11 Signs Your Partner Might Be Gaslighting You — & What to Do If It’s Happening

In 2022, Merriam-Webster announced that the word of the year was “gaslighting.” That year, there was a 1740% increase in lookups of the term, which originated decades earlier. Gaslighting, the word, had officially entered the national conversation.

Given the increase in searches, it’s fair to assume that most of us have heard the term gaslighting, especially now that it entered social media dialogue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s well understood. “It’s more nuanced than it’s being talked about now,” Aaron Steinberg, MA, PCC, co-founder of Grow Together told SheKnows.

So what is gaslighting really? “Gaslighting is when you either tell someone directly or imply through how you’re interacting with them or what you’re saying that their reality isn’t valid,” says Steinberg, who noted that “very few consciously gaslight. More of the time it’s that the gaslighter’s ego, identity, or sense of sense of self-worth is so fragile that whatever is going on between them [and their partner] implies something about the gaslighter that makes them feel bad. Their self-protective mechanism is to diminish the other person to indirectly reinforce their own well-being.”

Gaslighting is emotional abuse. “The more powerful gaslighter attempts to define the reality of a less powerful gaslightee — and the person in the one-down position allows that to happen,” Dr. Robin Stern, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of The Gaslight Effect, says in her Psychology Today blog. As a result, the gaslightee gives over their power and begins to lose their sense of self.

With all the nuance and confusion surrounding the term, it can be hard to know whether your partner is gaslighting you and figure out what to do if they are. Here are a few red flags to look out for and the impact gaslighting may be having on you.

Gaslighting red flags

1. To them, you’re always in the wrong

In most relationships, you will find yourself debating with the other person about who is right and wrong, and who has the more correct view of reality. That denial rises to the level of gaslighting when there’s no coming together or attempt at seeing the other person’s perspective after the tension fades. “No matter what happens, there’s no budging. The messaging [you’re receiving from your partner] is 100 percent of the time you’re wrong, you’re not seeing reality correctly. Your experience of this is invalid,” said Steinberg. “It’s the uniformity of it. There’s never a break where there’s understanding, empathy, and humility that they may be imperfect or flawed themselves.”

2. Your partner constantly denies things that happened

Likewise, becoming defensive rises to the level of gaslighting when your partner is “constantly denying” your perception or memory of events. “When one becomes defensive, it doesn’t mean they’re gaslighting,” Benu Lahiry, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Ours told SheKnows. Gaslighting is about the pattern, the consistent denial of your reality, perception, or experience.

3. You’re often left feeling confused and crazy

It’s very disorienting to be on the receiving end [of gaslighting], noted Lahiry. If your partner frequently tells you you’re crazy and twists things around so that it seems like you’re being irrational or unreasonable, that’s a telltale red flag they are gaslighting you. And if you feel confused a lot and actually believe you’re losing it, that’s an ominous sign, too.

4. You keep doubting yourself

Gaslighting victims start believing their abuser’s perception of reality instead of their own. As a result, someone experiencing gaslighting may begin to question themselves and become unsure of whether they can trust their own experience of things, noted Steinberg. “There can be self-worth issues and self-confidence issues that come up as a result.”

5. You wonder if you’re too sensitive or emotional

A favorite tactic of the gaslighter is to accuse their significant other of acting overly emotional and sensitive. The victim ultimately winds up believing it’s true since they heard it so many times. If your partner keeps telling you those things and you start thinking they’re right, it could be a case of gaslighting.

6. You’ve become completely insecure

This is a classic sign in every relationship marred by gaslighting. Both partners are deeply insecure, but the victim’s lack of confidence goes beyond the abuser’s lack of confidence. The gaslightee literally loses themself and their identity and adopts the one their significant other is trying to feed them.

“If you are insecure and don’t have a strong sense of self, you will give the power to the other person as a way of being attached,” says couples therapist Dr. Jeanette Raymond, author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t!. “But you’re giving away your mind!”

“[An insecure gaslighter] attempts to feel secure by controlling his partner’s perception of herself,” Dr. Raymond adds.

7. You find yourself saying you’re sorry all the time

Do you walk on eggshells around your partner and wind up apologizing? When you come to your partner with a situation, do they turn it around on you? If you notice that no matter what situation you bring up, you end up taking the blame and apologizing, your partner may be gaslighting you, according to Lahiry.

Steinberg echoed this idea, noting that you may be experiencing gaslighting if there’s a role reversal — if you’re the one to bring up an issue and then also end up apologizing, but the conversation never comes back to you being hurt or your issue being addressed.

8. Your arguments go in circles

If your fights make your head spin because of the outlandish things your partner says you did or their way of distorting reality — and you honestly believe them when they say it’s all your fault — watch out. It could be a sign that you’re a gaslighting victim in your relationship.

9. You make excuses for your partner to friends and family

If you find yourself explaining away your partner’s crazy, erratic behavior on a regular basis to those closest to you and making all sorts of excuses for them, it might be a sign that there’s a much deeper problem at play.

10.  You start lying to avoid the accusations and twisted talks

After a while, you get so tired of your version of events being mixed up and your reality being warped by your partner that you begin lying to them to avoid the confrontations.

11.  You feel anxiety and panic

If you’re feeling unsafe with your partner or constantly anticipating that arguments or conversations will go south, you may be experiencing gaslighting.

“When someone is gaslighting you, they’re creating an instability in your world view, and if you’re constantly receiving feedback that you’re wrong, it can start to feel scary interacting with the world,” notes Steinberg. You may feel like you don’t have a coherent lens with which to see the world or worry that everything will be turned back onto you with anger or negativity.

What to do if you think you’re a victim of gaslighting

If you think you’re experiencing gaslighting, the first thing to do is to seek out support, whether it’s through trusted friends, family, or a therapist to help understand what’s happening. “Because the term has been bleached, we tend to…overuse it and it becomes misconstrued,” noted Lahiry, who encourages folks to go to those they are close with first to help them identify a pattern and understand how they’re being impacted. If you notice a pattern, then “getting professional help is highly encouraged.”

Another good strategy: Don’t engage with your gaslighting partner when they start harping and pointing fingers.

“[People being gaslighted should] opt out of the power struggles, avoid the right-wrong debates, use silence instead of commenting when someone is provoking you, and write down your verbal exchanges,” Stern adds.

You can save your relationship from gaslighting and get to a healthier place — sometimes. But it takes a lot of hard work and therapy.

If the situation doesn’t turn around, be prepared to leave. “Most relationships will contain some gaslighting in reaction to intense situations with their partner and it doesn’t mean the situation is broken,” notes Steinberg. But if you’ve tried everything to communicate and connect, and all that comes back to you is more gaslighting, then it’s not a healthy dynamic and may be time to separate either a little or entirely.

The good news is, there is hope. This isn’t a life sentence. But you have to untangle yourself from the cycle, with or without the person you fell in love with.

If you think you or someone you know may be the victim of gaslighting or any other form of emotional or physical abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Help Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and see their website for more resources.

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