10 Subtle Signs of Gaslighting (How To Spot A Gaslighter)

Gaslighters can subtly distort your perceptions of reality.

They can make you question the very things that you grew up with, such as your favorite color, your love for chocolate, or your fondness for puppies.

Gaslighting is psychological manipulation. It makes doubt your own experiences and ultimately your own sanity.

Today, gaslighting is a well-known cultural phenomenon, but it is still a pop-psychology term, and the American Psychological Association (APA) does not formally recognize it.

Video by HIP.

Discover why do people gaslight in relationships (some of the reasons are truly surprising).

10 Subtle Signs of Gaslighting

10 Subtle Signs of Gaslighting (How To Spot A Gaslighter)

Gaslighter works to convince the victim that what they are feeling is not real, by using tactics such as playing the blame game, intimidation, and psychological isolation.

Here are the 10 subtle signs of gaslighting:

1. Gaslighters are intolerant of criticism and disagreement.

They cannot calmly accept any feedback that does not agree with their viewpoints.

Pointing out their mistakes is often a trigger to make them explode in anger (as frequently seen in narcissistic rage).

2. Gaslighters are bullying and trollish in nature.

They would often raise their voice and show aggression to get the other person to bend to their wishes and worldview.

They tend to hammer their point of view until the other person yields.

They can frequently convince their victim to give in to even the smallest of their demands.

The gaslighter in a relationship is usually easy to spot: they are mostly the more dominating partner.

Many online trolls are gaslighters.

3. They raise doubts about your high intelligence.

They keep questioning you if you correctly remember your memories, or if you’re actually expressing what you truly felt and perceived.

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They keep doing it for many little things, and for a long time, until they find out you have also started to question your own memories and realities.

4. They stage and manage events to win trust.

They may predict an event and then stage a full set of arrangements to make it come true.

For example, they may tell you before going out to a celebratory event that you may win a prize in a fun contest, and then make all the arrangements to make you win.

They keep predicting events and fabricating reality to match their predictions so that you increasingly become trustful of their intuitions.

5. Gaslighters isolate you from your relatives and friends.

They use subtle manipulation to gradually convince you that you are not perceiving things correctly because people around you are hiding things from you.

They also tell you that they are the only ones who know the truth, so, you must believe them instead of what others are telling you.

Remember, they may start subtly and almost harmlessly, but they are persistent. In time, they will muddle your thinking and erode your sense of daily life.

6. Gaslighters do not accept any truth that goes against them.

They will not accept any opposition to their fabricated reality, even if it is in the form of undeniable truths.

Even when you insist that what you know and see is the only truth, they will keep claiming that you are imagining things.

When shown evidence, they may shamelessly respond with, “It is all in your head” and back off for a while.

7. They never stop their gaslighting act.

Either they are gaslighting you or they are scheming about the next steps all their waking hours.

They are always waiting for that moment when you will express your first doubt.

At such point, they will invariably respond with, “I told you so, but you won’t believe me that you are forgetting things these days.”

From then on, they will double down on their efforts to push you inside their “fake reality bubble.”

At precisely this point, the gaslighter smells the win and feels that your mental sanity is at the breaking point, and you can be proved to be a “crazy” person.

8. Gaslighters are low on empathy and compassion.

Empathy is the understanding of the experiences and feelings of others.

Compassion is the ability to understand another person’s feelings as well as the desire to help reduce that person’s suffering.

Gaslighters will never empathize with your misery and distress. They won’t because they have created it to take advantage of it.

If they ever show you compassion, it will be fake to increase your dependence on them.

Their callousness toward your state of mind will eventually break you down.

Then they will exploit your breakdown to portray you as mentally sick. Then they will blame all your mental sickness as your fault.

9. They often mask their gaslighting as microaggressions.

Gaslighters often begin their gaslighting as microaggressions (tiny sparks of angry reactions).

Then they will gradually make it into a more frequent and more regular pattern.

They will turn your erstwhile balanced relationship into an abuser-victim equation (Victim–Perpetrator Dynamics), which is psychologically damaging.

10. They may use psychological projection on you.

A gaslighter’s hallmark strategy is projection.

To project means to attribute their traits and actions to you as your behavior.

Psychological projection is often used as a defense mechanism against negative attitudes and emotions.

When someone uses projection as a defense mechanism, they are projecting their own negative emotions or unacceptable behaviors onto someone else.

Gaslighters may tell you that you are a loser when they know deep down that they have been losers their entire lives.

As the victims struggle to save themselves, this diverts their attention away from the gaslighting action of their abuser.

Gaslighter-Script
What Does A Gaslighter Say? (Graphic by @themindgeek)

Effects of Gaslighting On The Victim

Prolonged gaslighting can break a victim’s self-esteem, erode their confidence, distort their self-image and viewpoint, and even lead to the appearance of anxiety and depression.

Some other effects of gaslighting are PTSD, suicidal ideation, high blood pressure, overthinking, paranoia, debilitating frustration, learned helplessness, symptoms of dependence disorder, and phobias.

Some victims may experience a “nervous breakdown” as a result of their partner’s gaslighting behavior, and in the worst cases, may inflict self-harm.

Sometimes, however, we ourselves might have gaslighted others many times but did not realize it. On the flip side, people do not always realize they are being gaslighted.

Origin Story of Gaslighting

The term “gaslighting” comes from George Cukor’s 1944 film Gaslight.

It has a husband gaslighting his wife for forgetting things, but she blames only herself for her memory lapses. Only much later does she realize he has been making up false facts to drive her insane.

Early in the film Gaslight, the husband Gregory Anton asks his on-screen wife Paula to look at the wall behind her. Paula looks back and gasps,

“The picture is gone again!”

“Yes. Where have you hidden it this time?” asks Gregory.

“I didn’t take it. Why should I take it? It’s of no use to me.” Paula says through her tears.

She rushes upstairs to her room but stops at the landing. She sees the framed photo looking out from behind the staircase cabinet. Gregory walks up to the landing and tells her,

“So, you did know where it was.”

Gregory wants to prove that she lies about things because she’s losing her ability to remember them.

He later uses his signature ploy: secretly dimming and brightening the gaslight. When Paula complains about the flickering of lights, he claims she is hallucinating it.

The gaslighted victim-wife was played by Ingrid Bergman, who won that year’s Academy Award for best actress in a leading role.

Final Words

Never forget that a gaslighter’s ultimate goal is to drive you insane.

They will push you until you give up trying to prove your reality and accept their made-up version.

That is the point at which they win and you are judged mentally unfit to remain in society.

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Check out another interesting aspect of this: Unconscious Gaslighting.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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