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“Gaslighting” is not a new term but it feels if it is, because the concept seems like it is exploding into the lives of people right now. But what is it exactly? And how do you know if it’s going on in your own relationship? Are you making things up in your own head, overthinking everything? Are you too sensitive? Let’s find out!

Gaslighting: What it is, How to Tell if You are Being Gaslit and 15 Examples of Gaslighting in Relationships:

Gaslighting. This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (and later, the 1940 movie, and later remakes), in which a husband tried to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home. When his wife points out the change in light, he denies that the light changed at all.

It’s an excellent movie in and of itself. I was going to just link to it as a point of reference, but changed my mind because the movie is so good. If you have some time, watch it.

 

Gaslight: The Original 1940 Movie

Moving along, I know you are eager to see some actual examples of what this looks like to see how it fits into the framework of what you may be experiencing or have seen.

An Example of Gaslighting in a Relationship Looks Like This:

  • “Why are you making things up?!”
  • “You are so jealous!”
  • “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”

Gaslighting makes the victim question their own feelings, instincts, sanity. Yes, sanity: it makes people think they are crazy. Because of this, it is a form of abuse, heavily favored by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.

"Gaslighting?!"

This is the thing: when or if an abuser can get the victim to fundamentally doubt themselves, or once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own feelings, instincts and sanity, they’ve won on so many levels. They can manipulate the victim, obviously, the victim thinks the problem is with the victim (and apologizes to the abuser). The victim is also likely to stay in the relationship for a long time – it takes a tremendous amount of will power to leave the manipulations that are behind gaslighting and the people who gaslight.

This is where it’s helpful to understand that the people who gaslight are often from the narcissistic/sociopathatic/psychopathic spectrum.

There are a lot of different examples of gaslighting in relationships, because there are more than one type of gaslighting.

Gaslighting Techniques & Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship:

Countering: this is the classic example, like what the husband did with the wife in the original “Gaslighting” – this is when the abuser makes the victim question what happened with statements like,

  • “huh? that’s not how it happened!”
  • “your memory is so crappy!”
  • “it didn’t happen that way!”

Withholding: when the abusive partner pretends they don’t understand or just won’t listen. They say things like,

  • “why do you keep saying things like this?!”
  • “I don’t want to hear this again”
  • “you are making stuff up!”

Diverting: the victim’s thoughts are questioned, or the abuser diverts the subject. It can go like this:

  • “you are imagining things”
  • “oh great, this is what you got from (friend/family member)”

Repetitive Questioning: the abusive partner makes the victim doubt what they think or feel. The key her is the insidious intent, and the repetitive nature of the questions, questions like:

  • “are you sure?”
  • “do you really think so?”

Trivializing: the victim is made to feel like their needs or feelings are out of whack. The partner says things like,

  • “you are too sensitive!”
  • “you are so jealous”
  • “you are going to get all upset over something so small?”

Revealing Hidden Thoughts of Others: where the abuser will “reveal” what other people are “really” thinking about the victim. This is effective in making the victim doubt themselves and their fundamental sense of what reality is. Examples in this technique include things are said in a well-meaning way:

  • “I know you really want to make people laugh, but I just want you to know that a lot of people feel like they have to listen to you and I can see them rolling their eyes at you behind your back…”
  • “people have been saying ~ (insert hurtful lie)”

 

Many components within gaslighting are normal

There are many things in gaslighting that are normal – we try and change other people’s opinions all the time, right? We try and get what we want all the time, too. The difference between what is ‘normal’ and what is gaslighting lie partly in the effects.

 

how to tell if you are being gaslit - 15 examples of gaslighting in a relationship

Signs that You are Being Gaslit:

(taken from the National Domestic Violence Hotline)

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.
  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

People who are prime fodder for being gaslit tend to be empathetic, compassionate people. People who feel things, and who care about others. When they feel something (intuitively) or see something blatantly in their face and are made through their interaction with their partner to start doubting themselves, their reality, and their sanity, they are being gaslit.

My Own Example

I was gaslit for years. I truly thought that I was bi-polar, and went so far as to take medication for bi-polar disorder.

While I have Complex PTSD, I am not bi-polar. I know that now without a doubt because the moment that I received the text message that proved that my husband was being unfaithful to me, a fog lifted off my brain. It was like a weighted blanket had been lifted – I could see everything so clearly for the first time in years.

I also experienced a powerful sense of relief, knowing that I had been correct all along, realizing that my intuition had been serving me well for years. My husband had simply gaslit me into thinking that I was crazy, that I was wrong. I was led into self-doubt at each and every turn.

I have not taken bi-polar medication since July (it has been 5 months) and have experienced nothing but clarity. It’s almost as if I have come home to myself.

Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship

Get Help: 1-800-799-7233 for the Domestic Violence Hotline.

Click HERE for their live chat help.

DeafHope serves the  d/Deaf community ending violence and can also help. Contact them HERE.

Gaslighting is a real form of abuse. If you recognize any of these signs that I have talked about here, or if any of this resonates with you, REACH OUT.

The following books helped me – especially Psychopath Free (which I can’t recommend highly enough). I hope they help you, too.

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Meriah
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor, teacher and blogger. Single mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E), she is also a Trekkie who likes her coffee hot and black.
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34 Comments

  1. Oh yes.

    I hope psychiatrists and psychologists will at least differentiate between PTSD and bipolar in histories.

    The “hidden thoughts” part of gaslighting is so scary. Like they will say “People will think you’re weird”. [and the things they will/could do with that weirdness].

    And the whole “bad memory” stuff. I know I have a “bad” memory…

    And the way people jump on “yes”es and “no”s.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this….we HAVE to get things like this out in the open!! Kudos to you for being so honest!!! Best wishes to you and the kids for the holidays.

  3. Thanks Meriah! My brother Dan has been speaking so highly of you for quite a while and I finally took the time to read a bit of your work. You are a strong woman and sharing your experience and knowledge is beneficial to the world. Thx for doing what u do. Cindy Riney O’Reilly

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  6. I think this has been said before, but it needs saying again: OMG M. Wow. Just WOW.

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  8. You’re dead on.. I find myself 2nd guess everything I do with my husband,to the point that even seeing the text messages between him and the other women he makes me fell like it’s my fault and sometimes I feel as though it is because I stay. He tells me things like “I am not mad at you” or I am acting crazy. I know what to do but he keeps telling me how much he loves me and wants me.

    • Yes, but is this really true? Are you sure? Because I think you’re making a big deal of this and that’s not how it happened.

  9. Your article has hit home with me so much. I’ve too have seen text messages with my boyfriend of 10 years with other women. He tells me that I am too sensitive, that they’re just friends. He says that other women wouldn’t care and that I overreact. He also says that I haven’t proven myself worthy of marriage. Right now, he’s on vacation with other women. He told me it was a guys trip but in reality, it’s only 3 guys and like 7 girls. He said that I was overreacting and asking too many questions when I asked him if he was sleeping with one of them. He said that I needed to “chill-out”. I will be moving out of our home when he returns. This has been going on for the last 7 years of our relationship. I am completely run dry. Every time I voice my concerns, speak about my needs he minimizes them or reacts as if I am crazy. He blames me for all the problem in our relationships which makes me feel that I deserve his behaviors. It’s just all bad. Hoping that I am strong like you to get out. Never thought I’d be in this situation.

    • Hi Sohia
      I was married to a gaslighter for 20 years, always questioning myself, because he made me that way.. you have invested 10 years of your valuable life with him, speaking from experience, get out now!! You deserve so much better Sophia, i am stillntryi g to heal after 7 years away from him.
      Yet his voice, it still in my head, my confidence is a constant struggle.
      Sophia don’t let anybody dull your sparkle, Shine your light and attract the right people into your life. Good luck 😎

  10. Its really embarrassing but I’m a guy and I think my fiance of 2 years is doing this to me I’m seeking counseling next week for it but I’ve gotten to the point that my only joy is going to my job but I dread breaks bc I have to talk to her on my breaks thank you for sharing this

    • Why is it embarrassing? Gaslighting happens to everyone, male or female. I hope the counseling helps provide a clear path for you and helps provide clarity and healing. Take care.

    • Don’t be embarrassed… my wife of many years now has a very well developed sense of self, well defined boundaries, trauma out the yin-yang… me, I’m w/o real boundaries, VERY sensitive, poorly defined sense of self. As best i can tell, my wife and i do this to EACH OTHER! we both end up questioning our own sanity and blaming the other… for different reasons, at different times… but we’re both so beaten down… i only feel rest when i leave my home for work. Goto therapy, follow the path, get comfortable with yourself. If she cannot look at herself and change, you may need to leave. goodluck!

  11. One thing I’ve been racking my brain about is honestly, how do you know when you’re being gaslit and when are you just wrong? Like when I was younger my parents would be mad I didn’t do something. I have no memory of them telling me to do it. But they said they did. Then I found proof that they did in fact tell me to do it, and yet I do still have no relocation of the event.

    There are those things like the scarecrow carrying a pistol in the movie wizard of oz or the bearinstine bears.

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  13. Omg, this sounds so familiar. I feel like someone took blinders off my eyes. I’ve been with a narcissist since 2009. When we argue, he tells me I’m weird, I’m arrogant for no reason, he sees why my ex used to hit me and that I don’t know how to be a good wife. When I confront him about the 2 affairs he’s admitted to, he asks my why am I still on that topic and it’s old, he doesn’t want to talk about it because it’s my fault. He says he cheats because it’s my fault. I literally questioned myself wondering if he’s right. If he does work, he quits his jobs or gambles away his paycheck and says it’s my fault. I’m trying to leave in the next 30-45 days with our 4 kids.

  14. When gaslighting is identified, does the relationship have chance, or is it the ultimate end of all hope?

    • You know, I really think it depends on the person/people. It depends on if both parties want to change – if one wants to understand how to NOT manipulate or gaslight, and for the other, how to be in a relationship and NOT be abused.

      I don’t think anything is an automatic end of hope. It’s just not easy to change, and not easy to admit you need to change.

  15. I want to thank you so much for this post. I just went through the breakup with completely manipulative woman. For four years I was used and abused by the woman who would give me the highest highs and the lowest lows. Every example you gave here are things she did to me. Every one. I couldn’t focus in life because I didn’t know how to make her happy. Then she would blame me more. Then she would say it’s all okay. She finally set up yet another fight and recorded me arguing that she was treating me like a slave. She played the victim..always has, she’s telling all her friends, the same ones she repeats these behaviors with so they are on again, off again..

    She had another victim cued. Out of the blue (and only 5 weeks later) She said she was gonna marry him to hurt me. She said the same with me when we started….

    Actually, he’s just another guy she’s had in her phone for years, like I was before. She would call us and complain about the abuse she was receiving from this or that boyfriend, then her husband too. She plays her hand calmly and coolly. I fell victim to the same repeated behaviors she’s abused every other guy with, I just lasted longer.

  16. My wife and I have had some issues over the last 18 years. Just recently our relationship has gone to an all time low. My wife has had infidelity issues in the past and it is bought up by myself when we have our big arguments. I have honestly never really recovered from this . My wife has been seeing a councillor and in one of her rages said to me look up gaslighting well I’m glad and I thank you and your readers and writers for the most valuable information I have ever had.
    I have always tried to keep our issues from our kids and when things start to heat up not in a good way I ask here if we can talk about it in the morning or over the phone
    the next day so the kids don’t hear.
    This sometimes makes her more aggressive and some times physical abuse occurs.
    Like bob in the previous article there is history that is starting to come out with her previous acquaintances and my wife thinks that by gaslighting she hide the real issue.
    I have to say that I did question myself and thought I was obviously lacking somewhere for her to start playing around 8 months into our marriage
    To make matters worse these slip ups as she calls them were well planned as they occurr when I go away with the military not out having a night out with mates.
    I have to admit that this issue occurs on both sides of our relationship. I am disappointed in myself because whatever the issues are in our relationships there is no need for this behaviour that I thought I was just saying these this in retaliation

  17. The best book I’ve read on this subject is “The Sociopath Next Door.”

  18. I was “Gaslit” for years. Never really understood it. In fact, I was completely ignorant to it. I would lose things, misplace things, find myself lost. I could not do anything right. I was a completely useless ball of goo. I felt guilty for going to work. I felt guilty for everything I did. I filed bankruptcy in 1990 and then was force to file bankruptcy again in 1992. I finally put my foot down and said, “no more. we have to stop this out of control spending.”

    The next week I was arrested and taken to jail. When arraigned I was told that I had been arrested for family violence – spouse abuse. I was devastated because I was a medical professional and firefighter that worked with abused spouses. I thought I needed to kill myself to protect my children and those around me — I was a monster and did not even know it.

    I divorced and found myself going crazy. Then one day an elderly woman told me a story about how a young nurse had robbed her of $20,000+. The nurse had been hired to help take care of a bed-ridden husband and housekeeping. The young nurse told the elderly woman that her husband was a deadbeat and drank so much that he could not find or keep a job. The elderly woman helped her by giving her money. Then the young nurse told the elderly woman that her husband had showed up drunk and beat her, taking all the money. She was traumatized. The elderly woman gave the young nurse thousands of dollars to put the husband in jail and get a divorce. After the divorce the young nurse told the elderly woman that her husband did not go to jail and had gotten away without paying any child support.

    The elderly woman became suspicious and hired an investigator to find out more about the x-husband. The investigator told her that the x-husband did not drink, had three stable jobs (fireman, nurse, army reserves) for decades and was paying almost $1000/month child support. When the elderly woman confronted the young nurse about it she just walked away and said nothing.

    That is when the elderly woman contacted the x-husband (Yes – me). I never knew what hit me… or why. But I was lucky. When I showed the elderly woman that I had divorce the young nurse because she refused to tell the truth (I was innocent)…. more questions began to form. My X told me that she was tricked/forced into accusing me of the offense and that she was too frightened to tell them the truth because they might “Go after her”.

    I was found not guilty in court after it was proven that she had lied about so many other things. I divorced her and was grateful to pay child support as it was about 110% less than what she had been spending.

    Over time I began to realize some of the things that had happened. The things that I would misplace….. the things that I would lose….. the people that I would avoid because I was told that they all thought I was stupid and would make fun of me behind my back. None of it was true. I met a doctor (friend) about a year later and asked him about some of the things I was told that he was saying about me. He was shocked. He told me that my X had been fired from her job for doing bad things to other employees.

    I could go on for hours about the things she did. I was always apologizing for her. I was always taking responsibility for things that she did. I was always second guessing myself. But after reading your post I realized that you already know it all. She did everything that you have in your post….. and much, much more.

    Thank God I escaped with my soul.

    What makes it worse is knowing now that I was raised by a mother that did the same thing ….. this is most likely what it was so easy for me to believe that my wife was nothing abnormal.

    I have a good wife now and a new family. I have been married for about 15 years now and have a wonderful daughter and grand daughter. I have two good retirements and beautiful home. But the I still have PTSD from my first marriage that haunts me from time to time. Men are Victims too.

    • That is very true. Men are victims too. I’m glad you were able to move on and out and have a new life, and I hope you heal from the past. God bless.

  19. So I recently worked out my partner is a narcissist, I have always apologised for finding out about his affairs, discovering a lie, and for my reaction to these things. When I leave the abuse amplify’s, nasty threats to me directed at me and my family, mostly verbal and very rarely physical. All my friends were cut off and my family took a massive step back, I have very recently made friends of my own who mentioned things which had me noticing the situation I was in and the types of things he says and does. Most recent I was upset about yet another all nighter at the pub which initially started with a lie him saying he is at work but actually sitting with a beer in his hand and we were arguing because he had also done it the night before, his response was if I had picked up my phone he wouldn’t of gone out ( I missed one call, and didn’t bother to return it) well I didn’t kindly to being blamed and called him on it, he then brought up our dog that recently passed and asked me how I feel about it, I mentioned that I can’t stop seeing him in the hole out the back and he yelled at me for that and something about me hating him for putting the dog out the back, I rolled my eyes and walked off as I figured I wasn’t going to get any where and the tirade of verbal abuse started. I came to terms with this all making him a narcissist but reading this I can see I have been gas lighted by him for the majority of our 16 year relationship it honestly shocked me and made me tear up

    • Yes, finding the truth can be shocking. I am so glad you have though – I hope you find peace and healing

  20. I believe this happens to me my wife of 18 years
    Asked me to leave the family home 8 years ago she kept saying she needed space every question i asked to whats going on she would ask me what do i mean ie always answered with a question she would make everything seem normal tell me we are ok and we will sort things out via counselling but never did now she said its all my fault and i should of booked counselling and not left it to her and she cannot be bothered she admitted to texting and meeting 2 other guys while i was having kids while she said she was out with friends and she put the blame on me again

  21. Meriah – I think you might have just saved my life. Bless you. And thank you. So much.

  22. Icy Sedgwick Reply

    I’ve had the misfortune to be friends with two gaslighters, and I’ve also been in relationships with two of them. Thankfully, now I know the symptoms, I call people on it as soon as I see it. Sometimes I’ve found people will say things like “that’s not how I remember it” because their ego is trying to protect them for whatever they did wrong, or people do just misremember things, but calling them on it gives everyone the chance to clear the air. Genuine people will do so. Narcissists will not. It’s a helpful way to ‘out’ them.

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