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How to Tell if Someone Is Gaslighting You in a Relationship

The use of the term “gaslighting” has increased considerably in recent years, to the point that Merriam-Webster selected it as its word of the year in 2022. But just because a word is used often, that doesn’t mean it is always used correctly. So, what does it mean to gaslight someone – and how can you tell if someone has been gaslighting you?

What Does It Mean to Gaslight Someone?

Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation in which one person tries to cause another person to doubt the accuracy of their memories or the validity of their experiences. 

Though this term became popular in the 2020s, its origins can be traced to the late 1930s: 

  • In December 1938, the play Gas Light premiered at the Richmond Theater in London. 
  • Set in the 1880s, this play focused on a man’s efforts to convince his wife that she is going insane so that he can have her institutionalized and then steal from her. 
  • The play’s title is a reference to the husband’s manipulation of the gas lighting in their home as part of his subterfuge.
  • The play was adapted into two films – a British version in 1940 and an American one in 1944 – both of which are titled Gaslight. 

Shifting our focus back to the present, what does it mean to gaslight someone today? 

Some people use the word gaslighting as a synonym for lying. However, while falsehoods and deceit are absolutely part of the gaslighting experience, this behavior has more sinister, duplicitous implications.

Gaslighting doesn’t only involve feeding someone incorrect information. It is intended not only to deceive a person, but to undermine their faith in their own perceptions, recollections, and judgment. 

Is Gaslighting a Form of Abuse?

In the play Gas Light and the film adaptations that followed, the husband’s actions were both abusive and criminal. As gaslighting is understood today, it is typically employed as a means of emotional or psychological abuse, often (though not always) in the context of a marriage, partnership, or other type of romantic relationship. 

As we noted in the previous section, people who gaslight others do so as a means of sowing confusion or promoting self-doubt, often for the purpose of shifting the balance of power in a relationship or exerting control over another person. Neither of these intentions are moral or ethical. While gaslighting may not always rise to the level of criminality, most experts agree that it is clearly an abusive behavior.

How Can You Tell if Someone Is Gaslighting You?

Knowing what does it mean to gaslight someone can help you intervene if a friend or family member is being abused in this way. Unfortunately, though, it’s not always easy to recognize gaslighting when it’s happening to you. Realizing that you are being victimized can be especially difficult when the person doing the gaslighting is someone that you thought you could trust.

The following scenarios are examples of how a gaslighter might try to manipulate you:

  • When you express anger or sadness about something objectionable that they said or did, they act like they don’t remember the situation you’re talking about, or they flat-out deny that it ever occurred.
  • When they can’t easily dispel your concerns via denial or claims that they don’t remember, they attempt to belittle or trivialize your feelings. This can include claiming that what they said or did was “just a joke,” that you are overreacting, or that you’re “crazy.”
  • They try to use your loved ones against you, making statements such as, “Everyone knows you always overreact like this,” or “Your family members told me you had a habit of making wild accusations like this when you were growing up.”
  • When you try to talk to them about something they’ve said or done, even when you approach the topic calmly and compassionately, they flip the conversation and try to put you on the defensive. They may claim that you are attacking them, that you were the person who was actually at fault, or that you have a history of saying or doing things that are much worse.
  • They simply refuse to acknowledge your emotional pain or respond to the concerns you raise. When you bring up a certain topic or attempt to discuss something that has been bothering you, they either immediately change the subject or simply ignore you.

How Does Gaslighting Affect Mental Health?

Being victimized by a gaslighter can have a profound negative impact on virtually all areas of your life. The strain of enduring such abusive behavior can impair your performance at work or in school, diminish the quality of your relationships with other people, and cause physical health problems.

It can also put you at risk for myriad mental and behavioral health concerns, such as:

  • Low self-esteem and poor self-image
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you believe that you are in imminent danger, or you don’t know who to turn to for assistance, here are two resources that can help:

Get Help to Overcome the Mental Health Impact of Gaslighting

If you have developed anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental health concern as a result of gaslighting or other forms of psychological abuse, Peachtree Wellness Solutions is here for you.

Our mental health treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, offers a full continuum of personalized care in a safe and highly supportive environment. When you choose to heal with us, you will have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with a team of compassionate professionals who truly care about you as a unique and valuable individual. 

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.