Gaslighting Examples

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Do you tend to question everything you say or do, or believe something is wrong with you at your core? Do you feel insecure about your feelings or have difficulty making decisions? Are you constantly questioning your memory, perception, and judgment, feeling like you no longer know who you are? This blogs dives into gaslighting examples in various contexts and relationships to help you identify when you are being manipulated.

Relationships with toxic people can bring much negativity and harm into our lives. Because most toxic people are self-centered, lack empathy, and use gaslighting and other manipulative tactics to control their victims, relationships with these people may keep us trapped in perpetual self-doubt, leading to self-esteem difficulties and an increased sense of isolation and fear over time.

Definition of Gaslighting

The term “gaslighting” typically describes the behavior of someone who manipulates other people by using psychological abuse to make them question their own reasoning, reality, and sanity. The term comes from an old movie from 1944 called Gaslight. In the movie, a husband plays mind games with his wife, twisting aspects of her surroundings, like the gaslights, to the point where she begins to think she is losing her mind.

So, here are some critical gaslighting examples to help you identify and avoid this form of abuse in different kinds of relationships.

Core Gaslighting Characteristics and Tactics

Gaslighting in relationships typically develops gradually, so it’s not always easy to recognize when you’ve been gaslighted. Because these manipulative strategies can be sneaky and hard to spot, some people put up with gaslighting for a long time, not realizing that it’s actually a form of abuse.

The abusive person’s actions usually do not match their words. They may tell you lies and then deny saying them, causing you to question reality and gradually destroying your feeling of stability and security.

Furthermore, they will constantly project guilt and blame you for things they are saying or doing. People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), for example, use gaslighting and other manipulative techniques to gain control, leading their victim to feel guilty, accept blame, and reconcile under their circumstances. This behavior serves to ensure narcissistic supply, as narcissists need someone to fuel their fragile ego constantly.

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What About Unintentional Gaslighting?

The spectrum of gaslighting encompasses various motives and origins beyond clinical narcissism. Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic used to control or undermine someone’s perception of reality. It can be employed by people for various reasons, not solely by those with clinical narcissism.

Gaslighting behavior can be a learned or adopted strategy to maintain control, exert power, or avoid accountability. It might stem from insecurities, a desire for control, a lack of empathy, or even learned behaviors from past experiences. Context, motivations, and frequency of gaslighting behaviors need to be considered when assessing its significance.

For instance, emotionally invested partners may unknowingly resort to gaslighting due to their own insecurities and childhood attachment wounds. Their skewed perception of relationships leads them to control through deception and denial out of fear.

Similarly, some parents subconsciously invalidate their children’s emotions because their own caregivers dismissed them. This knee-jerk denial is more about protecting fragile self-images than intentionally manufacturing lies for narcissistic supply.

While the impact of gaslighting remain equally harmful regardless of motives, understanding the psychology behind gaslighters informs potential solutions. Addressing fundamental narcissism differs vastly from tackling collective trauma or attachment issues that enable similar behaviors to manifest as gaslighting self-protection mechanisms in relationships. Not all manipulation seeks to bolster egos; much of it serves to shield shame and fragility. Nuance matters when dissecting and addressing these complex behaviors.

Psychology Behind Gaslighting

The psychology behind gaslighting is rooted in the gaslighter’s deliberate and systematic manipulation of the victim’s perception of reality. This is often achieved through the use of false information, denial, and contradiction, leading the victim to question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Gaslighting is used to gain control and power over the victim, as well as to create chaos and confusion in their mind, ultimately weakening their resistance and self-esteem.

Specifically, gaslighters capitalize on cognitive dissonance created when a victim’s lived experiences get denied. By insisting otherwise, they create mental conflicts forcing the victim to either reject the gaslighter’s false narratives or betray their own memories and perception. Faced with this disconnect, the target person may end up defer to the gaslighter’s false narrative to ease the psychological tension.

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Emotional tactics like intermittent affection, withdrawal of approval, personalized attacks, guilt trips and trivializing concerns all provide tools for gaslighters to destabilize targets. Victims strained trying to predict and mitigate volatile responses get conditioned to distrust their own emotional reactions and instead rely on the manipulator’s unpredictable cues.

Furthermore through persistent reinforcement over time – repeatedly challenging someone’s recounts, dismissing their emotions, accusing them of instability – gaslighters train victims to discredit themselves automatically. 

Additionally gaslighters deflect accountability by projecting their own abusive behaviors onto victims. Accusations of “oversensitivity”, imaginations, or forgetfulness frustrates targets and obscures the true perpetrator. Prolonged projection also encourages false admissions of guilt from victims who want to reconcile the cognitive dissonance.

Overtime, these psychological tactics can erode someone’s grasp of reality and undermine their self-efficacy. But recognition of the compromised behavioral and thought patterns makes healing possible.

Common Gaslighting Examples and Behaviors

gaslight behavior

The toxic person will tell you blatant lies and then insist they are facts, deny things they previously said or done, and project their own motivations onto you. These are some of the common examples of gaslighting behavior, along with the following:

Downplaying or denying your emotions or experiences

A person who uses gaslighting strategies will use every opportunity to minimize or completely dismiss your feelings and experiences, making you doubt the validity of your feelings or the things you have gone through.

For example, you tell your partner that their comment at dinner with friends hurt you. Instead of acknowledging your feelings and apologizing, they respond by saying, “You’re overreacting. You’re too sensitive; I was joking.” They downplay your emotional response to their behavior and label your feelings overly sensitive, causing you to doubt the validity of your emotions.

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Shifting blame onto you to make you feel responsible for the manipulator's behaviors

People who gaslight project blame on their victims to avoid taking responsibility for their own behavior. So, you may constantly feel the need to explain yourself and apologize for things you haven’t said or done because your spouse guilt-trips you and accuses you of lying and cheating (something that they do).

Memory manipulation

One of the insidious tactics of gaslighting involves memory manipulation, where individuals cunningly alter, deny, or manipulate events to control narratives. This method not only leaves victims feeling bewildered but also undermines their confidence in their own memory and perceptions. 

The toxic person may undermine your perceptions of reality by asserting that your memories and thoughts are incorrect, causing you to question your recollection of events or understanding of the situation.

For example, when you confront a friend about an incident when they lied to you, they may respond by saying, “I never lied to you. You’re imagining things.” Your friend’s tactic of arguing your memory is a form of gaslighting intended to make you doubt your own perception and memory.

Within this spectrum of gaslighting, memory manipulation can also take place via omission of facts. Gaslighters can strategically leave out crucial details or context to skew the narrative in their favor. They selectively present information, manipulating reality to suit their agenda. Imagine a scenario where someone recounts an incident but conveniently excludes key facts, leading the victim to doubt their own memory of the event. This omission serves as a powerful tool to distort perceptions and sow seeds of confusion.

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Creating confusion

Gaslighters tend to create confusion and doubt by providing false information or distorting the truth, which can lead to self-doubt, shame, and turmoil in your mind. For example, your toxic coworker may intentionally lie to you. They may falsely claim that other coworkers are speaking negatively about you. They may also manipulate details in a way that makes it difficult for you to determine what is true and what is not.

Withholding information to confuse and control you

The gaslighting person may deliberately withhold critical information or details to confuse you and make you dependent on them. For example, your friend may constantly refuse to answer your questions about the plans for the weekend that you both intended to spend together, leaving you unable to make your own arrangements.

Start the gradual journey back to grounded self-confidence from the shadows of gaslighting.

Schedule a consultation with our vetted therapists to get support.

Gaslighting Examples In Different Kinds of Relationships

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person or group makes someone question their own reality. It often leaves the victim confused and doubting their own memories, perceptions, and sanity. Unfortunately, gaslighting tactics are common across many settings – personal relationships, workplaces, institutions, and society as a whole.

Gaslighting Examples in Romantic Relationships

example of gaslighting in a relationship

what is gaslighting in a marriage

Gaslighting in romantic relationships operates subtly, aiming to manipulate reality and erode the victim’s mental well-being and self-assurance. Repeated gaslighting behaviors grant one partner abusive control by undermining the other’s confidence in their judgments and perceptions.

An approach frequently employed involves directly contradicting the victim’s experiences. Denying clear memories of abusive incidents or dismissing visible injuries, accompanied by phrases like “You’re exaggerating” or “That never happened,” instills doubt in the victim’s memories, allowing the gaslighter to evade accountability.

Gaslighters manipulate by distorting past statements or fabricating lies while undermining the victim’s credibility. They might deny previously made plans, causing confusion, or contradict explicit promises, fostering self-doubt that the manipulative partner exploits with further falsehoods.

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Shifting blame is another tactic, with gaslighters accusing victims of starting conflicts or being overly sensitive. This deflects guilt and portrays abusive outbursts as the victim’s fault.

Gaslighters also attempt to rewrite the reality of abuse episodes, leaving victims bewildered and questioning their interpretations. They might downplay aggressive behavior or blame the victim for initiating violence, even convincing observers that the victim is unstable.

As victims distrust their own judgment due to gaslighting, manipulators gain psychological control, denying past promises and violating boundaries without consequences. Victims become dependent on the gaslighter’s version of reality, trapping them in the abusive dynamic.

Recognizing gaslighting techniques like lying, denying, blaming, trivializing, and manipulating contexts is crucial to identify unhealthy relationships early on. Documentation, seeking support from unbiased allies, and external help can counter the distorted reality created by an abusive partner.

Gaslighting Examples in Familial Relationships

While public awareness of gaslighting often focuses on romantic partnerships, some of the most common and devastating examples occur right within our homes and family units. Children in particular fall victim to parental gaslighting that can warp their sense of reality for life. Even well-intentioned family members may gaslight relatives and perpetuate intergenerational trauma.

Many gaslighting tactics in families mirror those used by abusive intimate partners. One parent may outright deny or downplay incidents witnessed clearly by the child and other relatives. Or they may accuse the child of “imagining things” or having a faulty memory when recalling unsettling events, gradually training the child to doubt their own recollections. Making the child feel like a liar deflects attention from the parent’s behavior.

Invalidating a child’s normal emotional reactions comprises another insidious form of familial gaslighting. For instance, telling children they are “too dramatic” or “oversensitive” when responding appropriately to frightening or painful experiences. This pressures kids to suppress emotions, question their instinctive responses and believe they cannot trust their own feelings and perceptions. Such invalidation early in development often manifests later in struggles with self-confidence and self-expression that continue into adulthood.

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Similarly, children raised in chaotic environments with unreliable caregivers become conditioned not to trust themselves. When parents frequently break promises, change rules arbitrarily or display inconsistent behavior, kids begin relying on external cues rather than developing an inner sense of stability. They grow accustomed to second-guessing all their thoughts and reactions, becoming prime targets for gaslighting romantic partners later in life.

Of course parents need not engage in overt emotional manipulation to gaslight their children. Well-intentioned family members sometimes inadvertently invalidate relatives’ lived experiences that differ from societal norms. For example, dismissing a teenager’s struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity as “just a phase” gaslights their very real internal reckoning and self-concept. Even elders may gaslight younger generations by saying “You’re too young to understand…” refusing to acknowledge real generational differences in perspectives and priorities.

Healing collective family trauma therefore requires a willingness to confront our own internalized biases and break inherited cycles of gaslighting. Creating space for each family member’s emotions and experiences without invalidation is the first step.

Gaslighting Examples in Work Relationships

gaslighting at work

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Gaslighting can happen in professional dynamics like the workplace. A manager may claim a target employee “misunderstands” new workload expectations after already increasing their duties several times. Or they may berate an employee for a mistake, then deny having ever provided proper training that would have prevented said error. Managers can also take credit for subordinates’ successful ideas while blaming team members directly for any failures.

In addition, gaslighting frequently manifests in office politics between coworkers. Spreading rumors about a colleague, hiding important information they need, or leaving them off key emails allows gaslighters to isolate targets. Saying a coworker “seems to take things so personally” or is “bad at perceiving tone” plants seeds among the team that emotionally volatile reactions come from within the target rather than their aggressor. Minimizing achievements, suddenly withdrawing support, or even blatantly challenging someone’s lived experiences all serve to destabilize targets over time.

Gaslighting at work can create a toxic environment, eroding trust, confidence, and morale. Recognizing these examples can empower individuals to identify and address such behaviors, fostering a healthier and more supportive workplace culture. Seeking support from trusted colleagues or HR and setting boundaries can help mitigate the impact of gaslighting in professional settings.

Gaslighting Examples in Friendships

Gaslighting in friendships and peer relationships can be subtle yet profoundly damaging. Manipulative peers may try to dominate friend circles through deception, humiliation, and exploitation.

Gaslighters may use backhanded compliments, pointed jokes, and subtle digs to progressively erode a target’s confidence when among supposedly “close” friend groups. Mocking someone’s appearance, taste in music, personal values or other points of identity trains them to doubt their own self-worth. It also pressures them to mute their authentic voices and personalities to avoid further shame. Friends doubting each other’s recollections of events, spreading misinformation about them to others, and dismissing their accomplishments or talents all constitute gaslighting behaviors as well.

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On social media, gaslighters gang up to undermine peers through tactics like subtweeting vague negatives about them, publicly disputing their lived experiences, or intentionally misconstruing their words out of context. With reputations and social standing at stake publicly online, youth get manipulated into distrusting their own views and perceptions. Eventually, victims self-isolate or even display more volatile behavior that gets blamed on individual instability rather than cumulative abusive treatment.

Whether direct or indirect, repeated gaslighting from peers cultivates traumatic self-consciousness and overdependence on external approval during pivotal developmental phases. Building honest communication, empathy and self-acceptance within youth friend circles helps establish enough trust and self-assurance to identify and reject gaslighting early on. 

Gaslighting Examples on Societal levels

Gaslighting doesn’t just occur within individual relationships but can also permeate societal and systemic structures. Cultural stereotyping can deeply internalize self-doubt and worthlessness within oppressed groups. When film, ads, and everyday rhetoric portray demographics like women, minorities or immigrants as “unreliable,” “overemotional,” “unintelligent,” or “dangerous” it teaches those groups to view such attributes as intrinsic to their identity regardless of reality. This insidious cultural gaslighting sows imposter syndrome and anxiety within targetted groups

Likewise, historical revisionism that obscures past oppression tactics allows present-day inheritors of inequality to dismiss current complaints as exaggerated. Erasing atrocities against indigenous first peoples and enslaved Africans from texts for example, allowed segregation and discrimination to persist by today’s dominant groups convincing themselves systemic racism ended long ago. This societal whitewashing manipulates public memory such that oppression feels like ancient history rather than something with direct throughlines to current marginalization.

Overlooked Phrases of Gaslighting

gaslight phrases

Sometimes, it is hard to identify gaslighting phrases, so pointing them out might be helpful.

"I was just joking."

Manipulators use this phrase to minimize or deny your feelings, avoid taking responsibility for their words and actions, and make you question yourself instead.

"You are too sensitive/ you're taking it too personally."

Everyone sometimes overreacts or feels offended by words or behaviors that were not intended to hurt them. Still, gaslighters may use this phrase to dismiss your feelings every time they say or do anything hurtful, until you begin to doubt if you’ve genuinely blown things out of proportion.

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"You are overreacting/being dramatic."

Toxic people usually create drama, competition, or uncertainty on purpose, pretending to be innocent and blaming you for reacting to unhealthy situations they make. For example, a toxic coworker may deliberately start a rumor about you at the office. When you find out and confront them about it, they may shift the blame onto you by responding with something like, “You’re being so dramatic! You are overreacting. It was just a harmless joke.”

"You have issues."

gaslighters may use this phrase to make you second-guess your thoughts, memories, and perceptions until you start believing that there is something wrong at the core of your being and feel grateful for their attention and love.

Get support for the impact of toxic relationships.

Schedule a consultation with our vetted therapists.

Gaslighting 10 Signs

Signs You Might Be Getting Gaslight

You might get gaslighted when someone consistently challenges your reality, diminishing your self-esteem and causing you to feel confused, anxious, and insecure.

1. Key details often change

You recall a conversation, event details, promises made or other factual information clearly, while the other person denies or alters these facts. This can make you begin questioning your own accuracy over time.

2. They insist you said or did things you know you didn’t.

Similarly, the other person may bring up conversations or incidents that never actually happened. But they describe fabricated scenarios so confidently, you start doubting your own recollections.

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3. They use definitive words like “always” to describe things you supposedly do that aren’t accurate.

For example, “You’re always causing drama,” even when you rarely get upset or only do so after repeated mistreatment. This exaggeration sow seeds of self-doubt.

4. They trivialize or outright deny your lived experiences.

Common examples include saying discrimination, disrespect or abuse “wasn’t a big deal” or that it didn’t actually happen the way you experienced it. This denial of your reality gradually undermines your confidence in your own judgement.

5. Issues often get turned around back onto you.

Even when you confront them about something hurtful or questionable, it somehow comes back around to being your fault or insists you just “can’t take a joke.” This makes you reluctant to speak up for yourself over time.

6. They enlist others against you.

 Behind-the-scenes, they may have told different versions of a story to isolate or humiliate you socially. Seeing former allies now doubting you or outright turning on you further decimates your trust in yourself and relationships.

7. You feel heightened self-blame and confusion.

Regular interactions with this person often leave you second-guessing yourself, your emotions, your priorities and past decisions. You may even obsess over minor details trying to determine what is real versus a lie.

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8. You feel trapped.

The idea of leaving or removing this toxic person from your life seems overwhelming even as the relationship deteriorates. Constant self-doubt combined with their well-crafted external social perceptions makes the possibility of losing connections and credibility by accusing them feel like too much of a risk.

9. You apologize more readily but the other party seems largely unaccountable.

Despite taking the brunt of blame and making most efforts repairing arguments or problems, their behaviors change little while your self-confidence plummets. Reestablishing healthy reciprocal communication and trust requires urgency at this stage.

10. They continuously accuse you of reacting disproportionately to events.

Yet you notice walking on eggshells around topics you suspect might spur their own volatility. Despite feeling unable to express needs openly, they still paint you as the irrational or emotionally unstable one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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