Gaslighting Definition & Meaning (+signs, examples, quotes)

Lara had met the perfect match. He adored her and spoiled her with gifts, surprise trips, and fancy dates. It seemed like he was head over heels in love with her. However, as time passed, things did not seem so rosy anymore. 

One fine day, Lara and her beau were on a date that went terribly wrong, and he was rude to her and verbally abused her, calling her names. The following day, he pretended that everything was alright. When Lara mentioned his behavior, he told her that she had drunk too much alcohol and probably mixed up their date night with a bad dream. He maintained that they never got into an argument that night. 

This is a classic example of gaslighting. 

Sam’s girlfriend Joe called him his Prince Charming and savior. She would flaunt him in front of her friends and tell everyone how amazing he was. However, as their relationship progressed, it seemed Sam was making a lot of mistakes. 

He would ruin date night by not choosing the right restaurant or be jealous of Joe texting a coworker late at night due to his poor self-esteem. It seemed to him as if he was walking on eggshells around Joe, and he would try extremely hard to be the best partner to her but would always be wrong. 

He was confused by what would happen and started getting anxious. 

When he finally opened up about his relationship issues to his roommate, things started becoming clear. Joe would always accuse him of overreacting, but it seemed to his roommate that it wasn’t the case and that his concerns and reactions were legitimate. 

According to the American Psychological Association, gaslighting is manipulating “another person into doubting his or her perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.

The term became popular due to an infamous 1938 British stage play, Gas Light. The husband would make deliberate changes in the household–such as dimming the gaslight–while telling his wife that she only imagined it, driving her to insanity. 

Understanding Gaslighting 

Gaslighting is a form of covert manipulation that can characterize abusive relationships. This type of emotional abuse involves misleading the victim into believing a false narrative of events, leading them to question their reality and judgment.

Someone who has chronically experienced gaslighting may start to feel like they’re going crazy and are losing their sanity.

While most people think that gaslighting mainly occurs in romantic relationships, it can also happen in other relationships, such as friendships, among family members, at work, etc. 

The Ins and Outs of How Gaslighting Works

Gaslighting works by making a person question their judgment and memory. Most people report feeling dazed and confused after such an encounter and often wonder what is wrong with them. 

Here’s how people describe their initial thoughts after encountering a gaslighter. 

At first, I believed him, his point honestly made sense, and I felt really bad about myself.” 

Cecilia*

“When we got off the phone, I felt awful about myself and was disappointed at myself for letting my mental health affect my relationship with the most amazing woman I knew. I felt like a real a**hole.”

Jonathan*

*names changed

Let’s take a look at what’s going on underneath the surface: 

Lying

People who gaslight are excellent pathological liars that show hints of narcissist behavior. They can look you in the eye and lie to you without flinching or changing their story. 

If you call them out for their lies, they will make you question your reality by saint things like, “you’re crazy!” “you’re making it all up” and “it never happened.” 

Even if you know that they might be lying to you, the lies can be so convincing that they make you second-guess your perception and stance, something that the gaslighter is counting on you to do. 

Distraction 

When you’re in an active argument with a gaslighter, you might often find yourself derailed from the actual topic in an attempt to distract you. 

Minimizing Your Feelings 

It’s common to hear the words “you’re overreacting” “you’re being too sensitive.” “It wasn’t even that big a deal.” “you’re blowing this out of proportion.” from the mouth of a gaslighter. 

These phrases attempt to make your feelings less valid and remove emphasis from what’s going on in your emotional world. You may feel hurt, ashamed, and misunderstood. 

Blame-shifting 

Blame-shifting is yet another emotional manipulation tactic used in combination with gaslighting. Every discussion you have may be twisted in ways that make you look bad. You might leave the conversation feeling bad about yourself and sorry for your actions and behavior. 

It may seem like everything going wrong in the relationship is inadvertently your fault. 

Using Words as Swords

They may dangle loving words and phrases in an attempt to manipulate you. You may hear things like, “I’m doing this for us.”, “I‘m only saying this because I love you.“, “You need to improve if you want me to marry you.” 

These words may be ones that you would like to hear to get some comfort, which the gaslighter is aware of.

Rewriting the Story 

The gaslighter will always retell stories in a way that makes them look like the good guy in the end. 

For example, if they hurled abuses at you for being late, they might retell the story by saying that you threw something at first, which led to them using explicit language. 

Signs of Gaslighting: Am I Gaslight? 

Since gaslighting is a covert manipulation tactic, it is hard to discover. This section of the article will go over some signs of gaslighting in detail

  • You find yourself unable to make decisions: You aren’t able to make any significant decisions without input from others because you have lost trust in yourself and your judgment. You often find yourself seeking validation from the gaslighter. 
  • You often ask yourself what’s wrong with you: The feeling that everything you do is wrong is hard to shake off. You often overthink and wonder what’s wrong with you and wish you were “normal.”
  • You feel insecure: You constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells with your partner and feel unsure about yourself as your self-esteem takes a hit. You may also feel powerless and may start wondering if you’re “crazy” or “unstable.” 
  • You question your perceptions and judgment: You would believe someone else’s version of events over yours as faith in your perspective starts to quiver. 
  • You feel that you constantly let everyone down: The feeling that you’re not good enough for your loved ones can take over. You might feel ashamed of yourself for letting your friends and family down, time and again. 
  • You’re often confused: You may find yourself confused as the version of events as you remember them seem different than the manipulator’s version. 
  • You second-guess your emotions: It can be hard to trust yourself and your feelings when you’re being manipulated. You may feel that you’re overreacting to things and are being too emotional. 
  • You feel more anxious: Chronic gaslighting can cause and contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety as you tend to live in an environment where your body engages in fight or flight mode. 

7 Common Gaslighting Phrases

Now that you have a better understanding of what gaslighting is, we’ll go over some of the most common gaslighting phrases in this section of the blog post. 

Take a look. 

You’re Crazy! You Need Help

People who gaslight often question your sanity and urge you to get help. Many people who have been gaslighted by their partners tend to seek therapy to please their partners. 

By questioning your sanity, the manipulator successfully convinces you that there’s something wrong with you while also staying in the clear. 

You Need to Work on That 

Manipulators often try to make you feel that they’re on your “side and want nothing but for you to be healthy. They use this phrase when you react so that the manipulator doesn’t like it. 

For example, Tiffany’s husband came home drunk at 4 am the fourth time in a row. Upon confronting him, he told her how she needed to work on her “anger issues.” 

Gosh, You’re so Jealous and Insecure 

This phrase can damage your self-esteem and self-worth while making you question your attractiveness and personality. The words can be harsh and cut deep. 

It looks Like Somebody’s Overreacting 

“You’re overreacting” is the go-to phrase that manipulators choose to gaslight their victims. This makes you feel that the manipulator doesn’t care about your emotional world. You feel like your emotions aren’t valid, given the situation. 

It Was a Joke 

Behaviors like name-calling, teasing, belittling, and taunting can be brushed off “as a joke by manipulators. 

You Heard That In Your Head 

Maybe that’s what you heard in your head, but that’s not what I was saying” is a simple yet effective tactic used by manipulators to make you question your judgment. 

With this line, not only does the manipulator shirk the responsibility of making you feel a certain way but also makes you believe that you’ve made it all up in your head.

You’re the Problem; You Need to Improve

Have you ever felt like you were the problem and everything happened because of you? This line takes a blow on your self-esteem while making you think that you need to constantly work on yourself to be better or worthy of the relationship

Understanding the Four Levels of Gaslighting

In this section of the article, we will briefly go over the four levels of gaslighting. Take a look: 

Unconscious Gaslighting 

As the name suggests, the person may not be aware of their actions and may not understand the impact of what they’re doing. In most cases, people who indulge in unconscious gaslighting are ego-centric and unable to understand someone else’s point of view. 

Awareness of Gaslighting 

The person may not be blatantly aware that they’re gaslighting but do recognize that something may be off. The behavior may cause some uneasiness, which may be compensated for with an unnecessary over-explanation of their point of view. 

Intentional Gaslighting 

In this case, the person knows that the kind of behavior they’re indulging in is harmful and yet indulges in it without any intention of serious harm. This may manifest as behaviors such as stonewalling, wherein the person may refuse to talk to you and may act oblivious. You may feel like you’ve been left out alone in the cold. 

Done with Malicious Intent 

Finally comes gaslighting, which is one with the desire to cause harm to the person. This comes in the forms of denial, manipulation, blatant lies, aligning others against you, projecting, etc. 

Identifying Gaslighting in Relationships: Am I Gaslight By My Partner? 

Gaslighting in relationships takes the form of emotional abuse and manipulation. The abuser tries to use their power to maintain control over their significant other. Since many emotions are involved, it can be hard to notice signs of gaslighting in relationships. 

In this section of the article, we will go over some of the most signs that you’re significant other is gaslighting you. 

Your Partner Seems to Dismiss Your Feelings

Your partner may never consider your feelings and doesn’t seem to be validating them when you express them. They might say things like:

  • “you’re being too sensitive,” 
  • “you’re overreacting,” 
  • “you don’t have the right to feel like this!” 

All of this is done as an attempt to dismiss your feelings and regain control while putting you in the hot seat. 

They’re the One Who Does All the Talking During a Conflict 

During an argument, you may feel like your partner isn’t hearing your point of view or understanding you. They may cut you off mid-sentence or steer the conversation in another direction altogether. This means that you may not feel heard in the relationship. 

You Often Find Yourself Questioning Your Reality 

The main motive of the gaslighter is to make you question your sense of reality and your unique point of you. You may start to second-guess your thoughts and feelings while in the relationship and receive the blame for things that go wrong in your relationship. 

Your partner may blame you or other circumstances for their behavior and will never apologize for their actions or for hurting you. 

You’re Always Wrong 

You may be made to believe that the current state of your relationship (especially during a conflict) is your fault and that you’re always in the wrong. Your partner may blame you for their feelings, emotions, and actions while asking you to change. 

You may be living under the constant fear that your partner may walk out on you and the relationship. 

You Feel Guilty All of the Time 

You may start feeling guilty all the time about voicing your concerns or sharing your feelings with your partner. They may say things like, “you always do this!” “Why do you always have to ruin a perfect day?” etc. 

This can be a sign of lop-sided control in your relationship. 

Inside the Mind of a Gaslighter: Why Do They Act Like This? 

There are many reasons why people gaslight, but it has to do with holding power and control over a person most of the time. In this section of the article, we will go over why people gaslight. 

It’s a Tool Used to Sustain the Relationship 

In the mind of the gaslighter, making their partner question their reality and doubt themselves is the only way to sustain a relationship. This is one of the tactics used to keep people in abusive relationships. 

They Like Having Power and Control 

Some research studies suggest that people enjoy having a certain amount of control over others, which may be why they indulge in gaslighting. 

It Makes Them Feel Better About Themselves 

In some instances, people gaslight to feel better about themselves because they can control someone else’s actions.

It’s a Self-Preservation Mechanism 

Gaslighting is often rooted in need for self-preservation while feeling in control. The gaslighter is trying to keep their faulty thoughts, feelings, and behaviors intact while negating yours. 

Sometimes, gaslighting may be rooted in insecurity and fear on the part of the manipulator. 

How to Deal With Gaslighting 

Awareness and recognizing what is happening are the first steps in gaslighting. 

Stand Your Ground 

The main aim of gaslighting is to create emotional dependency on the manipulator as they make you question your reality. It is essential to trust your memory and judgment while acknowledging your feelings. 

Phrases like “don’t tell me how to feel” or “I know what I saw” can be powerful in helping you take back control. 

Use a Journal 

Everyone has their unique way of perceiving events, and what may be true in our memory or version of the story may not be valid for someone else’s. It is essential to accept this truth of life. 

One of the ways how you can start listening to your voice is by journaling about your experiences to record how things happened from your perspective

This may seem simple, but it is an excellent tool in helping build confidence in yourself. 

It’s Okay to Leave the Conversation 

Gaslighters use various methods of manipulation in combination. So, they might blame-shift, minimize, etc., during a conversation or heated discussion to reiterate their point. 

Know that it is okay to leave a conversation if nothing good comes out of it. You do not need to be subjected to their internal monologue. The manipulator cannot make holes in your reality if you refuse to listen to them.

Talk to Others, Speak Social Support 

As we mentioned earlier, one of the main tasks of a gaslighter is to create emotional dependence. This means they might be actively trying to psychologically isolate you from your support system. 

It’s important to lean into the people you love and trust and share with them what’s happening so that the manipulator cannot downplay the situation’s intensity or put words in your mouth. 

Summing Up: Gaslighting Definition & Meaning 

We hope that this blog post has helped you understand the concept of gaslighting a little better. 

  • Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation wherein the gaslighter plants a seed of doubt in your mind regarding judgment, perception, and reality. 
  • It is covert, which means that it can be hard to detect, can leave you feeling misunderstood and confused, and can affect your self-confidence. 

If you have been a victim of gaslighting, you need to seek the support of your trusted friends and family members. Chronic gaslighting can lead to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. If you have been experiencing symptoms, seeking professional help is a good idea. 

Written by Kasia Ciszewski, LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram - Facebook - Pinterest - Twitter - Linkedin

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