Seven Signs of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a malicious form of psychological abuse designed to manipulate and control victims. It is often difficult to recognize the signs in yourself or others due to the subtlety of gaslighting tactics. However, recognizing these seven signs of gaslighting will enable you to protect yourself and regain control over your life.
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Carla Corelli is an author, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse. Having grown up with a narcissistic father, Carla experienced firsthand the profound impact of psychological and emotional abuse. Fueled by her personal journey, she pursued a degree in psychology and has dedicated herself to shedding light on the complexities of narcissistic abuse.
With over fifteen years of experience in writing and advocating for survivors, Carla is deeply committed to providing support, education, and empowerment to those who have endured similar trauma. Through her articles, Carla aims to offer a compassionate space for healing and growth, while advocating for greater awareness and understanding of narcissistic abuse.
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