Author: Paul R. Brian & Renée Shen
Gaslighting feels awful. But what is it exactly?
It’s when we are told that a problem or feeling we have is either not happening, is in our imagination, or is our own fault!
How twisted, right?
Sadly, many guys (and to be fair, women too) engage in gaslighting their partners in relationships.
But it’s important to acknowledge that gaslighting also occurs in many other areas of life as well.
It also occurs in the workplace, in friendships, between parents and their children, and just about any other relationship we can have in life.
Here’s how to spot the subtle signs of gaslighting and how to outsmart a gaslighter.
Table of Contents
A talented gaslighter doesn’t shout at you or bully you openly. They slowly twist your perceptions and make you doubt your own eyes.
This is one of the most subtle signs of gaslighting, but sadly also the most common.
That time you noticed them flirting with another girl over private messages on Instagram?
That was your own jealousy. It’s you who did something wrong by suspecting them of infidelity!
When you saw that the car had a problem and mentioned it to him, then it broke down the next day - yeah, it was your fault.
You should have been more specific about what the problem was. You’re so confusing!
Do you see how this goes? You’re wrong about everything and your perceptions and memories are false.
Emotional manipulation is one of the favorite tools of a gaslighter.
The main reason is that it’s fairly easy to do.
If you see something wrong or point out a mistake they have made in any way, they will simply emotionally manipulate you into withdrawing your criticism or feeling like you’re the one who did something wrong.
Alternatively, emotional manipulation can be used to achieve their desires.
For example, if you don’t buy a gift somebody wants or give them a loan, they may say you don’t seem to care enough about them or are stingy and mean-hearted.
This is one of the most seemingly harmless signs of a seriously toxic relationship.
If you complain about them never helping you out, they may say that you don’t appreciate how hard they work, that you are being disparaging or overly critical.
This brings me to the next point:
One of the signs of gaslighting is when you often catch someone blaming you for their problems.
This is often more low-key and insidious than you might expect.
The successful gaslighter doesn’t generally just come right out and say all their problems are on you.
Instead, they take something with a grain of truth and then expand and exaggerate it beyond any realistic level.
For example, a friend may point out that you’ve been out of touch recently and that it’s made them feel lonely. Fair enough, not great!
But then they expand that into saying you clearly don’t actually care about the friendship and are a selfish person, demanding that you make up for it by going to an event this weekend.
In fact, you may have just been very busy at work. They are gaslighting you and blaming you for their own reaction to your current life situation.
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If you’ve ever seen a talented salesman at work then you know that one of their favorite tactics is simply repetition.
They repeat the benefits of their product or service over and over, crowding out your ability to think clearly.
Sometimes this works in stimulating you to just go ahead and make the purchase.
Make it stop! your mind screams as the salesman smiles and goes on about the benefits of this phone or that armchair.
You whip out your wallet in the hopes that you’ll finally have a rest.
A talented gaslighter works in much the same way, wearing out your energy until you agree to whatever they want simply out of exhaustion.
Constant interruption is toxic to say the least, and it’s not only a sign that someone disrespects you, it’s a potential sign of gaslighting.
If you want to know how to outsmart a gaslighter, which I’m going to get to in a little bit, you need to understand this tactic.
It’s more or less a constant habit in the case of many gaslighters.
They interrupt almost everything you say, finish your sentences for you, demand that you rephrase what you’ve said or police your words.
This kind of verbal aggressiveness is one of their key strategies, because if somebody can control what you say and how you say it, they can more or less control you.
And isn’t controlling you the main objective of any gaslighter?
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We’re all the protagonists in our own story. We see the world through our own eyes and walk in it in our own shoes.
So it’s natural that we feel our own emotions most of all, and sometimes don’t realize what others are going through.
But most of us at least care and are curious about how others are feeling.
The gaslighter tends to believe that his or her feelings are more important and meaningful than everyone else’s.
That includes you.
(Narcissist gaslighting, anyone?)
For this reason, they will often downplay or even dismiss what you feel about any given situation or issue.
Some examples of comments they will make are:
“Ah, don’t focus on such stupid things.”
“You’re so sensitive!”
“You’re upset over nothing!”
Here’s some more examples in this great infographic by Renée:
On a related note of the subtle signs of gaslighting is when they ignore what you believe or perceive.
It’s not only your emotions which are portrayed as unimportant or secondary: it’s also what you actually believe, see and notice.
None of it is important, and none of it is worthy of discussing because everything you believe or see is wrong.
As I said in point one, the gaslighter will often make you doubt what you see with your own eyes.
They may also play down all your gut feelings as “drama” or just you being crazy.
He or she may also make you believe that your views about the world and everyone around you are biased, wrong or delusional.
It’s only them who truly “gets it,” whereas your only chance at truly understanding the world and succeeding in it is to do what they say.
As you can imagine, this trait becomes especially dangerous when it reaches the level of national politics, corporate chiefs or positions of significant power.
The gaslighter will also prey on any insecurities you have and blow them up to their maximum size.
If you’re insecure about your weight, they will often bring up the general topic of weight, or if you never went to university they may discuss many things about higher education when they want to poke at you and make you feel insecure.
“Oh, but yeah, that’s more of a university thing that happens, so…”
And many more catty comments such as this may be dropped in order to lower your position and make you feel lower value or insecure.
If you want to know how to outsmart a gaslighter which I’ll get to soon, you need to realize that whenever they put you down it’s because they want to influence or unfairly control you.
If you find that you can’t escape your insecurities, then you might want to focus on eliminating those insecurities.
Not completely, because nobody is ever fully rid of insecurities.
However, you want to eliminate the pattern of going to insecurities and wallowing in them.
Because when you let your insecurities influence how you act and what decisions you make in your relationships, you’ll be very vulnerable to gaslighting.
We recommend you develop what is called a “High Value Mindset”, and we have a whole online course on High Value Mindsets.
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Another sign of gaslighting is when the gaslighter references or draws on other people who can tell you how wrong you are.
If you don’t want to do something, believe something or go along with their demands then you are not only wrong in their eyes but also in the eyes of their friends, various other experts or even “everyone.”
Bullying like this is a low blow by any standards, but the gaslighter isn’t afraid to go there.
You often see politicians engage in this, for example, by doing an appeal to authority of this kind:
“Many people are saying…”
“Numerous top experts note that these people are a threat to democracy,” and so on…
Among the most worrisome and subtle signs of gaslighting are trying to embarrass or make you feel stupid.
This can be done in all sorts of ways including but not limited to:
“Ah, but you wouldn’t get it…”
“Literally everyone knows that it’s carbs that make you fat, but you want to tell me about being more active?”
And so on…
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Do you notice them implying that you are selfish all the time? Or perhaps they keep suggesting that you just don’t get the long-term value of something.
Well, these can also be worrying gaslighting behaviors to look out for.
If you don’t agree with their views or try to approach this person about any concern or topic they don’t feel like engaging on they will derail it.
This is usually to change the topic or to talk about how you are only questioning them or being skeptical because of your own egotism or lack of understanding about the big picture.
“Well, yes, I cheated, once, but the frustrations in the relationship were getting too much. I did it for us for the long-term so I wouldn’t just walk away on the spot. Don’t you get it?”
Wow. Just wow, right?
The first instinct for how to outsmart a gaslighter for most people is to stand up to them.
You want to hurl their lies right back in their face and tell them you won’t take it anymore.
Sadly, this tends to just feed straight into their narrative and they will use any dramatic reaction on your part to claim that it proves how unreasonable and negative you are.
Instead, let them talk and wear themselves out with their distortions and games.
If you want to know how to outsmart a gaslighter you need to learn to stand up to them without becoming like them.
Calmly exposing their lies is a matter of waiting until there’s actual silence for you to talk without interruption.
Then, without becoming angry or aggressive, calmly explain why the things they said were untrue.
Say you don’t want to fight and you will not play games in this way. Tell them that you are willing to talk if and when they are not so upset.
When they claim not to be upset, tell them that they should then talk to you without accusations and false statements.
The best answer for how to outsmart a gaslighter is to not play their game in the first place.
If you’re in a relationship with a gaslighter or they’re a close family member or colleague, it may not always be possible to shut down the interaction right away…
But you can refuse to play.
This means refusing to react impulsively or emotionally to their attempted manipulation.
Secondly, it means showing them the consequences of what they’re doing.
Many times a gaslighter is narcissistic and he or she only has their own goals and desires in mind.
Sometimes it can help to:
Obviously this will only work on people who are not really meaning to hurt you, and who just don’t know any better.
(Perhaps they took toxic behaviors from their parents or friends growing up, and think it’s ok to act this way).
Letting them see how they hurt you won’t work on a true narcissist, as a true narcissist will either pretend they care about your feelings to manipulate you, or they’ll go harder with the abuse just because you were vulnerable to them.
…Just to control you.
But it’s worth a try on someone who has held onto some semblance of normalcy.
When it comes to knowing how to outsmart a gaslighter, one thing you must do is be able to walk away from their trap.
Their trap is in you throwing further accusations their way and getting down in the mud of hurt feelings and taking it very personally.
Instead, focus on showing them how you feel hurt.
Don’t blame them, which would be entering their game again…
Rather, tell them that you are not sure how to respond when your motives are questioned so much and that you feel very hurt.
You know they mean well, hopefully, but it doesn’t feel that way!
You’d really appreciate it if both of you could approach this interaction in a different and more constructive way.
If you’re dating a guy who gaslights you and you find that not even this step works, I’ve got something for you.
Namely, two specific words you can say to him that will not only show him exactly how feel about his mistreatment, but also make you look high value in the process…
(And if he cannot take these two words, that’s when you know that he’s not a quality guy by any stretch of the imagination).
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Many of the subtle signs of gaslighting I’ve mentioned in the above list can build up for months or even years.
Sometimes the gaslighter has become so habituated to acting like this that they barely realize what they’re doing anymore or how it affects others.
Once you’ve explained how you feel they are being inaccurate and hurting you, sometimes the only option left is to walk away.
This is where you literally exit the interaction if at all possible, up to and including quitting a job or a relationship if necessary.
Paul R. Brian
Paul Rowan Brian is a freelance journalist, author and writer from Canada. He's written for Ideapod, Hack Spirit and Love Connection and is focused on culture, relationships and self-development. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian.
Author & Editor For National Council for Research on Women. Founder of the popular women's dating & relationship advice website, The Feminine Woman.
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