7 Warning Signs of Gaslighting
The word “Gaslighting” can sound weird the first time you hear it. And if you take it literally as you try guessing its meaning, you’ll be lost.
The term has nothing to do with light, fire or even gas.
But if having fire means you’re powerful, then there’s a connection. Consider superman who has the power to burn anything using laser from his eyes.
Though superman is a superhero created by Hollywood, the people who use gaslighting seek to have power, just like superheroes. In their case however, they are not out to save the world.
The term Gaslight comes from a 1938 stage play called “Gaslight.” The play tells a story of a man who lies to his wife and psychologically manipulates her till she believes that she’s insane. All this is done for one reason: to conceal criminal activity.
Since then, this term “Gaslighting,” has been used to describe behavior which is meant to manipulate others. The intention is always to gain control over them for selfish ambitions.
It’s a control tactic with power as the end goal.
Anyone who uses gaslighting is in one way or another an abuser.
Think of that boss who can’t take “No” for an answer. Or that partner who seems to feel good when he puts you down. These are examples of abuse in a relationships meant to be mutually beneficial.
One thing to keep in mind is that gaslighting is a behavior. So when someone does something that looks like it once, he isn’t gaslighting. For it to be gaslighting, it has to be done continuously, not once.
That said, any controlling behavior has the potential of ending up with gaslighting.
The reason is simple: if you seek to control people so as to achieve something, you’ll likely get to a point where you don’t care at all. This is when you do whatever it takes to achieve your goal.
Gaslighting and Fear
It’s important to understand where abusers are coming from and why they seek control.
In using manipulative and other control tactics, they’re not looking for an achievement. They are actually trying to hide a weakness. In most cases, despite their words and actions, they are deeply tormented by fear.
Fear is one of those emotions which can bring your life to a standstill. And whereas some people respond by staying alone, others prefer covering it by taking charge. This is what abusers do.
They will never seek help. They will instead say and act as though all is well.
They have everything under control. Everything is working out as it should.
Their words and actions are the opposite of what they truly feel or believe on the inside.
They may act as though they’re more beautiful or handsome than everyone else. They are the most intelligent, most informed, most loving and understanding etc. All this time, they hope nobody ever discovers the truth.
Theirs is an attempt to sort out issues by avoiding them altogether.
As such, an abuser will never admit to any wrongdoing. That essentially means they are not as good as they say or act. Anything that could make people know the truth should be kept hidden away.
WARNING SIGNS OF GASLIGHTING
Maybe you’ve watched the news and heard of a husband physically abusing his wife. Or a wife manipulating her husband to gain control over him. Such news may leave you wondering why the victim got involved with such a person in the first place.
Why did he marry her? Why has she been staying with him all this time?
“Some people are not serious with their lives,” you may conclude. “She should have been more careful and not just fall for someone because they’re saying good things,” you may say.
For your information, anyone can be taken down by gaslighting. It’s a very effective manipulation tactic. And it can be used in any setting; not just in romantic relationships.
It also works at the workplace, in families and is the primary tool used by cult leaders. It works gradually and you rarely notice what is going on unless you know what to look for.
That’s why we’re telling you the signs you can look for in people’s behavior.
Anywhere and anytime you connect with someone and see the below seven signs, cut the connection. Note that just a single sign the first time doesn’t make it gaslighting.
One sign several times or many signs the first time is a sure warning.
1. Denying what was said/promised.
You tell him that he said something or promised to do something but didn’t. Since he didn’t keep his word, you expect him to give an apology or make an excuse.
If he didn’t do it, it’s because he never said he would.
Did he really say it? Did he make such a promise? Did you misunderstand him? Maybe he said it but meant something else?
Do you notice the confusion building in your mind?
You might end up telling yourself that you need to learn his communication style.
This will help you be more open so as to understand what he means instead of making assumptions as to what he means.
This will hopefully reduce the friction and unnecessary conflict between you two.
Such thinking, though very logical and practical, will never work with an abuser. You have actually fallen right into their trap. The moment you start doubting your thinking and opt to believe theirs, you’re trapped.
The worst thing about gaslighting is that it works more often than you might think. And it works so well that you would be surprised to learn that learned and straight-thinking people fall victims.
2. A mismatch between words and actions.
When working or relating in any way with a gaslighter, take note of their actions. Just as it has been said numerous times, actions do speak louder than words.
For abusive people, it’s normal for their actions not to align with their words. And for gaslighting to work, this has to happen. In fact, this is often one of the first signs you can notice in their behavior.
And just to be sure, don’t make a rushed conclusion. But if you see this happening consistently, then you have all the evidence you need.
Remember that gaslighters are manipulators.
When words and actions don’t align, your mind starts asking questions. Do you go by the person’s words or actions? This is your logical mind at work.
The person may tell you sweet and inspiring things but then acts quite contrary.
You may hear words like “I love you” but be treated like someone with no worth. You may be told how you are cared for then receive a comment that tears you down emotionally.
The abuser may say that he can’t cause you pain or he’s just trying to make you better. Don’t fall for that. That’s how you get to unwittingly accept his behavior.
Unfortunately, if you like what you hear, it’s easy to brush off the red flags. If you need something from them—as is the case with bosses (you need money), then you can convince yourself that they’re just stressed.
But that’s not true.
The consistent mismatch is not a mistake or coincidence. It’s deliberate.
Abusers understand that they need to make you agree with them for them to control you. Therefore, acting contrary to their words is meant to destabilize your logic. You’re supposed to get confused and stop believing in your thinking.
And since they’re giving you something you need (romance, money etc), you will question your thinking and end up believing theirs.
This is the ultimate goal of gaslighting: to make you question your reality and believe theirs.
3. Blatant lies
You are correct if you say that mismatched words and actions mean the person is a liar. You are very correct. And just as mismatched words and actions are deliberate, so is lying.
If you’re keen enough, you’ll notice that the person is a very big liar. But unlike other liars who would do it while avoiding eye contact, this one looks you straight in the face while lying.
Lying is not a bad thing for abusers. It’s just a means to an end—a necessary means.
So they will lie to you with a straight face and show no guilt for it. And if you think that’s all, there’s more.
Not only will they openly lie to you, but they’ll tell huge lies. The kind of lies that you don’t need any evidence to know it’s a lie.
Then you wonder, is this person serious? Is he really saying this and expecting me to believe him?
Make no mistake. He knows what he’s doing. And if you’re not careful, you won’t even know how you got trapped by him.
The huge lie is intentional. And the reason it’s huge is that the person is setting a precedence.
When he tells you this big lie, you obviously doubt it. But more importantly, from that moment onward, you’re no longer sure whether anything else he says is true or false.
It’s all part of creating an environment of doubt in your mind.
4. Identity attack
Depending on how quickly the gaslighter wants results, this is what could be coming next.
It’s probably the most personal attack he could launch. It is the personal nature of the attack that makes it powerful though it can’t work without there being some foundation.
The presence of the above signs are evidence that there is a foundation in place.
With the foundation set, a gaslighter will openly speak against something that is very important to you.
This is something which defines who you are. It’s something that forms your identity. So when it’s attacked, the very core of your identity or existence has been attacked.
This is cruel but the gaslighter doesn’t care. He’s looking for control. He cannot have life as he wants if he can’t control you. And the ultimate control comes when you depend on someone else for your identity.
Whereas politicians try to make you believe that you need them for a good life, abusers try to make you believe that you need them for your very existence.
Yet this is not existence in the form of being alive.
This is existence in the form of you. The person you were born to be. This is your identity and it’s largely determined by your uniqueness.
If your uniqueness is attacked by the person whose words you have started believing instead of your own mind, then there is real danger.
If they call you foolish, you’ll believe it. If they call you useless, you’ll believe it. Whatever they say, that’s it.
This can be really cruel since the abuser can go to great lengths to try and devalue you.
If you are a man, you could be attacked on the basis of your masculinity. This could be anything from your physical shape and body size to your sexuality. If a woman, the attack could target your looks, intelligence or parenting ability.
The more vicious, the better, according to gaslighters.
Another sign that you’re being gaslighted is when the gaslighter projects his evils on you.
If he’s a cheater, he will accuse you of cheating. If he’s a liar, he’ll accuse you of being one. The unacceptable behavioral characteristics he has will be projected on you.
Remember the denying of what was said or promised? That can be a good place to start projecting his lying behavior on you.
You remind him of something he said and he will deny it. If you insist that he said it, then you’re lying. And this is where he then goes on the offensive.
By now you know that he’s lying but he can’t admit to such a bad and wicked behavior. So what does he do?
You’re saying that he promised to do something but he claims he never said it. He could start accusing you of trying to manipulate him into doing something you want.
In other words, instead of just asking him to do it, you’re trying to manipulate him into doing it.
That means you are a manipulative person. You don’t want him to be free to make his own decisions.
If it’s a relationship setting, he suddenly realizes that you don’t even love him. You are just using him for your selfish interests. If it’s the workplace, the abuser suddenly discovers that you never do any work. You’re getting paid for doing nothing.
Since all along you have been slowly getting into his trap and doubting your thoughts and reality, this will work. You will see how you are the bad person. You are not showing the love or loyalty and commitment you’re supposed to. You’re just thinking about yourself.
This, like the identity attack, comes after the foundation has been laid. It’s more like the knock out punch which comes after many other punches have already landed on you.
6. Positive reinforcement
In between the moments of mismatched words and actions and identity attacks, something else will be happening. You will see positive reinforcement showing up as another sign of gaslighting.
Positive reinforcement is a teaching technique used to teach new behavior. It’s used mostly with children but can also be applied to teens and adults.
This training method is very effective and works well on its subjects. It uses words or actions which show you that you’re doing the right thing. This, psychologically encourages you to continue doing the same.
In gaslighting, when you do certain things, you get recognized and appreciated for them.
Just note that the things you get appreciated for are those which are beneficial to the gaslighter. You may not notice this immediately, but if you look back, you’ll see it.
Obviously, this is very different from the case of a healthy relationship.
In a healthy relationship, you could be recognized for standing out because of your unique abilities. But in this case, you probably did one of the things the gaslighter loves. And for that, they will heap praises on you.
Watch the below video to learn more about positive reinforcement.
To teach you a new habit.
That of doing what he wants. That doing what he wants is good. You benefit from it. He recognizes and rewards you, making you feel good. Perhaps more importantly, he builds you up.
You become strong as you’re empowered by his rewards—words of affirmation and maybe treat.
So, your identity gets built up and that’s a good thing for you.
But, did you realize that he eroded your real identity only to build in you the kind of identity he wants you to have? Do you realize that a small deviation from what he wants will make him angry and that means he will tear you down again?
In other words, he has gained control over you. He can create or destroy you as he wishes. That means that the wise thing to do is to live your life as he wants you to.
Lastly, gaslighters seek to cement their gains so as to ensure they remain in control. And having come this far and done all these things to trap you, the stakes are now higher than before.
They can’t afford being exposed for who they are and they know you can do it.
In truth however, if you have experienced all these with a gaslighter, you don’t even have the ability to single-handedly expose him.
You have been weakened to the point that you don’t even know how to think. You can only take what you’re told.
That is how bad the situations becomes when you’re gaslighted.
The fear of being exposed however exists. And to prevent you from actually doing it, the gaslighter has to separate you from other people. The people you could talk to and tell them what you’re going through will not be allowed near you.
But since manipulating them is too expensive, you’ll be the target of his last attack.
Though we mention it here as last, it doesn’t mean there won’t be anything else coming. All that has been done will continue. It’s a cycle meant to ensure he doesn’t lose the control he has gained.
To successfully isolate you, the gaslighter will do any or all of the below three things:
- Make you doubt people’s helpfulness – you need help from someone but first, you must believe you can get the help needed. That part of believing you can get help is what is targeted. And the people you believe can help you will be part of the attack.
The abuser will tell you things like, “Even Kathy (your good friend) knows you’re not beautiful,” or “No wonder your ex said you’re a loser,” or “That’s why your manager can’t promote you. He knows you’re not worth it.”
You therefore end up believing that there’s no-one to run to. If everyone says bad things about you, who can you trust to talk to? Isn’t it better to just stay with the devil you know?
For the record, the gaslighter’s words are most likely completely false or a misinterpretation of words spoken.
- Tell you everyone else is a liar – the liar has accused you of lying. Now they accuse everyone else of the same. Why? To make you doubt what they say to you.
It could be your best friend, your family, colleague, anyone. If they’ve ever told you they love you or appreciate you, you shouldn’t believe it. It’s a lie.
Who can you trust then? The abuser only. At least you know that he speaks the truth (you’ve come to take his word as truth).
This can also take the form of making crude remarks about your family or friends.
For example, he may say that your friend doesn’t have table manners. Or doesn’t work hard. Or doesn’t know how to treat her husband well.
This is meant to make you know that you can’t look to them for learning anything good. You can only learn from the gaslighter.
- Tell people that you’re crazy – when it seems like there’s a possibility of escaping from his grip, the abuser will now go on an overdrive. He will spin stories and skew facts to show how you’re such an ungrateful person.
He has been good to you, doing you many favors, including living with you despite your mental illness. Once people hear that you’re mentally ill, nothing you tell them will be believable.
You’ll therefore work hard to get people on your side but fail. In your helplessness, you might end up giving up and returning to the abuser.
In case you don’t return to him, then he will make sure you can’t even appear in public due to the humiliation and embarrassment you feel.
This will be brought about by the demeaning words they will have said about you. Words which are either totally false or very skewed.
Gaslighting is a subtle but cruel manipulation tactic. It leaves the victims devastated and so torn apart that they start literally losing their minds.
Keep the above signs in mind as you relate and connect with people. And if you have low self-confidence, know that you’re at higher risk. Deal with low self-esteem and reduce your vulnerability to abuse.
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