What is Gaslighting? 11 Red Flag Signs He’s Manipulating You
You keep hearing this term “gaslighting,” and you’re wondering about it. People have even told you that you’re being gaslit. So…what IS gaslighting?
In a Nutshell: What is Gaslighting?
Essentially, with gaslighting, a person, usually a romantic partner, denies the validity of things you know you’re experiencing.
“You’re imagining things. You didn’t see me with another woman.”
“I never said that!”
“You’re being paranoid.”
Usually, the people gaslighting their partners are sociopaths or narcissists. It’s about power: by making you feel like you’re wrong or going crazy, you rely on that person more. He feels like he has more control over you.
Cheaters gaslight. So do men who emotionally or physically abuse women. But not all men who gaslight cheat or abuse women, so don’t let that be the only sign that you look for. I’ll tell you some really good signals to watch out for in a minute.
Gaslighting is dangerous because this person who you trust causes you to lose touch with reality. You start to question everything and doubt yourself. You may lose self-confidence and feel like you’ll never find a relationship better than this.
I’m here to tell you that if you’re being gaslit, you absolutely deserve and can find a better man who respects and loves you. This man isn’t it!
The origin of the term “gaslighting” actually comes from a 1938 play, as well as the adapted movie in 1944, called “Gas Light.” In it, a husband manipulates his wife to make her think she’s actually losing her sanity so he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance. If you’re living this reality, this might be a horror movie for you!
Types of Gaslighting
There are several types of gaslighting, so when you ask, “what is gaslighting,” you may get several answers depending on who you ask. Each is valid, and you may actually experience more than one type.
“What are you talking about? That makes no sense. Why are you trying to turn this situation around on me?”
He pretends he doesn’t understand you or refuses to listen. The more you talk to him, the more confused you get because he’s acting like you’re confusing him!
“That’s not how it happened. You never remember things correctly.”
In this type of gaslighting, he tells you that your memory of a situation or event is wrong. He makes you doubt what you know you remember.
“Who put that idea into your head? I’m sick of talking about this.”
If he changes the subject or tells you that you’re imagining things, he’s gaslighting you.
“Why are you so sensitive? This isn’t worth getting upset over.”
This guy belittles your feelings, especially when they involve anger or frustration toward him. He makes you feel like you’re overreacting…but I’m telling you: you probably aren’t.
“You’re totally making that up. I never said that!”
He flat out denies what you know happened. Maybe you know he swore he’d pay you for the concert tickets you bought and now he’s telling you that you said you’d pay for them.
11 Signs Your Partner is Gaslighting You
Now that I’ve answered the question “what is gaslighting” a bit (though we could talk about it for hours!), let’s look at a few signs you can keep an eye out for to figure out if the guy you’re dating is gaslighting you.
1. He Tells You That You’re Imagining Things
Okay, so you know you saw the guy you’re dating kiss another woman at a party. But he’s telling you that you’re crazy. He says he was just leaning over to tell her something, and you thought he was kissing her.
Uh-uh. Not only did you see it with your own two eyes, but your gut is also screaming that this guy is lying.
2. He Says You’re Overreacting
Every time you get upset about something (and that seems to be happening more and more as you’re dating this guy), he tells you that you’re making way too big a deal out of it.
Like the time he stood you up and you waited at the restaurant for an hour. He didn’t think that was a big deal and doesn’t get why you’re fuming.
Let me just say that, whether this guy is gaslighting you or not, you are entitled to your feelings. If he pisses you off, you can be pissed off. And you can tell him how you feel. The fact that he’s uncomfortable with your anger is not your problem.
3. Your Confidence is Dwindling
You used to consider yourself a fairly confident woman, but now you question everything you say or do. You may not even realize that the man you’re with is the cause.
Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of the book Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists, says that gaslighting is “an extremely dangerous form of emotional abuse because it undermines your self-confidence.”
You have to ask yourself: which would you rather have, your self-confidence or a man that makes you feel like crap?
4. He Always Wants the Upper Hand
In your past relationships, you were the one with a little more power (it’s normal for there to be a slight imbalance in every relationship), so it’s a bit surprising to you that in this relationship, he’s got it. And he fights to have that upper hand.
Whether it’s him picking where you eat every single time (a girl can only eat so much Thai food), having the last say in every argument, or vetoing your choice of movie, you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter. And you’re right. Because if he’s getting his way, he’s happy.
5. He Makes You Feel Not Good Enough
“I’m the best thing that will ever happen to you. You’d be a fool to leave.”
The fact that this man feels the need to tell you that means that he doesn’t think that you’d believe it otherwise. I mean, you’d know if he was the best thing ever, right? And the fact that he’s trying to make you think you’ll never find better just goes with the fact that he wants you under his thumb.
He may even tell you that you’re not pretty or smart enough for another man, and that he’s doing you a favor by staying with you.
This is unacceptable. A true partner lifts you up and makes you feel incredible. That, in turn, makes you happy to be with him…no threat needed.
6. He Seems Like Two Different People
Maybe the reason you’re Googling “what is gaslighting” right now is because when he’s great, he’s great. But when he’s terrible…that’s when you think you might need to leave him.
A gaslighter (as well as a sociopath or narcissist) is really good at the whole Jekyll and Hyde routine. He’ll woo you with flowers…and then tell you that you’re crazy. He strings you along just enough that you want to stay, hoping the good version will come out more.
Realize that the good side of him is an act and that the darker side is his true self.
7. You Feel Confused When You’re With Him
I’ve worked with women who describe dating a gaslighter like being on a carousel. Everything is spinning around until they’re dizzy and don’t know what way is up when they talk to this man. You might start a conversation about how he never spends time at your place and then the conversation ends with him criticizing your financial habits. WTF?
He’s great at deflecting criticism directed toward him, which can make for a confusing conversation.
8. You Find Yourself Apologizing a LOT
Part of that whole carousel thing happens when you start out upset about something he’s done and then ending up apologizing for something you’ve done. He’s adept at turning around an argument so that you feel guilty and at fault…and forget about whatever it is that you were mad about.
Now look, I’m not saying you’re faultless in every argument. But look back over your relationship: has he ever apologized to you for any of his shortcomings? I’m willing to bet he hasn’t…or not often and sincerely.
9. You’re Not Happy But Feel Like You Can’t Leave
Whether they’ve used the term gaslighting or not, your friends have been telling you for a while that this guy is bad news. They see how he treats you and they see how unhappy you are. And you know they’re right…only you can’t bring yourself to end the relationship.
Why? Likely because he’s made you feel like you’ll be even more miserable without him. Maybe he talks about how there are a ton of skeevy guys on dating apps or how, because you’re not 20 anymore, you’ll have trouble finding a quality man.
Realize that this is his messaging, not yours. He has an ulterior motive for making you feel like you shouldn’t leave him. I have nothing to gain by telling you the truth: you can and will find someone who treats you right. You don’t have to put up with this emotional abuse.
10. He Turns Things Around on You
Maybe he doesn’t criticize you…unless you’re expressing your frustration with him. All of a sudden, you’re full of flaws and have committed any number of mistakes in this relationship.
Realize that this is a defense mechanism. He can’t accept that he’s done anything wrong at all, and so emotionally pushes back on you and pours out every little grievance he has about you.
The best thing you can do is not absorb his criticism. You know your areas of weakness in a relationship, and certainly, you should work on them. But don’t let him tell you how awful you are…because it isn’t true.
11. He Says You Don’t Trust Him
This one is especially true for cheaters who gaslight. Let’s say you found out that he cheated, but you decide to stay. Of course, whenever anything suspicious comes up (a woman calls asking for him without identifying herself; you find a pair of women’s sunglasses in his car), he makes a big stink about how you don’t trust him. If you can’t trust him, why are you even with him?? He ends up making you apologize and assure him that yes, you do trust him, and you must have misunderstood that pair of panties you found in his bed!
You either trust him or you don’t. He probably is right that you don’t…but you have good reason not to, so don’t let him move you away from evidence that he can’t be trusted.
What to Do If He’s Gaslighting You
Okay, so we’ve answered “what is gaslighting,” and we’ve looked at 11 signs that the man you’re dating is, in fact, gaslighting you. The big question is: what are you going to do about it? Depending on how long you’ve been with this guy, it may not be so simple to just walk away. So let’s look at some easier steps you can take before it comes to that.
Realize That You’re Not Crazy
If you find yourself wondering fairly frequently, “am I crazy??” I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’re not. People that are mentally unbalanced aren’t usually aware of it. Especially if you’ve only wondered this as long as you’ve been dating this man.
If you feel grounded in reality with every other person in your life, then you’re okay. If you don’t confuse facts or get things wrong with your friends and family, then clearly it’s this guy causing the problems.
So take a deep breath. You’re not crazy. You’re totally okay…and about to get more okay as you deal with this stressful situation.
Write Down Conversations
The quickest way to nip an argument in the bud where he’s telling you that you remembered something wrong is to have written evidence. If he says he’ll do something, take a quick note in your phone. Put the date and time he said it, and what he said. Heck, record him saying it! See how he weasels out of that one!
Then when he starts to tell you that you’re wrong, pull out your notes.
Don’t Engage in an Argument
This type of person seems to thrive on arguing, so your best course of action is not to engage him in it. He gets a high from putting you down and telling you all the things you’re doing wrong. If you don’t engage, he has no fodder.
Understand That He Isn’t the Right Guy for You
By now, I feel like you know this. You are an incredible woman and worthy of attracting a man who values your opinion and never tries to squash you. There may have been good qualities about this guy initially, but now he’s different. You can’t go back to the way things were (if they ever really were good), so it’s best if you can let go of the idea that things will improve.
Know That You WILL Be Better Off Without Him
I know that dating (especially for those in your 40s or later) is no picnic sometimes. I know that you might feel like staying in this relationship is better than the alternative. But that’s just because you can’t see what’s coming up for you. And I know for a fact that even better things are in your future!
Quite honestly, wouldn’t you rather be on your own with no one criticizing you or making you feel insane? I think you would.
What you do now is up to you, but my suggestion is that you break up with this man and focus on rebuilding your self-confidence. Know that out there is a great man who would love to treat you right.
Let me hear from you in the comments: do you think you’re being gaslit? What signs is he showing that he’s gaslighting you?
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My true passion in life is transforming your love life by giving you specific tools and techniques that you can use to attract long lasting love. I got started when...Read Adam's Story