What Is Gaslighting? Examples & Signs to Know

Gaslighting is a form of emotional and/or psychological abuse in which an abuser manipulates a victim to the point where the individual may begin to question reality, such as whether events they are experiencing are actually real. It is a serious problem that can occur in all kinds of relationships. Learn more about what gaslighting really is and consider some real-world examples.

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What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting involves lying, denying, contradicting, and/or misdirecting someone such that the victim(s) starts to question the reality they are experiencing. People who are victims of gaslighting often question their own memories, perceptions or sanity.

Intentional/Unintentional

People who gaslight others can do so intentionally or unintentionally. Whether it is on purpose or not, gaslighting is a form of manipulation as well as a form of psychological and emotional abuse.

Group/Individual

It's also important to note that gaslighting can be committed by an individual or by a group. For example, a person could be gaslighted by one person within their family or a group of family members. An employee or group of employees could be gaslighted by their boss, or by the entire leadership team of the company for which they work.

Signs of Gaslighting

There are a number of signs associated with the person doing the gaslighting.

  • acting like the victim is just being silly
  • being incredulous at other's statements
  • denying things that are true
  • giving off an air of always knowing better than others
  • indicating there is something wrong with anyone who disagrees with them
  • lying about things that can't easily be proven false
  • projecting of their own behavior on to other people
  • repeating or recounting events in a way that doesn't reflect what actually happened

Gaslighting Impact on Victims

Look for patterns in the actions of the abuser as well as the symptoms shown by the victim. Over time, gaslighting can cause a number of symptoms in victims.

  • feeling unhappy and anxious
  • second-guessing yourself to the point where it becomes difficult to make everyday decisions
  • wondering if you are losing your mind
  • mistrusting your memory
  • constantly apologizing for perceived mistakes
  • believing you're unworthy of love and support
  • failing to stand up for yourself
  • withholding information from friends and family for fear of judgment
  • blaming yourself for the abuser's behavior
  • worrying that you're overreacting or being too sensitive
  • automatically agreeing with or giving in to the abuser to keep the peace
  • suffering from headaches, stomachaches and sleep disturbances not attributed to any physical cause
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Gaslighting Examples in Personal Relationships

Gaslighting is all-too-common in romantic, friendship, parental, or other family relationships.

  • someone who distorts the reality of what has taken place in the relationship (You know I'm always there for you. I just need this one little thing from you.)
  • an unfaithful spouse who acts as if the other person has imagined everything (What late-night texts? I was just getting a glass of water.)
  • someone who accuses you of doing whatever it is that they are doing (My texts? What about yours? I see you checking texts on your phone when I'm driving.)
  • a relative who claims that you must not value family if you don't do what they want you to do (If you care about this family, you'll give me more money.)
  • a person who pretends to be your friend just to try to date your sibling (You're my best friend. You want me to come over? Well, tell me, is your brother home?)
  • parents who try to convince you that things didn't happen (You had such a vivid imagination as a child. Of course no one ever did that to you.)
  • a person who tries to rewrite the history of your relationship (I have always put you first. I have always treated you the way you deserve to be treated.)

Gaslighting Examples at Work

Gaslighting isn't limited to personal relationships. It also occurs in the workplace, including with coworkers, bosses or customers.

  • company leadership that continues to engage in discriminatory behavior ("This company is founded on equal opportunity," they say. However, somehow no qualified minority candidates are hired for jobs above entry-level roles.)
  • a boss who refuses to take action regarding a toxic coworker (Let's just see how things go; it'll get better. And you sure want to be seen as a team player, don't you?)
  • a manager who makes you feel like you have no other options (I can't help you after HR gets involved. Who is ever going to hire you when it gets out that you can't take a joke.)
  • a coworker who tries to guilt you into doing something wrong (I helped you out that time you were late on a deadline. Now it's your turn. I can't come in on Tuesday so I need you to clock me in and out that day.)
  • customers who try to get their way when they're wrong via threats (Do you know who I am? I will have your job/go over your head if you don't give me what I want.)
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Gaslighting Examples in Current Events/Public Opinion

Gaslighting efforts don't all come from people with whom an individual has personal relationships. People and organizations seeking to swap public opinion or incite action often use gaslighting or other unethical behavior to try to manipulate public opinion and actions.

  • yellow journalism or fake news (Overly sensationalized language such as, "Mother nature rampages; destroys life as we know it" when there is just an unusual weather system approaching the area.)
  • a source quotes a small piece of information out of context to misrepresent meaning (He said "economic dip." His policies are going to bankrupt our economy. You're going to lose everything.)
  • someone uses false equivalence to try to vilify someone in an extremely different situation (So-and-so ran for office in 1992. The people have already spoken; they said no. Don't vote for this loser now.)
  • making a false statement and repeating it over and over to convince people it is true (COVID-19 is just like influenza.)
  • drawing a conclusion that is based on false information and presenting it as if it were fact (Anonymous sources say the sky is green. What we have been calling blue all these years must really be green.)

Common Gaslighting Phrases

Gaslighting refers to a pattern of behavior that progresses over time, so it can be difficult to identify unless you're paying close attention to the dynamics of a relationship. Someone who is engaging in gaslighting will regularly make comments that cast doubt on the victim's perception of a situation.

  • If you loved me, you wouldn't ...
  • You're making things up.
  • You're imagining things.
  • You're not remembering correctly.
  • Why would you rewrite history like that?
  • Is this another one of your crazy ideas?
  • Don't be ridiculous.
  • You're making a big deal over nothing.
  • Why are you out to get me?
  • Why don't you appreciate the things I do for you?
  • I don't know what you're talking about.
  • I'm pretty sure no one would believe that.
  • Of course it's true; didn't you see it on the news (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)?

These phrases alone don't necessarily mean gaslighting is going on. These kinds of phrases also have to be linked to an attempt to manipulate or deceive. For example, if a person suggests a dangerous adventure and another one responds with "Is this another one of your crazy ideas?" that is not gaslighting. However, if a person asks a spouse who's exhibiting the signs of infidelity if the individual is cheating and that's how the person replies, chances are good that there is some gaslighting going on.

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Gaslighting and Narcissism

In psychology, gaslighting is linked to a narcissistic personality. A narcissist is someone who pursues gratification by admiring his or her own attributes. The term comes from Greek mythology, referring to the handsome Narcissus, who spurned many lovers and fell in love with his own reflection. Signs of a narcissistic personality include:

  • frequent lies and exaggerations
  • being reluctant to admit flaws and mistakes
  • extreme aggression when criticized
  • being disrespectful of rules and boundaries
  • manipulating others to achieve one's own goals

As you might expect, narcissism causes deep difficulty in building and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships. Narcissists are also more likely to engage in other self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, pathological gambling or compulsive shopping. There is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, but psychotherapy can help the narcissist develop a more realistic sense of self and improve relationships with others.

How to Deal With Gaslighting

People who experience gaslighting often struggle with depression or low self-esteem as the result of the abuse. Speaking with a qualified therapist can people in this situation help address mental health issues and move forward. In addition to that, keeping a journal and confiding in a trusted friend can help victims better see patterns in the abuser's behavior, thus making it easier to trust their own intuition and perception of the truth. Those who have experienced abuse in the form of gaslighting can benefit from setting some personal communication goals to build confidence moving forward.