11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting: How to Recognize and Respond to Manipulative Behavior in a Relationship

Gaslighting is a destructive manipulation tactic that undermines a person's perception of reality and imposes the beliefs of the gaslighter. I think that it is crucial to be aware of the signs of gaslighting in order to protect yourself and maintain healthy relationships. Let's explore these signs in more detail:

1) Unawareness: Gaslighters often lack self-awareness and fail to recognize their own manipulative behavior. They tend to blame others and avoid taking responsibility for their actions, making it nearly impossible for them to build constructive dialogue and acknowledge their harmful actions in order to change them.

2) Willingness to Initiate Contact (And Lose It): Gaslighters actively seek out relationships and interactions because they need someone to manipulate. Initially, they may exhibit charm and superficial respect to establish a connection with their victims. However, once the connection is established, these positive behaviors inevitably disappear.

3) Sapping of Respect: Over time, gaslighters' respect for their partners diminishes. Disrespectful behaviors and attitudes become more prevalent, further perpetuating the power dynamic within the relationship.

4) Violation of Agreements: Gaslighters often break agreements to test personal boundaries and assert control. By doing so, they gauge the individual's reactions and seek to consolidate their power. If the victim lets it slide, the gaslighters will continue to violate their promises and disregard their part of agreements. However, they themselves are quick to react if the victims do not respect their obligations.

5) Imposition of Improvised New Rules: Gaslighters impose their own rules within the relationship, disregarding the victim's boundaries and values. They intentionally engage in behaviors that make the partner uncomfortable, aiming to break down their sense of self and assert dominance. For gaslighters, it is an assertion of their own "truth" and an elevation of their superiority and necessity in the other persons' lives.

6) Regular and Persistent Manipulation: Gaslighting behavior becomes a regular occurrence in the relationship as the gaslighter increasingly controls and dominates the victim's life. The victim begins to doubt themselves and their own perceptions, reinforcing the gaslighter's power and undermining their own self-confidence. Instilling self-doubt on the victim's side and establishing it through continuous "dripping" acts are integral ways in which gaslighters build their relationships.

7) Discrediting the Victim's Perception: Gaslighters often use phrases that undermine the victim's perception, dismissing their thoughts and feelings as subjective and invalidating their reality. They draw a distinction between the victim's perspective and their own, asserting their subjective opinion as the "truth" and the other point of view as either imaginary and not based on facts or subjective and detached from the "objective" reality, with which only they have the privilege to be familiar.

8) Erosion of Self-Confidence: Gaslighters aim to erode the victim's self-confidence, leaving them feeling dependent and unsure of themselves. The loss of self-confidence is gradual, but one can measure it by comparing it to the previous three to twelve months. Seeking support from a therapist or trusted friends and family members can be vital in addressing any loss of self-confidence resulting from gaslighting.

9) Words are Powerless, Actions are Stronger: Gaslighters are more responsive to consequences and actions than words. Engaging in dialogue often reinforces their power as they make sure to lead the conversation, influence and convince the other side, and sway the conversation to maintain control. Assertive actions and boundaries can have a greater impact on gaslighters, whereas words play a less significant role in the relationship.

10) Excusing their Behavior: Gaslighters often have deep-rooted issues stemming from their past, such as early abuse, an extremely dominant parent, traumatic experiences of psychological, emotional or sexual nature, or disrupted attachments. However, unless the gaslighter seeks professional help, an effort by the victim to understand their reasons may prove futile and even counter-productive as it places the victim in the position of rationalizing the gaslighter's behavior and thus exonerating it. It is crucial to focus on responding with actions and behaviors which do not diminish the individual's capabilities and powers while building a supportive network to reinforce self-confidence.

11) Preventing One to Seek Therapeutic Support. The gaslighter will prevent their victims from seeking support as they are interested in their victim to feel alone and vulnerable. That makes it challenging to address the gaslighting behavior Managing a relationship with a gaslighter can be challenging for many reasons, such as lack of personal experience with healthier relationship dynamics, feeling guilt toward the gaslighter, or fear of being alone. Finding the right help can provide invaluable guidance in navigating and recovering from gaslighting experiences.

Even though everyone may occasionally feel small, lonely and insignificant, remember, the dynamic of a healthy relationship does not need to lead you there. It might be useful to acknowledge that your emotions, perceptions, and experiences are valid and to compare them to how you previously felt. By familiarizing yourself with these warning signs of gaslighting, I hope you will be better equipped to recognize manipulative behavior and take necessary steps to protect your well-being in any relationship.

Published by author on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-psychology-of-relationships-and-emotional-intelligence/202404/11-warning-signs-of


Stern, R. (2007). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulations other people use to control your life. Morgan Road Books.
Durvasula, R. (2015). Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist. New York: Post Hill press.

Greetings! My name is Boris Herzberg and I am a psychoanalytic therapist, relationship consultant and ICF coach working online.
I help individuals and couples come to terms with their relationship to self and each other and explore ways to move towards a new way of living or being.

I work in a psychoanalytic paradigm but I would describe my therapy approach as adaptive, because I see each person as a unique being and thus work in a holistic way - with people, not with problems.

Psychoanalyst (East-European Institute for Psychoanalysis)
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