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Couples Relationships

7 Red Flags Of Gas Lighting In A Relationship

Gas lighting is a type of psychological abuse. One person or a group manipulates another, making them question or doubt their own mental health. Gas lighting tactics undermine your trust in your memories, perception, or judgment.

You probably know many of the more obvious signs of mental and emotional abuse. But when you’re in the midst of it, it can be easy to miss the persistent undercurrent of abusive behavior. 

Psychological abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you. It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their persistence in these behaviors. The abuser could be your spouse or other romantic partner. They could be your business partner, parent, or a caretaker. No matter who it is, you don’t deserve it and it’s not your fault.

If you’re experiencing long-term gas lighting, you may come to believe your own memories and thoughts aren’t reliable. Your abuser positions themselves as the only one you can depend on to make decisions on your behalf.

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What exactly is Gas Lighting?

Gas lighting is a control tactic that leaves its victim in a fog of altered reality in which they question their own perceptions and memories. By creating chaos, gaslighters hold all the power in the relationship as their victims become increasingly oppressed. They often use triangulation, which involves speaking through other people rather than directly, and splitting, which involves driving a wedge between people.

Gas lighters typically use statements such as “You’re too sensitive”; “You’re nuts”; “Lighten up”; “You need help”; and “I was only kidding.”

While there is some disagreement as to whether gaslighting abuse is more common among males, gaslighting practices are frequently reported among men and women.


Gas Lighting Examples

  • Countering: This tactic involves an abusive person questioning someone’s memory of events, even though they have remembered them correctly.
  • Withholding: This describes someone who pretends not to understand something, or who refuses to listen.
  • Forgetting: This involves an abusive person pretending they have forgotten something, or denying that something happened. 
  • Trivializing: This refers to an abusive person making someone’s concerns or feelings seem unimportant or irrational.
  • Diverting: This technique occurs when an abusive person changes the subject, or focuses on the credibility of what someone is saying rather than the content. Some people also call it “blocking.”

In abusive relationships, gaslighting often occurs gradually. Initially, a person may not seem abusive. But, over time, they may use statements, such as:

  • “You are wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
  • “You are imagining things.”
  • “Stop overreacting,” or “you are too sensitive.”
  • “I do not know what you are talking about.”
  • “I do not understand, you are just trying to confuse me.”


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Red Flags

1. You often doubt yourself

Nobody is perfect but a relationship can aid personality development by forcing you to confront and change certain unhealthy behaviour patterns. However, if your partner is making you question your reality and making you doubt yourself too often, it could point to a major red flag.

So, if you are constantly struggling with trusting your own self and are unsure about how you feel about a certain situation, you are being gaslit.

2. Your partner blames you or external circumstances

Does your partner often blame you during a conflict? Do they keep pushing the blame on external factors for the problems the relationship is facing? This is another negative but very common sign of gaslighting. Sometimes, they could also resort to personal attacks and belittling you by bringing up the past or calling you names.

3. Your partner is dismissive of your feelings

A healthy relationship is where you are comfortable sharing your concerns with your partner who listens to them and addresses them instead of dismissing your feelings or denying that the given event ever happened.

When you bring up a concern or tell your partner how you feel about a certain thing or situation, they would ideally acknowledge and address it. However, a manipulative partner will try to convince you that you are the one who is mistaken and are overthinking.

4. Your partner doesn’t apologise when you express hurt

When you express the fact that you are hurt by your partner’s actions, instead of apologising or addressing it, they tell you how to feel about it. This is a classic sign of gas lighting. In a healthy relationship, your partner will feel accountable for their actions. They will not drive you to a point where you feel exhausted trying to justify your feelings. Your partner’s lack of empathy when you are hurt because of them is a red flag.

5. They never let you talk during a conflict

During an argument, you might discover that they have a habit of cutting you off and not letting you complete what you’re saying. In such a situation, you might end up feeling like they are trying to control the narrative and not letting you put your point across. If this is common in your relationship, you are probably experiencing gas lighting. A two-way conversation where both the parties are willing to listen and be empathetic is an integral pre-requisite to a healthy relationship.

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6. Using your voice brings about feelings of guilt

If the thought of bringing up a concern or sharing how you feel starts making you feel guilty or uncomfortable, it means that power play and control are the driving factors of your relationship which is a key sign of gas lighting.

7. You start believing that you’re just not working hard enough in your relationship

There will be a point in the relationship where you might begin to believe that you are not doing enough. Being constantly blamed, ignored and demeaned might lead you to actually believe that you are at fault. But, a healthy relationship is one where both partners know that they will make mistakes given that it is only human to be flawed and are willing to apologize when they are in the wrong. If apologies and faults always seem to be one-sided, then it is time to reevaluate your relationship dynamic.

What to do if your partner is gas lighting you

Establishing proof of gas lighting can help a person identify that their memories and feelings are real, and that someone is manipulating them. 

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are a few ways a person can collect proof:

  • Journaling: A person who suspects gaslighting can keep a journal in a secure location and record the date and time events occur.
  • Voice memos: Recording incidents with a cell phone or other device can help keep track. If a person’s device is not safe to use, they can consider purchasing a separate voice recorder and concealing it somewhere safe.
  • Photographs: Taking photographs provides someone with visual proof. For example, they can take a picture of where they leave their keys so that they know if a partner is hiding them to make them late. If a cell phone is not safe, a person can purchase a disposable camera and hide it instead.
  • Email: If it is not safe for a person to keep proof of gaslighting in their home, they could ask a trusted friend or family member if they can store it. After gathering the proof, a person can send it via email and then delete it from their own devices.

Recovery From Gas Lighting

Gas lighting may take place for years or decades before a person realises what is happening. As a result, recovering from gas lighting takes time. A person may need to try several approaches to rebuild their sense of self.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline advise that people:

  • remember they are not responsible for the abusive behavior
  • avoid arguing about what is true with the abusive person
  • practice listening to their thoughts, feelings, and instincts again

It may be difficult to do this to begin with. People may benefit from having support from a therapist with training on abuse recovery and trauma.

Rebuilding relationships with family and friends may also become part of recovery. This step can be difficult if an abusive person told others lies to discredit or isolate someone. However, it may help with recovery to have social support. 

Support groups may also help with this process of recovery.

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In Short

Gas lighting is an abusive practice that causes someone to distrust themselves or to believe they have a mental illness. The long-term effects of gaslighting may include anxiety, depression, trauma, and low self-esteem.

Gaslighting often appears in abusive relationships but also takes place in other contexts. People from marginalised groups are especially vulnerable.

If a person believes their partner is gas lighting them, they can take steps to record evidence and seek help from domestic abuse organisations. Click here for a list of resources for emotional abuse

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