Gaslighting, by its very nature, is hidden but you can learn how to spot the signs that someone is gaslighting you.
You are better equipped to protect yourself from manipulation when you can spot these hidden signs.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is when a person manipulates another person’s reality. This manipulation is done to confuse the person leaving them second-guessing themselves. If you are confused, you are distracted. Furthermore, if your reality is being manipulated, you may stop trusting yourself.
This allows the person who is gaslighting to continue to manipulate, abuse, cheat, or betray the other. A common example of gaslighting is the partner who is cheating accusing the other partner of being unfaithful whenever they bring this subject up. This leaves the faithful partner in a position to defend themselves. This manipulation tactic acts to distract from the truth.
The History of Gaslighting
In this play, Bella Manningham believes she is going slowly insane. However, this is because her husband, Jack, is deliberately confusing her reality. Bella’s aunt was murdered 10 years earlier. Her murderer was never found. Her aunt left behind expensive jewels which Bella doesn’t know. Jack is on a secret quest to find these jewels. When he’s in the attic hunting for jewels, the gas lights in the main part of the house dim. When Bella questions these gas lights dimming, Jack convinces Bella it’s all in her head. Thus, we have the term “gaslighting.”
Spotting the Signs of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can be very hard to identify precisely because those who gaslight are trying to confuse you. However, you can learn how to be mindful of the hidden signs of gaslighting to protect yourself.
While commonly only discussed within a romantic relationship, someone may be gaslighting you in any relationship. You may experience gaslighting with a friend, a coworker, a boss, and even a parent or other family member.
Hidden Sign Someone is Gaslighting You #1: You Often Feel Confused or “Crazy”
When you are in a relationship with someone who is gaslighting you, it’s common to feel confused or “crazy.” A gaslighter is trying to confuse your reality as a form of manipulation. The natural response to this is to feel confused.
Manipulative people – which includes someone who is gaslighting you – manipulate reality. They may tell you that you didn’t see or hear something you did. It’s also common for a gaslighter to tell you that you don’t feel a certain way. Or when you express your emotions, they will often tell you that you are too “sensitive” or “dramatic.” Also, if you become upset with them for something they said, it’s common for them to say they were only “joking as a way of invalidating you. Thus, you may feel confused, or even “crazy.” A hidden sign of gaslighting is when you stop trusting your perspective of reality which includes what you see, believe, and feel.
How to Stop Feeling “Crazy” When Someone is Gaslighting You
It’s important to begin to set boundaries around your reality. This means trusting that you do know what you saw, heard, think, and feel. When someone is gaslighting you, it’s common to want to “prove” your truth to the other person. Of course, you will want to be validated by the other person. However, when someone is gaslighting you, this ultimately is unproductive.
Someone who is gaslighting you is trying to manipulate your reality. Therefore, they cannot validate your reality. It’s important to work on self-validation. This means giving yourself understanding when you feel, or think, a certain way. When you have healthy boundaries around reality, you stop needing outside approval or validation. A person with healthy boundaries may prefer to receive validation but it’s not necessary. They don’t need anyone else, including their partner, to agree with their truth.
Stop Trying to Prove Yourself to the Person Who is Gaslighting You
When someone is manipulating your reality, it’s important to work on radically accepting this person cannot validate your perspective or emotions. Do not try to prove yourself or argue logically with the person who is gaslighting you. Again, they cannot validate you as this goes against the very nature of gaslighting.
It’s not your job to prove yourself to the person who is gaslighting you. Rather, when you practice self-love and self-care you provide yourself validation and compassion for what you are going through. Also, you work on trusting your knowing or intuition.
It was as though I’d been drowning & in my panic I had been gasping for air, calling for rescue, & flailing on the surface. But what I really needed to do to save myself was let myself sink. It struck me that this is why we say to people to “Calm down.” Because beneath the noise of the pounding, swirling surf is a place where all is quiet & clear.
Since the chaos stills in the deep, I could sense something there I was not able to sense on the surface… There, in the deep, I could sense something circulating inside of me. It was a Knowing. I can know things down at this level I can’t on the chaotic surface. Down here, when I pose a question about my life – in words or abstract images. I sense a nudge. The nudge guides me toward the next precise thing, & then, when I silently acknowledge the nudge – it fills me.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Hidden Sign Someone is Gaslighting You #2: You Believe That You are the Problem
A person who is gaslighting you may struggle to take accountability. Often, whenever you express a problem to them, they will turn it around on you. This is when they even acknowledge the issue even happened (see hidden sign #1 of gaslighting).
A person who is gaslighting you will have a pattern of trying to convince you that whatever they did that upset you was actually your fault. They only yelled at you, for example, because you made them so mad. They may even try to seek your empathy by describing a painful story from their past which justifies their feelings – and their hurtful behavior. It is common to start to believe you truly are the problem. This is precisely because a person who is gaslighting may be very charming. This is especially true if he is a narcissist.
Spotting This Hidden Sign Early in a Relationship
It takes time to spot the hidden signs of gaslighting. However, you may discover there are red flags that reveal a person will likely gaslight you in the future. An early red flag that someone will make you the problem in the future is how they talk about past relationships. If they talk about their exes as if they were “crazy” and that they were without fault, this is a red flag. This is also true of other relationships such as why a friendship ended.
Hidden Sign Someone is Gaslighting You #3: You Keep Trying to Figure Out Why the Other Person is Being Inconsistent or Manipulative
Commonly, when someone is gaslighting someone, you will feel stuck. It can feel like you must solve why the other person is confusing you or blaming you. You may wonder if the gaslighting, or manipulation, is intentional. And this questioning can keep you stuck in the relationship.
If you have codependent symptoms, this feeling of being “stuck” can be especially true. Commonly, in codependency, people give others more empathy and understanding than they give themselves. Therefore, a person who is gaslighting is given more understanding and compassion than the person gives themselves. They may stay stuck, sometimes for years, trying to understand why the other person is acting hurtfully. They may try to figure out if it’s narcissism, avoidant attachment, or trauma to give a few examples.
Coping with Feeling Stuck
You can get unstuck if someone is gaslighting you. However, to move forward, it’s important to accept that it doesn’t matter ultimately why someone is gaslighting you. Gaslighting may or may not be intentional. They may or may not be a narcissist or have attachment issues.
What matters more than their intent, and their reasons for gaslighting, is how they are impacting you. This behavior of gaslighting you can be unconscious and unintentional, and it still matters.
To get unstuck, it’s important to accept that regardless of the other person’s intentions, they are still confusing you or hurting you. Then if you feel safe enough to talk to them about – bring it up.
How to Figure Out if Your Relationship is Safe
Safe people can have unsafe patterns like gaslighting. Dialectical thinking reveals how two things that feel like opposites can be true. However, when you assert your concerns, you can discern a safe person from an unsafe one. Very simply, safe people take accountability for their hurtful behaviors, like gaslighting, even if they’re embarrassed.
Hidden Sign Someone is Gaslighting You #4: You Keep Trying to Go Back to the “Real” Person
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist who is gaslighting you, the relationship likely began wonderfully. A common tactic narcissists use when first dating someone is love bombing. This is when someone is very attentive and complimentary early on. They may shower you with gifts and compliments. It’s also common to receive a lot of texts when someone’s love bombing you.
What is Love Bombing?
Love bombing is a gaslighting tactic because later, when the narcissist is abusive, you will question your reality. If you were love bombed, you will likely find yourself wondering how to get back to the “true” version of your partner you first met. This “true” version, in your mind, will be the loving, kind partner. However, that loving partner was a façade to manipulate you into committing to them. Then with your love and commitment, it is harder for you to leave when they do show their abusive side.
Gaslighting is a Form of Abuse
It can be very challenging for you to identify gaslighting because its very nature is hidden. However, it’s important to identify gaslighting in your relationships because it is a form of abuse. The word “abuse” may sound heavy but hopefully, it’s also validating if you have felt stuck, powerless, overwhelmed, or filled with self-doubt. Also, please know no matter what the person who is gaslighting you may say, abuse is never your fault.
Trying to Heal the Relationship
Not all abusive relationships are hopeless. What makes all the difference is if the person who is gaslighting you is willing to take accountability and work through this – ideally in couple’s therapy. However, if they are not willing to take accountability the long-term toll gaslighting may take on your mental health is profound. If you are in a relationship with someone who is gaslighting you, please consider seeking therapy.
You are Being Courageous
It can be very painful to name gaslighting from someone you love as abuse. But it’s only by naming it can you find a path forward for your healing.
It takes incredible courage to see our relationships with those we love as abusive or unhealthy, because seeing this pushes us to make change, which is scary. I want to reinforce that while abusive relationships can convince you otherwise, there absolutely are healthy people in this world that will value you and your limits. You may already have one person like this in your life. It is important to affirm, “I’m worthy of healthy relationships and respect,” when eliminating abusive behavior in your life.Krystal Mazzola, The Codependency Recovery Plan
How to Cope with Gaslighting
The most important thing to overcome gaslighting is to stay committed to your reality. When you realize that you can trust your insights, you no longer need someone else to validate them. For example, if you know deep down that you saw a suspicious interaction between your partner and someone else then you don’t need him to tell you that you’re right.
It’s also important to continue to identify gaslighting for what it is – hidden and abusive. Keep coming back to this article to remind yourself that you are not crazy. Rather, you are experiencing gaslighting. You can start to validate your own reality. Keeping a journal helps a lot for this. Talk to trusted friends or a therapist for a “reality check.” And keep coming back to your own knowing.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
She is currently working on her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.