Fun fact: “Gaslighting” almost became Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2018.
The term gaslighting first originated from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband manipulates his wife into thinking that she’s insane and should be locked up in an asylum—all for the sake of stealing her inheritance.
Gaslighting in a nutshell
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation that causes a victim to question their own reality.
It’s a lot like a Game of Thrones episode set in the 21st Century, minus the royalty and special effects.
Because it can be subtle and gradual, knowing if you are being gaslighted by a romantic partner can be extremely difficult.
Here are 10 warning signs of gaslighting to watch out for in a relationship.
1. They lie like it’s nothing.
Even with all the evidence laid out before them, your partner continues to cover up lies with more lies.
The goal is to lie (or tell half-truths) so frequently and blatantly that you start to doubt your own reality.
Gaslighters are often habitual and pathological liars who can distort the truth without batting an eyelid.
They are masters at spinning elaborate tales—and before you know it, you’re the “crazy” one.
You: Wait, I thought you were travelling with a group of friends.
Them: Oh, they all pulled out last minute, so it’s just me and xxx now.
You: Okay, but your other friend just told me he never heard about this trip.
Them: Well he’s obviously kidding then.
2. They’re masters of denial.
Gaslighters often deny any claims against them in an attempt to confuse you, even if you’ve caught them red-handed.
Caught them sending raunchy texts to a “friend” or flirting with a colleague? You’ll never get them to admit it.
Instead, they’ll likely respond to your questions with anger and disbelief to make you feel guilty for even asking.
You: Is she attractive? You can be honest, I just want to hear your opinion.
Them: How could you even say that?! You know I’d never think of other girls like that.
3. They’re all talk and no action.
To a gaslighter, promises don’t really count; they typically use grandiose words to distract you from their actual behavior.
If your partner says something but their actions indicate otherwise, judge them by their actions alone.
You: It’s happened too many times. I really can’t accept this.
Them: I won’t do it again babe, I promise. *Does it again*
4. They confuse you. On purpose.
The more confused you are, the more emotional power they have over you.
Gaslighters may employ positive reinforcement in between moments of criticizing or insulting you.
This means that they can compliment you one moment, but say something demeaning the next.
Their hot-and-cold nature leaves you confused about their true nature; are they really that bad after all?
Them: You’re so pretty, but you eat too much. I think you should watch your weight more.
How you should respond: B*itch, nobody asked you.
5. They turn your words against you.
Projection is a powerful tactic that many gaslighters use to accuse you of behaviors that they are guilty of committing themselves.
For example, if you catch your partner cheating on you, they may accuse you of cheating on them—instead of apologizing or explaining themselves.
From their perspective, you’ll be so busy defending your innocence that it’s impossible to focus on the real problem.
You: I saw you kissing her. There’s really no point in lying about it.
Them: You have something going on with xxx, don’t you? That’s why you’re blindly accusing me.
6. They breed distrust between you and your loved ones.
Gaslighters understand how much something or someone means to you, and they use that knowledge to their advantage.
For instance, they may try to sow seeds of doubt in you towards your close friends or family by accusing them of talking behind your back.
The objective is to encourage you to be emotionally dependent on them by isolating you from your support group.
In the worst case scenario, you may believe that you are completely ostracized, and that your partner is the only one you can trust.
Remember that in a healthy relationship, your partner should communicate with respect instead of complaining about your friends and family (or turning them against you).
You: I just want to have an honest conversation with you about this.
Them: There’s really nothing to discuss. Look, even your best friend thinks you’re just being paranoid.
7. They undermine your feelings.
Are your thoughts and feelings constantly being dismissed by your partner?
A gaslighter may try to make you feel abnormal or guilty for expressing basic emotions by refusing to address your feelings.
If you’re always afraid to talk about your emotions with them, it could be a defense mechanism in response to previous negative experiences of having your feelings ignored or undermined.
Learn to set your boundaries; if your partner chooses to make a degrading “joke”, call them out on their behavior.
You: I’m just feeling a little upset about what happened.
Them: OMG, you’re so sensitive. Stop overreacting.
8. You question yourself excessively.
While it’s great to be practice self awareness, second-guessing yourself all the time can lead to anxiety issues and affect your self confidence.
If you no longer feel like you can trust yourself or your gut when something’s “off”, it could be a result of being gaslighted.
Your partner may be taking advantage of the illusory truth effect—a phenomenon in which a listener starts to believe something because it has been repeated so often—to cause you to doubt yourself.
Them: You’re being so hurtful. How could you?
You: *Proceeds to enter vicious cycle of self-doubt*
9. You feel like you’re losing it.
Everyone has bad days, but constantly feeling like you’re on the brink of insanity is a big warning sign.
Your partner may be emotionally manipulating you to believe that everything is just a figment of your imagination.
You: We talked about this yesterday.
Them: Wtf you talkin bout?
10. You never feel good enough.
Gaslighters never fail to constantly remind you of your “flaws”, and getting blamed for everything that happens in your relationship can foster feelings of unworthiness.
You may end up subconsciously seeking approval and validation from others instead of yourself, making you even more susceptible to gaslighting in the future.
If you always feel the need to apologize first even if it isn’t your fault, it could stem from low self-esteem caused by your partner’s continuous emotional abuse.
Them: If only you were prettier.
How you should respond: If only I realized what a prick you were earlier.
How to Deal with Gaslighting
It’s often easier to blame yourself than to leave someone you still love, but this may lead to mental health issues and a string of toxic relationships with future partners.
Fighting fire with fire probably isn’t the best idea, either—gaslighting the gaslighter could be counterproductive and may even lead to physical violence.
Instead, if trying to have an honest conversation fails, set strict boundaries for yourself and refuse to entertain any of their abusive behavior.
Know that all of your feelings and thoughts are completely valid (even if you have a tendency to overthink).
If you have trouble trusting yourself, confide in a group of close friends or family and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
FYI: At the end of Gaslight, the wife manages to turn the tables by getting her husband arrested by the police.
While your relationship may not experience the same dramatic ending, know that the decision to love yourself and leave a toxic relationship is in your hands.