The Unbearable Mental Weight of Unconscious Gaslighting

In unconscious gaslighting, the gaslighter is unaware that their words and questions are playing mind games with the victim. However, this lack of awareness or intention does not make the victim suffer any less than in a typical case of classic gaslighting.

Gaslighters imprison you inside a manufactured reality, eventually making you solely dependent on them to interpret your world. Click To Tweet

So, how could you protect yourself when the gaslighter doesn’t even realize, and hence doesn’t accept, that they have you under their siege?


What Is Unconscious Gaslighting?

Unconscious gaslighting is emotional manipulation that occurs without any clear intent to exploit. The gaslighter is unaware of their deceptive mind games, so when confronted, they respond with reflexive denials. The end result is the same as in classic gaslighting: victims start questioning their own mental sanity.

Classic gaslighting is common in toxic relationships, but several businesses and political leaders also do it. Unconscious gaslighting, sometimes known as “unintentional gaslighting” is common among those who are close, such as those between partners, family members, and friends, in which the person is emotionally vulnerable and open.

Now, typical gaslighters intentionally manipulate people into doubting their own words, thoughts, and memories. It’s common for them to quip, “No, I didn’t say that. In fact, it was you who said that!”

The classic gaslighters convince their victims of having hallucinations and becoming mentally unstable.

But in the case of unconscious gaslighting, since the gaslighter is unaware of it, they see no reason to change their ways.

Unconscious gaslighting is the involuntary version of gaslighting.

Video by HIP.

Unconscious gaslighters are oblivious to the fact that their actions inflict mental pain on the people they care about. In truth, they do not act out of any obvious malice toward the person they are gaslighting.

However, their gaslighting may still have a hidden underlying motive to erode their victim’s overpowering independence and free will.

There is a high likelihood of gaslighting occurring if the conversation has many contentious topics, or the issues under discussion are broadly negative, and the offending person plays a vital role in our lives.

In the final effect, the victim begins to doubt the validity of their own thoughts, decisions, and memories. They lose their autonomy and self-esteem, remain confused about their reality, and become uncertain of their mental stability.

As a result, they typically grow overly dependent on the perpetrator, often blaming themselves for their pitiful condition.

When someone is manipulating you, you end up second-guessing yourself and turning your attention to yourself as the person to blame. — Robin Stern Click To Tweet

Interestingly, the term “gaslighting” stems from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband tries to convince his wife she is going insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting she is misremembering or misinterpreting them.

Reasons Why We Accept Unconscious Gaslighting

Unconscious gaslighting has a negative effect on one’s ability to form a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. It may be triggered by a few causes:

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1. Codependency

A relatable reason for a person’s continued acceptance of unconscious gaslighting is that they were previously co-dependent on their partner.

As a result, they may have identified with the abusive partner rather than with themselves. Over time, the victim becomes excessively dependent on their partner, and the partner enjoys this dominance.

Codependency is a relationship issue in which two people get emotionally and behaviorally invested in each other to the point that they cannot act on their own. Almost all the ideas and actions of a codependent revolve around their partner.

2. Shame or Guilt

Another reason the victim accepts unconscious gaslighting is that they are often overwhelmed by shame and guilt, and so they are unable to question the gaslighting person or know how to deal with it.

Gaslighters strategically distract their victim from the abusive behavior by drawing their attention away from the behavior, often providing an alternative target to cope with.

3. Past Trauma

Unconscious gaslighting may occur after a traumatic event, such as sexual, physical, or verbal abuse. A common tactic in such instances is pointing toward victim-shaming social media posts that ask them to blame themselves.

4. Need For Approval

The victim of unconscious gaslighting may also have a high need for approval and validation. They may feel rejected, unworthy and guilty when the gaslighting person does not approve of their behavior, even subtly.

Unconscious gaslighting may also be caused by a person’s unconscious self-talk and values.

Some people never forget to point out a lesser, weaker, improper version of ourselves. Deny them access to your life, the same way you stop your past from messing with your present. Click To Tweet

How To Handle Unconscious Gaslighting?

There is no reason to plead with a gaslighter, who knows well they are doing it to damage you, to change their behavior. The right course of action is to leave the scene or to put up strong barriers between them and you if you can’t leave the relationship.

However, when faced with an unconscious gaslighter, who unknowingly seeks control over you, it may be a good option to talk with them to make them aware of their actions and their effect on you.

Identifying and challenging the signs of unconscious gaslighting can be difficult since it is an intricate form of manipulation that stems from deep within the unconscious mind.

– Dr. Sandip Roy

Moreover, because unconscious gaslighting is so common, it can be difficult to pinpoint when it occurs. In some cases, even if you notice it at all, it might be so subtle that you prefer to ignore it. That psyches up the gaslighter.

Here are a few tips to help you deal with unconscious gaslighting:

1. Challenge Their Behavior

Unconscious gaslighting is rarely provoked when the issue under denial is trivial and incidental. In such instances, you could avoid it by simply avoiding the contentious issues or temporarily ignoring that individual.

The aim of the perpetrator, however unobvious, is to make sure their target remains in their thrall, rather than brave out to question their behavior. The gaslighter subliminally forces the victim to either lose or degrade their self-esteem. This leads the victim to become more compliant.

Challenge that. Tell them you are not a slave to be ruled by their falsified beliefs.

Remain defiant and show resilience. Keep trusting your version of the reality, even when they point out your “craziness” in doing so.

Take control of your life by taking responsibility for your choices. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Of course, if it gets overwhelming, seek help from your social circle, family, or counselors.

2. Change Your Perspective

Gaslighters find it hard to admit their guilt when caught. Then, they do not easily apologize. Their apologies sound like, “OK, I’m sorry if you say so. Are you happy now?”

On the other hand, it’s the victim who keeps frequently apologizing, asking pardon for mistakes they did not make.

They will evade accountability and blame it back on you. In all probability, they will not change their behavior, or if they do, it will be grudgingly until they revert to their old ways.

You might try seeing the situation through your perpetrator’s eyes and divng underneath their actions. You may discover that their provocation to gaslight you is the result of being gaslighted by someone else in their present or previous life.

Once you find this new perspective, make a firm decision about which way forward is right for you. Remember, any decision you make doesn’t need their endorsement.

Build courage to expose and oppose them. Seek moral support from people who have equal or higher authority than the gaslighter. If none of these options look possible, flee the scene or install strong barriers between them and you.

Acknowledge and self-assert that you are not “crazy”, which is what the other person would lead you into thinking. You are not a bad person by nature, so don’t accept that.

Let go of your wish for things to be different. Think differently. Your best bet is on you. Assure yourself that you have the power to change the direction of your life.

Let yourself be happy more often. Choose to make yourself happy.

3. Develop An Attitude of Detachment

Living in a gaslighted environment can make you hypervigilant about your judgments and decisions.

You are often so confused that you cannot make a final decision on your own. You try to go over every option multiple times to make sure you fully grasp the situation before approaching your gaslighter for validation.

A practice of Stoic detachment can help you distinguish between actual reality and fake reality.

So, whenever an incident of gaslighting occurs, detach yourself from the situation and write an account of it from a third person’s point of view. This detached narrative allows you to rationally reflect on the event and determine when it went off the rails.

4. Seek Professional Help

Living in a world that puts you down almost every day can make it hard to take care of your emotional self.

At any point, if you feel you are unable to handle your hurt, gaslighted self alone, please reach out and get help from a counselor. Let them assist you in learning the techniques and approaches for avoiding emotional triggers.

Seek out people who are trained to help you heal your hurt feelings and cope with the negative fallout of unconscious gaslighting. They can help you regain your perspective on your situation.

5. Quick Strategies

Ask open-ended questions: Be as curious as you would be if the conversation was happening in a normal social setting.

Expose their manipulativeness: When dealing with an unconscious gaslighter who is attempting to fool you, try to uncover their deception and stop it. If it is not possible, flee or create barriers.

Avoid triggering gaslighting: Avoid making any type of judgment about the other person.

Avoid assigning motives: You don’t have to determine whether someone is gaslighting you based on a label or if they are lying. Rather, you can watch their body language for behaviors that would be inconsistent with their assertions.

Avoid triggering denial: When dealing with an unconscious gaslighter who is attempting to preserve their denial, try to avoid triggering it in the first place. You could also assist them in confronting their denial and overcoming it. If none of them are possible, flee or create barriers.

Avoid revealing your true self: When dealing with an unconscious gaslighter who is prejudiced against your personality, try to mask your true self so that it does not trigger their prejudice. Try seeking support from people who make you feel safe and protected, or fight the prejudice itself.

Avoid making presumptions: Be careful not to assume others are not wrong because you don’t think so. Ask questions until you find the truth. And remember, in any case, you deserve to be treated with respect.


Are emotionally vulnerable more prone to gaslighting?

Emotionally vulnerable people are more likely to be gaslighted since they find it hard to detect subtle manipulation and, even when they do, cannot easily challenge the perpetrator.

Emotional vulnerability is one’s ability or willingness to identify, accept, and express difficult or painful emotions, like shame, dejection, sadness, jealousy, anxiety, and insecurity.

Can gaslighting be done unconsciously?

Yes, gaslighting can be unconscious, which occurs when the person gaslighting is unaware that they are doing it. It happens when the gaslighter does not intend to manipulate the other person into believing that they are going insane. It is common in close relationships such as parents, children, partners, and spouses.

What is shadow gaslighting?

Shadow gaslighting is a term used to describe the act of using “indirect” tactics to manipulate and discredit a target. It typically involves the gaslighter trying to sow doubts about what’s going on in someone else’s life, by convincing them that their own perception of reality is warped.

It is a more subtle form of manipulation, but no less harmful. Shadow gaslighting often occurs in a relationship in which one party is in a position of power over the other. The person in power may begin to sow seeds of doubt in the person’s psyche using indirect and manipulative tactics, making them question their own sense of reality and sanity.

Final Words

A gaslighter serves you false information, which you accept as true, muddling up your reality. That is the defining character of gaslighting, whether of intentional or unconscious type.

Unconscious gaslighters are not aware of their acts, therefore they refuse they made any attempt at gaslighting. Those caught in their trap are unable to find a reason to break away since their allegations do not make sense.

Thus, it creates a vicious cycle of gaslighting—accusation—denial—hesitation (to break up)—more gaslighting.

• Updated: May 20, 2022. • Original: Jun 09, 2021.

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Narcissists love themselves too much. In doing that, they can seriously harm you. Find out more about them.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, chief editor of its blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

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