love triangle

Whether by denial, lying or being covertly abusive – phrasing what they say very carefully to intentionally hurt you – an abuser will use gaslighting as just one weapon in an arsenal of many. The tactic is used to alienate and isolate you from others, most especially your loved ones or co-workers.

An abuser will use gaslighting to make you doubt your own memories and experiences. “Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening” (from The National Domestic Violence Hotline). When you no longer trust your own observations and memories, when you instead trust the version of reality that is painted by the abuser, they have complete control over your reality. That allows them to construct a whole new world around their victim, usually one where the victim cannot possibly survive without the toxic person.

Rewriting History

“My mother always used to gaslight me. She would tell others that I had lied. I remember when we had just moved into a new house, she said “Next door have got our dustbin”. When I saw the people next door I repeated what she had said. Then – after they had confronted her – I really got it in the neck for having lied, as she convincingly rewrote history by explaining she had said “We had next door’s dustbin”. I was very young at the time but I knew I had told the truth, and I felt so hurt for being called a liar. Maybe especially as it really wasn’t a sin I had committed, even if I had been wrong. What I also learned from this and similar experiences was that I had to watch what I said, and so I became a very quiet and shy child.”

When things like this happen, you start to believe your abuser. No matter your age, you will start to think you are going crazy. Whether a toxic person flatly denies ever having said something, convinces you of conversations you never had… When an abuser starts creating their own version of history, they can be so convincing that you will indeed start to doubt your own faculties. Some abuser take it further than others

“My boss took denying his own actions to the extreme. He would tell you to do something, and then give you a massive shouting at for actually doing what he had asked you. It was so bad that, even if he had written you a note with the request, he would still deny the assignment. You would be standing there getting yelled at for doing what exactly what it said in his handwriting. He would be screaming: I would never have asked you to do that! How do you deal with that?”

Using Double Meaning

A toxic person often uses grammar against you. By making comments that have a double meaning, they can easily deny they were meant in a harmful way. Using this tactic also means that they can publicly put you down or humiliate you, and have complete deniability should anyone confront them.

“The one comment that always comes to mind was when I told her I was expecting my first child. Her vicious retort was “I can’t imagine you bringing a child into the world”. My pain must have shown on my face, and what should have been a really happy moment in my life turned to an overwhelming sadness. My own mother did not want me to have kids, or thought I would be an awful mother! (I think there was an awful lot of projection in that remark too, her realization that she was an awful mother, but couldn’t face the reality so put it on me instead!) When I recovered enough to contradict her she said “I didn’t mean it like that, what I meant was this is such an evil world for a baby to come into”. This memory shows just how covertly-aggressive she was.”

Most targets of abuse suffer a bombardment of ‘innocent comments’ that really aren’t innocent at all. They have the power to undermine our mental health, to make us believe we are either having memory problems or that we are horrible people for not believing the truth, their truth that is!

A Grain Of Truth

The other way an abuser gaslights is by using a tiny iota of truth, and embellishing a story around it. By basing the lies on a truth, however small and insignificant, it makes it harder for their victim to resist or disprove the lie.

“She would use things that happened and put them together to convince me of patterns that were not there. Like when one day my boyfriend (who she did not like one bit) did not want to throw his whole day around, just to accommodate my mother changing every plan that had been made and agreed for the day. She then used that to say she was very worried because she thought my partner was autistic.”

This method of gaslighting can also be used to keep reminding you of something you did once, and making you believe that you always do this. The abuser often focuses on a mistake that you made, and by focusing consistently on that mistake, will convince you that you are incompetent.

“A few years ago I mistakenly took the subway in the wrong direction. From then on, every time we needed the subway or even if it came up in conversation, my partner would make a joke about ‘that time when I went the wrong way’. Eventually it made me really nervous about using the public transport system because I felt that I might be taking the wrong direction”

How To Deal With Gaslighting

Gaslighting is just one of the many weapons in the arsenal of personalities hell-bent on having their way, even if it means doing so by subtle and covert means of conning others (from Counselling Resource). All toxic people and those with aggressive personality disorders will take advantage of you at every opportunity they can. It allows them to manipulate you and others and maintain their control over you.

There is good news though! In the words of Robin Stern on Psychology Today: “The good news is that knowledge is power. Once you can name this all too insidious dynamic, you can work towards changing the dynamic, or getting out — take back your reality, and, get more enjoyment from your life and your relationship!”

Some Pointers About What Not To Do:

  • Don’t take the responsibility or blame for what they are feeling.
  • Don’t automatically make snap judgments of others just because you have heard bad things about them.
  • Don’t engage in arguments with a Trouble Person or try to convince them you are right.
  • If you feel unsafe either physically, emotionally or verbally then get help or leave!
  • Don’t keep secrets, find someone to share your experience with.

Some Pointers About What To Do:

  • Realize that you are not responsible for someone else’s behavior.
  • Talk about the episode to those you trust.
  • Journaling can help to keep track of what actually happened and help you not to get lost is the abuser’s version of reality. Make sure the journal is kept private. If you don’t feel you can keep a journal private, do you have a computer where you can keep files private?
  • Remember you will never win a debate with this person as they are so convincing and persistently right, they will run rings around you.
  • Keep a record, especially in the workplace where the abuse may lead to legal action. Send emails to the abuser that summarize your meetings factually, for example by saying: I am correct to understand that…
  • If any events escalate to violence find safety and then report it to the police immediately.

we love to read your comments below


  1. Amy

    August 23, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    I thought this was a very useful and informative article, thanks. I know most of the gaslighting I’ve received has been from my immediate family…and even though I’ve cut contact with them, I don’t know that I’ve been able to get it “out of my system.”

    Like comments my mom made, even as early as I told her I wanted to apply for med school…she said doubtingly, “That’s a lot of work.” I didn’t think that was strange until I mentioned it to a therapist, who pointed out that many parents would have thought I was doing a great thing. But my mom put doubt in my mind that I could do it.

    And then when I later had to apply for disability (for chronic migraines, still ongoing, ugh)…she really didn’t want me to do it, saying “I’m worried you’ll never go back to work.” But she was willing to have me stay at a part-time stressful job with no chance of advancement and even send me money each month…and now I have the worry that I’ll never go back to work! Even though all the time after I went after disability, she’d ask me if I was looking for a job, etc…even though my neurologist and I agreed that I honestly couldn’t function.

    I don’t know if all that was even meant to be helpful, if it was the right way to handle things, or anything…I’m even confused about it all! So I guess cutting contact has been a good first step, though I’m conflicted about that…but I guess you could at least say she gave mixed messages. My ex-bf used to criticize me about my indecisiveness until he met her…and though he liked her overall, he told me, “I see where you get your indecisiveness!” and agreed to let me try to make my own decisions.

    Sorry to ramble like this…head is cloudy with a migraine even now…but thanks again for the article.


  2. Breezie

    October 13, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    My current husband, who I am separated from, was more subtle than the others. I didn’t realize at the time what he was doing. I excused the behavior over and over, but I called him on it each and every time. It never changed. I now know the term for the game he was playing, and how calculated it really was. After 8 years of marriage dealing with this, and realizing he has been talking badly about me to his ‘friends’ and family, as well as my son, I should have listened to my gut. I shut down and shut him out in 2009, and it took him 3 years to discard me. I think everybody should read this. Because of articles like this one, I am able to move forward, knowing I am not crazy, and yes, my memory is fully intact.
    I love this article and will read it again and again.

    • Breezie

      October 13, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      I recently busted my current ex, after being caught being wrong. In private, I brought it up. He basically had called me a liar, and I doubted my own memory, though I knew for sure I was right. It did nothing for him for me to force an apology from him, but finally, after 14 years, I put it back on him, and realized, he has always made excuses for his behavior, but never once said, “I’m sorry.” I knew the apology was not sincere, but it did a world of good for me. He will not change, but I will, for the better. I am relinquishing 50% of the guilt for our failed marriage, because I had taken 100%. He gets his half.
      Much love

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