How to Identify Gaslighting in your Relationship

Gaslighting causes psychological distress mage © Shutterstock/Kittyfly
Image © Shutterstock/Kittyfly

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that leads you to question your beliefs and perception of reality, but how do you know if it’s happening to you? 

Over the past decade, mental health conversations have moved front and centre. The resulting openness and dialogue on mental and emotional health is seeing abusers more likely to face consequences. However, the first step to accountability is learning to identify different types of psychological abuse, from intimidation and isolation to humiliation and gaslighting, and what it looks like in action. In some cases, abuse is easy to spot, and in other situations, maltreatment can go undetected for years. 

Psychological abuse can be defined as any harm done to someone that is not physical in nature. Since there are usually no visible indicators psychological abuse can be hard to pinpoint. But, just because it doesn’t result in breaks or bruises, doesn’t make it less serious. Indeed, it lead to severe emotional issues and mental health conditions and is as important to understand as physical abuse.  

So what is gaslighting?

A type of psychological abuse where the perpetrator tries to instil a feeling of doubt in the victim’s mind, Gaslighting is sadly common in romantic relationships or any relationship where there is a power dynamic between two people. These abusers want to feel power and control and do this through the manipulation of their partner. They often create doubt in the mind of their partner with the intention of driving them into a state of self-doubt, confusion and desperation. 

The term originates from the 1938 Victorian play ‘Gaslight,’ which has become well-known for depicting abusive relationships.  In the play, the protagonist, Jack, continually manipulates his wife into thinking that she is crazy.  His wife, Bella, is sure that she sees the gaslight dim during the evening, however, her husband convinces her that she is imagining this. Throughout the play, Bella loses the ability to trust her instincts, and this slowly chips away at her self-esteem and sanity. 

Gaslighting in action 

There are a multitude of ways gaslighting can manifest in personal relationships. Let’s say your significant other’s feelings for you are diminishing and they downloaded a dating app behind your back with the plan on leaving the relationship. You begin to see signs that this is about to occur. You notice they are spending less time with you, and are acting cold and withholding affection. You see that they have downloaded a dating app. In this situation, there are clear indicators that they are no longer interested in you. However, when you mention you have noticed a shift in the relationship, they deny the truth. They manipulate you into believing you are simply imagining the changes, and resume business as usual.  This is a classic example of gaslighting – the abuser is countering the victims’ perception of reality.  Think about how this treatment can instil long-term, devastating effects on an individual’s mental health. 

Common phrases used to gaslight 

“Stop being so sensitive”  

“It’s all in your head.” 

“You’re imagining things.”  

“You’re crazy.” 

According to the National Domestic Violence Association, there are a variety of different methods of gaslighting that an abuser can use. 

Countering – When the abuser counters the victim’s recollection of events, going against their reality. 

Withholding – This is when the abuser intentionally does not listen. 

Blocking – This consists of abruptly changing the conversation.  

Trivialising – The abuser makes the victim’s needs seem unimportant. 

Forgetting – When the abuser pretends to forget about the incident. 


According to Psychologist Robin Stern, there are also a number of indicators that signify that you may be a victim of gaslighting or another form of psychological abuse.  

  • You find yourself apologising even when it is not necessary. 
  • In your inner dialogue, you wonder if you’re being too sensitive. 
  • You feel like you’re going crazy. 
  • You feel incapacitated when making decisions. 
  • You don’t feel like yourself anymore 
  • You have low self-esteem 
  • You don’t feel capable of doing anything right. 
  • You find yourself afraid to share the truth with your loved ones.  

If you suspect that you are a victim of gaslighting, don’t panic.  Know that you are not alone, and there are thousands of others who have been through similar situations. There are a wealth of resources available that can help you to escape, heal and receive justice. The first step is feeling your feelings and identifying the problem. Take some time to journal and record the interactions you have with your partner. Although you may care about your partner, you don’t deserve to be hurt by them. If you have a trusted family member or friend, share your experience. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to solicit professional help in order to gain clarity and heal. 

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your physical or mental health, seek immediate medical attention.


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