The only way you can describe how you feel is that you feel minimized. You feel crushed and smothered. You’re constantly second-guessing yourself; your feelings, your perceptions, your memories, and a small, suffocated part inside of you wonders whether you are actually going crazy.
You feel neurotic, you feel hyper-sensitive and you feel an overwhelming sense of alienation.
What is wrong with you?
If you can identify with what I just wrote, you are most likely experiencing a sophisticated manipulation technique known as Gaslighting. This technique undermines your entire perception of reality and can slowly creep into your relationships, friendships, family life and work life.
Although you might feel crazy, although you might feel imbalanced and irrational, there is still hope.
Table of contents
What is Gaslighting?
Inspired by the 1940 and 1944 films “Gas Light,” where a husband systematically manipulates his wife in order to make her feel crazy, the term “Gaslighting” is now commonly used to describe behavior that is inherently manipulative.
Gaslighting, at its core, is a form of emotional abuse that slowly eats away at your ability to make judgments.
Essentially, a Gaslighter spins their negative, harmful or destructive words and actions in their favor, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you. This is often done by making you feel “overly sensitive,” “paranoid,” “mentally unstable,” “silly,” “unhinged,” and many other sensations which cause you to doubt yourself.
Commonly adopted by psychopathic, sociopathic and narcissistic types of people, Gaslighting tends to eat away at you slowly until you realize that you’re a shell of the former person you were.
3 Examples of Gaslighting
Let’s take a look at some examples of Gaslighting.
In a family scenario: Andrew’s father is an angry, bitter man. Every day Andrew is afraid to “tip the balance” of his father’s mood because he often bursts out in fits of rage calling Andrew a “bastard” and a “worthless little loser,” among many other hurtful names. When Andrew confronts his father about this aggressive name-calling, Andrew’s father laughs and tells him “to stop being so sensitive.”
In a relationship scenario: Jade has been married for 5 years and has two small children with her husband Mike. For the past few months, Jade has been trying to establish a small art shop, but when she asks for her husband’s assistance his mood darkens: “I can’t believe you’re spending so much time on this shop—don’t you care about me—don’t you care about your kids? You’re supposed to be mothering them!” he exclaims. Jade is shocked, “But I just wanted you to help me with setting up the store! And I haven’t been neglecting anyone!” Mike comes up very close to Jade’s face: “You see! Now you’re denying it. When I married you I thought you’d be there for your family. I should just take the kids and go already!” Mike storms off. Later, when Jade sits down to talk with Mike about his threat, Mike says, “Honey, you know you were overreacting, and you know that you’ve been obsessing over this shop too much. That makes the rest of us feel very ignored and excluded, I hope you understand that.”
At work scenario: Sophie has been working in her department for the past five years when she is given a promotion to migrate to another level of the company that pays a higher salary. However, Sophie has been given a trial period to determine whether she is capable of fulfilling her duties or not. Nervously, she meets with her new supervisor, Kelly. At first, Sophie likes her supervisor and fulfills all of her tasks on time. However, her supervisor begins to ask her to do belittling chores and favors here and there with increasing frequency. While Sophie is fine with helping out, she finds that Kelly is becoming more and more demanding. Finally, as Sophie’s work piles up to an unbearable level, she tells Kelly that she needs to focus on completing her work, but she can help another time. Later, in a staff meeting, Kelly introduces Sophie to everyone and says, “Although she’s not keeping up with us yet, I’m sure she’ll learn to embody our hard-working ethics soon!” Immediately, Sophie blushes and feels publicly insulted and humiliated, fearing for the security of her new job. Later when Sophie asks her supervisor why she thinks that “she is not embodying their hard-working ethic,” her supervisor says: “I think you misunderstood me. I just said that you’re not used to our pace of work so that other people can help you out.” From then on Sophie accepts all extra demands and chores, no matter how much work she has, or how demeaning the tasks are.
How to Know Whether Someone is Gaslighting You
Gaslighting is so harmful because it promotes anxiety, depression, and with enough frequency in our lives, can sometimes trigger nervous breakdowns. So the question now it: are you being gaslighted? How can you know whether you’re experiencing this subtle form of manipulation in your life? Review the following tell-tale signs:
- Something is “off” about your friend, partner, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, colleagues, boss, or other person in your life … but you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.
- You frequently second-guess your ability to remember the details of past events leaving you psychologically powerless.
- You feel confused and disorientated.
- You feel threatened and on-edge around this person, but you don’t know why.
- You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
- You never quite feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable or harm you in some way.
- You feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, e.g. you’re neurotic or are “losing it.”
- You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or are “too sensitive.”
- You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood and depressed.
- You find it hard to trust your own judgment, and given a choice, you choose to believe the judgment of the abuser.
- You feel scared and as though “something is terribly wrong,” but you don’t know what or why.
- You find it hard to make decisions because you distrust yourself.
- You feel as though you’re a much weaker version of yourself, and you were much more strong and confident in the past.
- You feel guilty for not feeling happy like you used to.
- You’ve become afraid of “speaking up” or expressing your emotions, so you stay silent instead.
Tactics Used by the Gaslighter
Gaslighters use a variety of subtle techniques to undermine your reality and portray you as the disturbed and messed up one. These include, for example:
- Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
- Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually, you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
- Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things—that never happened!” “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.” “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (family member/friend)?”
- Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you, e.g. “Why are you being so sensitive?” “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!” “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”
- Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more. For example, “I don’t remember that, you must have dreamt it!” “You’re lying, I never said that.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re changing the subject.”
- Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favor, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth. For example, “I didn’t say that, I said _____” “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head—that’s what all good fathers do.” “If you remember correctly, I was actually trying to help you.”
Why Empaths Often Get Gaslighted
An empath is a person who is highly sensitive to the energy of others. Empaths are known as energy sponges because they absorb the emotional pain around them. As a result, empaths tend to be highly self-sacrificing in an attempt to make everyone’s lives better.
When it comes to gaslighting, empaths are easy targets because they often struggle to differentiate themselves from their abusers. In other words, while they are highly intuitive and perceptive people, empaths often lack personal boundaries and struggle to say “no.” And no boundaries = perfect prey for narcissistic gaslighting techniques!
I’ve explored the issue of narcissistic gaslighting abuse in my book Awakened Empath.
If you think this might be an issue for you, it’s definitely worth checking out. This is a serious issue that can create long-term harm in your life, especially if you’re a sensitive person.
Healing the Wounds Ignited by Gaslighting
Gaslighting causes us to doubt our own memories, perceptions, and judgments, throwing us emotionally and psychologically off balance.
If you feel as though your self-esteem, confidence, and independence has withered under the flame of gaslighting you are not alone … and there certainly is hope!
Almost all of us, including myself, have experienced one form of Gaslighting or another throughout life.
The problems arise when Gaslighting is a frequent shadow that trails behind our relationships and partnerships.
The good news is that knowledge and awareness is the first step to healing your life and rebuilding the strong, perceptive person you are … and you have already taken it!
While it is true that in some situations we genuinely might be overreacting, or might genuinely be exhibiting irrational behavior, it is also important for you to listen to your instinct or intuition.
Do you have a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach? Do you feel weighed down and oppressed? Do you feel depressed? These are signs that you have unconsciously picked up on deception and “foul play.”
While we can consciously be fooled, unconsciously we can’t, and often we will have a lingering feeling that “something just isn’t right.” Make sure that you listen to this feeling and seek help, either professionally or socially (i.e. a trusted group of friends or a support network).
In summary, here are some ways to support yourself in the face of gaslighting:
- Firstly clarify to yourself how, when and who is gaslighting you. Think about what ways they make you feel unhinged and like you’re losing it. Write down whatever you can think of. You must be able to confirm that you’re being gaslighted before you can move on with your life.
- Pay attention to the signs of being gaslighted, like feeling confused, belittled, “crazy” or manipulated. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and center yourself. Set aside regular time for grounding each day through meditation or a mindfulness exercise. These techniques will help you to stay objective even in difficult circumstances.
- Decide whether it’s worth continuing your friendship or relationship. If you’re in a working relationship, think about whether it’s worth staying in your job or not. If you want to stay, think about ways to minimize interaction with the gaslighter until you feel grounded and confident.
- Talk to trusted friends or loved ones about your problem. Alternatively, seek help from a mentor or therapist who can help you do some shadow work.
- Shift your perspective from being a victim to being a warrior/winner or whatever word feels the most empowering. You don’t have to remain a victim for the rest of your life, and by reclaiming your personal power, you’ll also be able to help others in similar circumstances.
- Read my emotional abuse article to deepen your understanding of this topic.
I hope these actions can help you regain a sense of personal clarity, confidence, and empowerment once again as you recover from the gaslighter’s mind games.
If you have left a relationship in which you were being gaslighted, and are being targeted by a narcissist in your life again, check out my article on “hoovering” which is another twisted emotional manipulation technique.
Are you experiencing Gaslighting? Do you know someone else who is? Do you have any recommendations that would help others? Please share below.
Once you’ve figured out the Narcissist, you see through all of their lies. Everything you were suspicious of in the past hits you all at once. It can be hard to process all of this at first, but it will get better. You need to remove the toxic person from your life. Narcissists rarely change, it’s the nature of the beast.
When the women’s shelter is your only cover bc you’ve lost EVERYTHING is it even worth fighting when u been stripped of all u had and loved…articles like this help you realize something you knew all along inside but how do u actually leave and go on thats what I want to know. No help and this is why we just stay and deal
WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait .. ?
Hi. I am grateful for your article. I am currently being gaslit by my family. They avoid any and all attempts to openly talk about issues. They have scapegoated me as the problem in the family. I was being esteemed by society, yet denigrated by my family. They have ruined me and I fear for my life. My sister committed suicide and my mother was driven to insanity. I genuinely feel that, while, yes my father was very abusive and cruel, the extended family who are perceived as kind and lovely have allowed things to be done and have actively been passive in making sure their status was protected by holding others down. I have hired a therapist but everything is moving too slowly. I fear for my sanity.
I was single for a long time then prayed for God to send me someone special. I felt like he was right around the corner and was going to be a great guy. Turns out, it was my neighbor from down the road. We have been seeing each other for a year and a half. Everything was going great then he would say things like he worried about the day when I realized he couldn’t go farther in out relationship. He has told me that I’ll never be a priority and will never get married again. I replied that’s great with me to and you don’t have to tell someone what your priorities are, they already know. I’ve never said I wanted to move any faster, but recently he said he was thinking about me moving in and quitting my job just to take care of him. I thought he didn’t want that? When I try to talk to him I’m called emotional and dismissed. I was counting on his word of this going no where and not have any stress or drama. But it seems like he like to stir the pot to see how I react, then tells… Read more »
Nice list, been using Thrive comments for a while and been happy with it.
This was a very eye-opening article. VERY informative!
I believe my partner is a gaslighter. He also suffers from IED; I believe the gaslighting is a byproduct of his mental illness. Nonetheless, while his non-IED side is thoughtful, educated, crafty, and adventurous the IED side is abusive.
My concern is two-fold:
1. I suffer from chronic PTSD from childhood trauma; sexually abused by my father. I experienced a TBI at the age of 18 with no follow-up care. I have been in abusive relationships before. I have abused drugs and alcohol. I have been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. Could my own mental illness cause me to believe someone is gaslighting me when they really are not?
2. If my partner is truly gaslighting me, how do I differentiate between my memory issues (TBI, drug abuse, cerebral ischemia) and the abuse?
Thanks for reading and responding if you choose to!
This information is very painful , the injures inflicted on me and my youngest son first by family. My son was the youngest of three, He had Brain Cancer that was misdiagnosed , until age 15 , in 1990. He was very gentle talented loving and kind ,Gaslights spotted him in head start . His entire life was a battle with Unthread Brain Cancer until age 31 Brain Surgery controlled by a gas lighting networks who undermined he once loving relationship with me.Sexual seduction was the main tool t o gain control and used to father children while struggling to finish his Education andhold down employment estranged from me or any true friends, he passed away recently I was denied his remains after his partner and Son had him cremated no funeral or Last words , the Natural Father took part in all of it he was involved with his gaslighting partner and her networks I’m serving in Turkey as love Ambassador .This is the most painful lingering toxic energy that seems to have no end. I have been writing for several years ,Devices have been hacked files destroyed , My Son ‘s brain Cancer and legal issues put him… Read more »
This was an eye opening post. I am 47 and just recently realized how bad my mother and brother have always gas-lighted . It really messed me up in a bad way. I always knew something was wrong and felt really drained around them. I now live thousands of miles away! Growing up ( and now), I was always ” wrong” or ” too sensitive”, or “crazy”. It was the cause of a serious anxiety problem. I always used to second guess my decisions because according to them, I was always wrong ( even my opinions were “wrong”) and I subconsciously believe that. If I would tell them how harmful their treatment was, they would just played victim. My mother is always changing history to suit her and claiming I never remember anything correctly. She is slyly dishonest and manipulative. I think she lies to herself so well, that she actually thinks she is honest! My brother always tskes her side no matter what. I am the ” empath” of the family. Ive been treated like this my whole life and I am finally just beginning to recover. Its so damaging and hard to reverse but I am getting there… Read more »
This article made me realize how long I have thought I was the issue, how long I have thought “I need to get it together” and I have been unfair to myself. I have been cruel to myself because I have been believing that I was consistently wrong for having certain feelings or thoughts. Rather than validating my feelings, my partner would twist and reframe, I have thought I was wrong and conceded for seven years…I ended up heart broken, disrespected on every level, and worst, I allowed this.