Gaslighting: Recognizing the signals of deception

Gaslighting Signals Deception

Gaslighting is a communication technique that many people have never heard of but still deal with daily. It is a way of manipulation or deception but so subtle that it is hardly recognizable.

How can you recognize this type of manipulation, so you don’t fall prey to people’s deception in your environment or in the media? The consequences of gaslighting are bad. It can leave you feeling very disoriented, one that makes you question even your deepest beliefs.

What exactly is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which one or more persons secretly sow doubt, causing the person in question to doubt his / her own perception, memory, and judgments. This creates a sense of cognitive dissonance. The person feels highly uncomfortable because the information presented goes directly against their own beliefs, and the new data cannot be accepted. So what’s the truth?

The person also often develops reduced self-esteem. With denial, deception, contradiction, and misinformation, the subject is made unstable, and the core values ​​are invalidated.

In extreme cases, saturating (constantly bombarding) someone with new controversial information can brainwash someone. It is comparable to the NLP technique Mirroring / Report, where you first tailor communication to your conversation partner so that you gain trust and then start leading the conversation. With gaslighting, someone’s self-confidence is first broken down to make someone unstable and insecure, then the person who applies gaslighting starts to lead the victim in the desired direction.


The term comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, in which the technique was applied. From the 1940s and 1950s, this form of manipulative communication was used by secret services, and much research was done in the scientific field of mass psychology to manipulate and direct masses of people.

In the 1944 film Gas Light, one of the main characters, Paula, is psychologically manipulated by her husband. He tells her that she is acting strangely, and he asks her if she is not getting insane. He does this in such a subtle way that she starts to question herself, although her mental state is fine. It gives Paula intense discomfort, developing deep feelings of madness. So she becomes insane.

In the end, Paula wrestles herself from the tentacles of her partner. She realizes what happened and how she has been manipulated.

Manipulation in the media

Now that you have a better understanding of what gaslighting is, you can probably recognize it better in your daily life. This manipulation technique is also frequently used in the media to control population groups, for example.

If you look at the news coverage of American politics, you see, for example, how Trump has been structurally “put in the limelight” with bold statements. Parts of press conferences that have been taken out of context and distortions of ideas. Whether you are in favor of Trump or not, it is clear that this kind of reporting is extremely harmful and very effective in discrediting him or any other politician who doesn’t work on  ‘the agenda.’ All of these techniques are used to induce cognitive dissonance and mislead people.

Just take a look at a Google image search for Donald Trump. There are almost exclusively ridiculous photos that portray a certain image of the former American president. Do you believe there isn’t a nice picture of him? With his grandchildren? A shot where he is having fun? Gaslighting is used in the media daily to mislead people until they start believing it.

The same is done with other kinds of media. Take a look at the real-life shows. Obscene behavior is being normalized, and while being saturated with these kinds of shows, we start to believe it’s normal. At first, we are shocked, then we think, “Hey, it’s on tv, so it should be okay, right?” Then you start doubting yourself, “Am I so narrow-minded?”. The next step is that you think it’s normal that young children in a tv panel judge penises, like on a Dutch tv show.

Psychological manipulation in a private context

This manipulative way of communication is also used in the home situation. Gaslighting often takes place between two individuals who trust each other, with one subtly manipulating the other. Because it often occurs within intimate relationships, manipulation can be challenging to spot.

As with many other unpleasant situations, you better be aware of them quickly. The longer you are exposed to the manipulation, the greater the psychological damage, especially in the long term. By familiarizing yourself with the characteristics of gaslighting, you can arm yourself against manipulation.

NOTE: when someone is a victim of a (psychologically) violent relationship, it’s always wise to call in a qualified counselor. The information in this article serves only as information regarding the characteristics of gaslighting.

Types of gaslighting

This subtle way of deception can occur in all kinds of settings, ranging from a one-to-one relationship to very large-scale, such as used for political purposes. Especially in a family situation, gaslighting can cause lasting emotional damage when children are involved. It greatly affects a child’s beliefs that are not yet firmly established.

Intimate partner relationships

In an intimate partner relationship, one person can falsely accuse the other. Someone who constantly accuses his / her partner of being irrational or crazy isolates him/her and undermines self-confidence to control this partner more easily. The partner will also be accused of being forgetful until he/she starts to doubt himself/herself.

Child-Parent Relationships

Primarily narcissistic parents are known to mentally abuse their children (intentionally or unintentionally). They gaslight their children to get or keep them under control. They can belittle their feelings and make them self-doubt, seriously undermining their self-confidence.

They are often people who have been gaslighted as a child who in later life have to deal with the fear of failure, are enormously insecure, and are socially disadvantaged.

Doctor-patient relationship

Medical gaslighting is a mode of manipulation in which the doctor or practitioner rejects or trivializes a person’s health problems based on the assumption that they are mentally ill. They say that the illnesses are more mental.

The patient, who believes that the doctor is always right – because he is, of course, the medical professional – will believe the doctor and starts doubting himself. The cognitive dissonance will take over, often making the patient feel even worse.

Racial Deception

Racial gaslighting is when people apply techniques to a group of people based on race or ethnicity. Consider the BLM movement, where entire groups of people mobilize to protest based on an individual victim of an incident.

An authority person can, for example, have a specific ethnic group stigmatized or have it stigmatized and make them believe that they are being discriminated against. By attaching negative emotion to this, this group will seek confirmation to substantiate this stigmatization, even though they know better.

Political gaslighting

Political gaslighting occurs when a political figure or group spreads lies, uses denials, or manipulates information to control people. Certainly, in 2020 you saw a perfect example of the refinement of gaslighting at it’s best.

Examples of political gaslighting include downplaying or concealing facts, also discrediting political opponents based on instability, or using controversy to divert attention from reality and other important events.

Institutional gaslighting

Institutional gaslighting is when a company or organization denies, distorts, or hides information to direct employees in a particular direction. They do this by lying about their rights or by portraying whistleblowers who reveal problems in an organization as incompetent or mentally ill.

Characteristics of gaslighting

1. Denial of statements made

One of the most disturbing features of gaslighting is that the culprit directly denies anything he has said before. The earlier statement may also be distorted, causing the victim to question himself and his / her sense of reality.

Think for yourself. If someone says to you that something did not happen that you are sure of, what does that mean for the rest of reality? Maybe you are wrong? Could it be your perception?

This is why this is such a harmful way of manipulation. It can simply turn a person’s entire worldview upside down, causing a victim to question his whole perception.

One way to deal with this is to make objective evidence of specific conversations. For example, record a difficult conversation. That way, you can be sure that the perpetrator is less able to manipulate.

2. Projection of emotions

A commonly used technique is to project the emotions onto the victim. When someone experiences frustration, such as feelings of impatience, or difficulty handling money, these emotions will often be projected onto the victim.

By constantly exposing the victim to their frustrations, the partner, at a certain point, starts to doubt their sense of reality.

3. Crystal-clear lying as a precedent

When people lie, we often have to think before we can see through the lie. We will often recognize someone who lies blatantly. Gaslighters use their past lies to base their current statements.

Then, when the victim accuses them of lying, they make the victim assume that everything they said from the beginning is a lie, making the manipulation a regular routine.

4. The reputation of friends

As victims of this manipulation, many people do not realize what kind of situation they are in. You become blind to what you are used to. Often, the perpetrator makes the victim feel they cannot trust their friends. These friends are, of course, a threat to the perpetrator because they are better able to expose him or her.

Friends and family are often discredited by the perpetrator so that he/she can freely continue the technique and further destabilize the victim. For example, the integrity is questioned, or the contact frequency is severely limited.

5. It’s not all negative

Abuse is almost always associated with negativity, but that’s the insidious thing about gaslighting. Emotional manipulation can also occur through positive comments, where the perpetrator camouflages his attempt to undermine the victim with fun, common statements.

Often, this involves cynicism or sarcasm to bring the stitches underwater with a smile. This typical hot/cold communication is the cornerstone of abuse.

6. Sowing confusion is a priority

Many abusers make their victims feel confused all the time. People who use gaslighting always surround themselves with distractions and smoke screens. It’s important to see these traits, so you don’t fall prey to emotional abuse.

7. The power of repetition

Gaslighting is a technique that does not pay off for the abuser in the short term. It takes time to condition the victim to fall into certain patterns, especially patterns of uncertainty.

Over a longer period, the abuser slowly introduces more and more tactics to condition the victim, “working” the ego a little more and more. Because this process is so slow, it is barely perceptible. By being aware of this, you can protect yourself and intervene in a timely manner.

8. Others are made to doubt

A perpetrator can significantly disrupt a victim’s perception by involving and influencing others. With this, others are also guilty of manipulating the victim. By doing this, they assign small features to the victim that are then magnified in the victim’s face.

A perpetrator, in company with other persons, will always ask for confirmation when he has spoken something negative about the victim, for example, a character trait. Those involved will agree with the perpetrator’s allegations, making the victim feel guilty and insecure.

9. Using their emotions

In any partner relationship, it is common to share emotions and needs. However, these relationship dynamics are often abused, with the perpetrator manipulating the other to do things they don’t actually want to do. That way, the victim feels uncomfortable. The perpetrator does this subtly, so there is no “hard evidence” of manipulation.

Final thoughts

The above properties of gaslighting give a glimpse into the unpleasant situations in which you can become a victim. It is therefore important, however subtle gaslighting may take place, not to take the consequences too lightly. Long-term mental abuse, in particular, can cause lifelong trauma.

Gaslighting is an incredibly harmful form of emotional manipulation. By learning to deal effectively with gaslighting, you can protect yourself or people in your environment in good time. If you or someone close to you has become a victim of gaslighting, always contact your doctor and have yourself referred to a medical professional who will guide you through the recovery process.

Frequently asked questions

What is an example of gaslighting?

An example of gaslighting is when your partner distorts your sense of reality to control you. Suppose your partner asks you, “Are you sure? Or do you want to say I’m crazy?” Of course, you don’t want to hurt your partner, and you start doubting your perception. Gaslighters can also convince their victims that they are mentally unwell or hypersensitive.

How do you know if someone is gaslighting?

Signs of gaslighting are:

  • Asking counter questions, which they use to question your perception. “Are you sure?” or “Are you saying I’m not right in the head?”
  • Denying or mocking your perception or memory
  • They call you “hypersensitive” or “crazy” if you have concerns about something or need something. In doing so, the gaslighter often uses the power of repetition.
  • The feigned doubts about you are shared with others so that you also get the impression from people around you that it is because of you.
  • Twisting events or telling them differently to shift the blame onto you.

How do you know if someone is gaslighting you?

Psychologists use gaslighting to describe one person’s manipulative suggestions toward another person. The manipulator tries to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their sense of reality, memory, or perception.

What are the phrases of gaslighting?

Gaslighters fall through on their own in time once you make yourself aware of their patterns. Phrases that a gaslighting manipulator often uses are:

1. “You’re crazy and need help.”

2. “You really need to work on that, you know.”

3. “You’re just insecure and jealous.”

4. “You’re hypersensitive/you’re overreacting”

5. “I think you misunderstood me because that’s not what I said.”

6. “It was just a joke.”

7. “Are you sure? I saw/heard something completely different, though.”

What is a typical gaslighter personality?

Gaslighting behavior is particularly common in people with personality disorders. Yet not all gaslighters have a psychological disorder. In particular, people with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder (sociopaths), and psychopaths often consciously or unconsciously use gaslighting techniques to manipulate their environment. 

Why do people use gaslighting?

One of the most common reasons people use gaslighting is to control others. This need for dominance may stem from narcissism, antisocial personality, as well as insecurity, or other problems. As with most cases of abuse, gaslighting also involves a form of control. Over time, the abuser may convince the target that he or she is the cause of the abuser’s aggression and dominance.

How do you know if your partner is gaslighting you?

How do you recognize the signs of gaslighting, and how do you unmask a gaslighter?

  • You ask yourself daily if it’s you: Am I too sensitive? Am I not exaggerating? Is it indeed not me?
  • You often feel confused and sincerely ask yourself if you are not even crazy in your relationship.
  • You are always apologizing.
  • You don’t understand why you’re not happier.
  • You often excuse yourself for your partner’s behavior.

How do you outsmart a gaslighter?

These tips will help you outsmart a gaslighter:

  • Make sure you know what gaslighting is and what techniques a gaslighter uses.
  • Know what dissociation is, so you can distance yourself from the abuser.
  • Collect evidence to later prove that the abuser is guilty of abuse.
  • Make sure you have a confidant for support.
  • Continue to have faith in your perceptions.
  • Focus on self-care. That is, take good care of yourself physically and mentally.
  • Involve others in the situation so they can witness what is happening.
  • Find professional support and, if appropriate, report the incident to the police.

Is gaslighting narcissistic?

A gaslighter is usually narcissistic, but a narcissist is not always a gaslighter. Narcists tend to want to be dominant to those around them. Gaslighting is an excellent technique for this purpose to be able to control those around them. Gaslighters make their victims doubt themselves, and this form of abuse causes a person to lose their sense of identity, perception, and value. Gaslighting is, therefore, a form of narcissism.

What does gaslighting look like in a relationship?

The main sign of gaslighting in a relationship is that your partner questions your perception of situations, yourself, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The gaslighter further underscores your constant doubt that undermines your sense of reality, causing you to fall into a vicious cycle and doubt yourself more and more. 

Is gaslighting a mental illness?

Gaslighting is a form of abuse that can take serious conditions. As the abuse becomes more severe, you can be pretty sure that the abuser is narcissistic and/or has a personality disorder. The long-term effects of gaslighting can include anxiety, depression, trauma, and low self-esteem. Gaslighting often occurs in violent relationships but also takes place in other contexts.

Why is gaslighting bad?

Why is gaslighting harmful and dangerous? Gaslighting is hazardous because it undermines a person’s sense of self-confidence. After a long-term relationship of gaslighting and mental abuse, a person may become traumatized and develop a schizoid personality because the traumatic experience is too painful.

Are gaslighters aware of what they are doing?

Some gaslighters manipulate people around them with their full awareness, but most manipulators are not even aware that they are applying gaslighting techniques to their environment. It is a way for them to maintain control over their environment and thus maintain their power. In most cases, they are not even aware of their attitude’s impact on the victims, who often become severely traumatized.

Should I dump my gaslighting boyfriend?

Suppose you are in a relationship with a gaslighter, and you have become aware of the manipulative communication. In that case, the best option is to leave and cut off all communication with the gaslighter. Be prepared that the perpetrator will try anything to get you back in their clutches. They need attention, want to stay on a pedestal, and if the perpetrator doesn’t get this in a new relationship, they will come back for you. Choose for yourself.

Which personality types use gaslighting?

People who are relatively more likely to use gaslighting are those with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder (sociopaths), and psychopaths.

Is "I'm sorry you feel this way" also gaslighting?

Yes, this is a perfect example of gaslighting. The abuser puts the responsibility on you by saying, “I’m sorry you feel this way.” In doing so, he/she is not taking responsibility for the cause and is placing it on you to make you think you are crazy. By saying, “I’m sorry you feel this way,” he/she denies your feelings and, from a position of feigned superiority, expresses regret over “your” mistake.

Why is it called gaslighting?

The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, a story in which a husband uses trickery and deceit to convince his wife that she is mentally unwell to steal from her.

Why would a husband gaslight his wife?

When a gaslighter experiences that he cannot control his partner, the perpetrator often falls back on manipulative techniques to keep the partner in check. He does many things to make his wife doubt her own perception, memory, and sense of reality.


Do gaslighters love their victim?

Usually, gaslighters love their partner very much. The manipulative behavior usually stems from the attachment and dependence they want, often a form of affirmation and love. Most gaslighters are unaware that they undermine their relationship and mentally abuse their partner. To make their partner dependent, they often resort to criticizing the victim’s physical appearance for ending up feeling wrong about their body image.

Are gaslighters insecure?

Gaslighters are often narcissists and highly insecure, hiding behind crude comments and a facade of invulnerability. They project false and exaggerated images of themselves onto those around them. Many narcissists like to impress others by making themselves look good externally.

How do you proceed after a relationship with gaslighting?

The most critical steps after a relationship with gaslighting are:

  • Cut off all communication with your ex.
  • Acknowledge and reaffirm your self-esteem.
  • Make sure you have a confidant (mental health care, family, or friend)
  • Don’t fall into the trap because your ex has improved his life, as this is a typical way to keep you trapped in his web.
  • Take the time to reconnect with who you really are.
  • Invest in yourself by taking fun courses and workshops to improve your confidence.

Can I report gaslighting to the police?

In some cases, a gaslighting relationship can get so out of hand that there is structural mental abuse. In that case, you may want to consider filing a police report. In most cases, you can claim Victim Support to receive specialist counseling.

Are gaslighters intelligent?

Gaslighters are often highly intelligent. Their intellect and ability to manipulate mean that they often occupy positions of authority in the workplace and take this authority home with them.

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