How to recognize Gaslighting

Gaslighting: How to Recognize it and What to Say When it Happens

By Dr. Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez

What is gaslighting?

In short, gaslighting is a subtle form of emotional manipulation that often results in the recipient doubting their perception of reality and their sanity.

Gaslighting Definition

Gaslighting is oftentimes difficult to identify given its insidious nature. It typically begins very subtly by having another person “correct” your thinking, contradict your statements, or invalidate/dismiss your emotions. This continues happening until you are gradually questioning or doubting your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and even your memory. 

It is important to note that gaslighting can happen in any type of relationship (e.g. romantic, friendships, family members, or in work relationships) and to anyone regardless of their gender. Consistently experiencing gaslighting can also lead the person vulnerable to different mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, poor self-esteem, codependency, among others.

Here are some tips to help you identify if you are potentially experiencing gaslighting in a relationship(s).

What does gaslighting feel like?

  • Constantly feeling confused or like you’re going crazy
  • Frequently doubting yourself (e.g. “am I too emotional?” “did this actually happen?”)
  • Having difficulty trusting yourself and other people
  • Constantly assuming you did something wrong (feeling it’s always your fault or that you’re to blame)
  • Feeling the need to apologize (leading to over apologizing)
  • Making excuses for other people’s actions (or rationalizing why they did something that hurt you)
  • Feeling like you have to prove everything 
  • Feeling like you constantly have to back up your reasoning/views of things with an abundance of facts
  • Sensing something is wrong, but feeling like you’re not able to “put your finger on it”
  • Regularly feeling misunderstood and alone

What does gaslighting sound like?

  • “You’re so dramatic”
  • “You’re too sensitive”
  • “You’re too emotional”
  • “You’re imagining things”
  • “You know you sound insane right now, right?”
  • “You’re always making stuff up”
  • “You’re making a big deal out of nothing, like always”
  • “Nothing you’re saying makes sense, do you even hear yourself?”
  • “You’re being paranoid”
  • “You’re acting crazy” or “you’re overreacting”
  • “I was joking! You take everything personally”
  • “That never even happened.” “This is what happened…” or “this is what I said…”
  • “Why should I believe you? Everyone knows you’re full of it”
  • “You’re not thinking clearly”
  • “You’re making yourself the victim when I’m the one who should be mad”

Do you notice an overarching theme in the above statements? Many gaslighting statements start with the word you. This is because the gaslighter/perpetrator is an expert at identifying the supposed deficiencies in another person and hardly ever acknowledges or takes personal responsibility for the impact of their own statements or behavior. 

Gaining awareness of this type of psychological abuse is a crucial element of healing and moving forward. Being able to discern or recognize that someone is doing this to you is an important first step. 

If you feel like might have been gaslighted, the answer to that is validation. Go to a trusted individual to give you feedback about what you have been going through. It is helpful to be honest about your experience (notice any urges to withhold information or lie to potentially protect the gaslighter) and to get someone else’s perspective.

Nonetheless, if you’ve been experiencing gaslighting for a long time, it is understandable if it’s difficult for you to discern who is actually trustworthy. In this case, it is recommended to seek therapy or professional guidance to help you navigate what you are going through. Through treatment or support groups you may gain increased self-awareness, recover trust in yourself and your intuition, and attain practical tools to feel empowered in your relationships. 

Gaslighting Dictionary Image

Are you experiencing a gaslighting situation? Want to know your rights?

We’ve compiled a list of the 18 Universal Rights to which everyone is entitled. If you have or are experiencing gaslighting, keep this list close as a reminder of your rights in any situation.

To get you started, here are some things you can say when you’re being gaslighted.

Things to say when you’re being gaslighted:

  • “I realize you disagree with me, and this is how I see it”
  • “I see that your perspective is different from mine, I’m not imagining things”
  • “Name-calling is hurtful to me, I’m finding it hard to hear you when you talk like that”
  • “I hear that your intention was to make a joke, and the impact was hurtful”
  • “My feelings are my feelings; this is how I feel”
  • “This is my experience and these are my emotions”
  • “It sounds like you feel strongly about that, and my emotions are valid too”
  • “I feel like I’m not being heard, and I want some space”
  • “I understand that this is what’s best for me” or “I know what’s best for me”
  • “This is what I want and what I need right now”
  • “I’m making this decision for myself”
  • “I changed my mind” or “I’m not responding to that”
  • “I want to figure things out for myself”
  • “It’s hard for me to stay engaged in this conversation, I’ve already said no several times”
  • “I’m finding it difficult to keep discussing this”
  • “I have heard your point of view many times now, and I still don’t agree with it,” “I’d like to take a break from this conversation”
  • “I don’t like how much energy I’m putting into proving my perspective and it would mean a lot to me if you gave me the benefit of the doubt”
  • “I get that you’re mad, and I’m angry too”

When you are practicing these statements, be mindful of the way you convey the message. Being able to communicate in an assertive manner can make a big difference regarding how the other person receives the message and also how you feel afterwards. 

Communication Tips

The following are suggested key components of communicating these statements successfully: sustain eye contact (if appropriate to your culture), and be mindful of your posture (stand or sit straight), facial expressions (serious, firm, and pleasant; refrain from using dismissive gestures), and body movements (balanced, relaxed, and open), and tone of voice (calm, soft, and firm). Please note that this takes practice and it’s okay to find it challenging whilst figuring out how to implement these. 

Communicating in a passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive manner can keep you from asserting your rights, wants, and needs. It can also encourage the recipient to either communicate more aggressively or become defensive and not hear you.

It is important to highlight that it’s very hard for others to dispute the content of what you’re saying when you stay focused on describing yourself. In contrast, describing the situation or another person are types of statements that are much more easily disputable. Remember that your emotions are valid and that you have the right to feel and express them. You also have the right to ask for what you want and what you need.

Download your 18 Universal Rights here.

In conclusion, gaslighting is often unnoticed and can do a lot of harm to the person who experiences it. It is described as insidious due to its subtle but gradual nature and its harmful effects. When people constantly doubt or question their own perspectives and reality, they begin having difficulty trusting themselves, their sanity, and their reality; which could contribute to having other issues such as low self-esteem, codependency, etc. 

If you find yourself having these experiences, please know that your emotions and experiences are valid, and that this form of abusive behavior from others is unacceptable. Please know that you can have better relationships and are deserving of it too. 

Read also: What is Invalidation? 5 Things You Shouldn’t Say

Download Your Universal Rights Wide

Fort Lauderdale Psychologist Dr. Gabriela Sadurni Rodriguez
License: PY10619

Dr. Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez is a licensed psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale and is an expert in trauma-related issuesdepressionanxiety, life transitions/adjustments, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Call 954-488-2933 x 8 or email today to discuss how her services can help you.

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Copyright © 2020 Dr. Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez