Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which one person uses lies and manipulation to make their victim question reality. The concept gets its name from a classic thriller called Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to steal from his wife by convincing her she is slowly losing her sanity.

While gaslighting often happens in toxic romantic relationships, friends, colleagues and even politicians can play this trick. How does this phenomenon happen, and what can you do to recognize its signs in your life?

Why Is Gaslighting Harmful?

Besides being a form of dishonesty and a side effect of narcissistic personality disorder, gaslighting is a hallmark of relationship dysfunction that can chip away at the victim’s self-confidence, making them feel powerless. The resulting trauma can trigger mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, while impairing a victim’s decision-making abilities. In some cases, issues like mental fuzziness or confusion persist long after the relationship ends.

Abusers who gaslight may start slowly, first working to earn your love and affection by showering you with gifts and attention or making you feel important. Once they have established a baseline expectation of trust, they will start undermining your self-esteem and questioning your judgment. Ultimately, the gaslighter aims to gain control by exploiting your vulnerabilities and making you doubt yourself.

How to Identify Gaslighting

Since gaslighting is inherently deceptive, it can be tricky to identify, especially when it’s actively happening to you. Gaslighters are so subtle that you might not notice their activity, and so insidious that you begin to mistrust your instincts.

Gaslighting often involves a mismatch between the abuser’s words and deeds. To an outside observer, their behavior may appear caring and sympathetic, but behind closed doors, they are waging ongoing psychological warfare against you.

Here are some things an abuser might say when gaslighting you.

  • “I never meant that.”
  • “You know what a bad memory you have.”
  • “Stop putting words in my mouth.”
  • “You should have known I’d react that way.”
  • “I only did that because I love you so much.”
  • “You’re being too sensitive.”
  • “You are mentally unstable, and our friends think so, too.”
  • “I’m sorry you thought I hurt you.”

How to Seek Help for Gaslighting

If an abuser has broken down your faith in yourself and your ability to make healthy decisions, you’re less likely to stand up for what you believe in and leave the relationship for good. The resulting mental health issues can also make you more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Have you been the victim of an abusive relationship? Find hope at Rising Roads Recovery. The abuse is not your fault, your experiences are valid and you are not powerless to improve your life. Take ownership of your well-being by contacting our California women’s-only treatment facility today. Our admissions team will help verify your insurance coverage and answer your questions while maintaining complete confidentiality.