Gaslighting: How to Identify and Treat It in Relationships

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Learn how to avoid manipulation and build healthy relationships from Santa Clarita's leading licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

I bet you have been hearing this term more and more these days. Most people hear the word “gaslighting” but don’t totally understand what it means, nor do they realize the devastating, negative impact gaslighting has on relationships.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is one of the most subtle forms of emotional abuse. Unless you understand gaslighting and have had experience with this twisted mindset, you are probably going to miss the signs that are happening, initially. Before you know it, you will be in the throes of a toxic relationship questioning everything you once knew to be true about you, unless of course, you catch the signs early and you know what to do about it. So let me teach you everything you need to know about gaslighting and what you can do about it.

Let’s Be Honest About What Gaslighting Really Is…

I am going to dive right in and get straight to the core of what gaslighting is. Gaslighting is straight-up manipulation and a slow, steady, covert form of emotional abuse with the overall goal to gain power and control over someone else. Gaslighting is when someone methodically repeats behaviors that eventually cause you to start questioning your reality. Gaslighting is brainwashing. A gaslighter will tell you that you don’t see what you see, hear what you hear, or feel what you feel.

You seriously begin to believe that you secretly might be losing your mind! Their ultimate goal is to overpower and gain control over someone by altering reality. The gaslighter is king when it comes to convincing someone a frog is a duck, or the sky is green. The gaslighter chips away at the other person’s perceived reality until they start doubting themselves. Gaslighting is emotional abuse. It is subtle. One of the biggest tell-tale signs determining if you are involved in a toxic relationship with a gaslighter is if you start to question your sanity.

Knowing what gaslighting means, and more importantly, how to navigate a toxic relationship is essential to becoming healthier and creating relationships that thrive.

6 Ways to Determine if You May Be Involved With a Gaslighter.

Have you been wondering lately, “Am I in a toxic relationship with a gaslighter?” Well, these key questions may help you decide if you are in a toxic, gaslighting relationship.

  1. Are you starting to doubt yourself all the time? You were once confident and bubbly and now you are quiet and insecure. You aren’t quite sure what has happened but you just don’t feel like you are empowered and strong anymore.

  2. Are you confused and feeling a bit lost? The relationship you once thought was the “most amazing relationship ever” seems to feel not so great anymore.

  3. Are you starting to wonder if you are going crazy? Little by little, people who are around gaslighters really do feel like they are losing their mind. You start questioning your judgment.

  4. Do you question your thoughts and feelings now that you have been in this relationship a while? The “perfect” relationship is starting to feel out of control and more unstable to you, but the gaslighter is convincing you, the problem is YOU.

  5. Is someone causing you to question what you see, hear or feel because they are telling you you didn’t actually see what you saw, hear what you heard, or feel what you felt?

  6. Have you lost a sense of who you are? You don’t feel solidly like yourself anymore when you are exposed to the abuse of a gaslighter.

Are You a Victim of Gaslighting?

There are several indicators you are involved with a gaslighter. Many people in gaslighting relationships describe a pit in their stomach, feeling anxious and/or depressed. They also feel lost, confused, insecure, stupid, ugly, and inadequate. They begin to believe they are “less than” and not good enough. The sign of all signs of a gaslighting relationship is when you think to yourself, “Am I going crazy?”

Believe me, the gaslighter is doing this purposely to get you to need them. They will twist things around to make it sound like everything is your fault. Ultimately they want you to feel unsure of yourself, and insecure so they can gain power and control over every area of your life. They criticize little things about you and chip away at your self-esteem, and then once they tear you down, they act like the hero building you back up again. They convince you that if you ever even thought about leaving, you would lose the greatest thing you’d ever have in life, which they tell you is THEM. The truth is you DO have a lot to lose. But it is not what you think.

What You REALLY Lose When You Stay in a Toxic Relationship With a Gaslighter.

First and foremost:

  • You lose YOURSELF.

  • Your solid sense of reality.

  • Your self-esteem.

  • Your sense of self-worth.

  • Your connection to yourself.

  • Your intuition/inner guidance.

  • Your values.

  • Your confidence.

  • You lose your identity.

You are worthy, important, and valuable. Never let a gaslighter, or ANYONE for that matter, to convince you otherwise. Because you have been criticized in really odd ways for so long, you can’t help but lose self-confidence. When you express yourself, a gaslighter says things like, “You are just too sensitive” or “You are ridiculous.”

Another tactic is telling you that “You just can’t ever accept constructive criticism.” No matter what, to the gaslighter, you eventually going to be degraded as “too this” or “too that.” In the beginning they made you feel like you were the center of their universe, and now you feel like you are never enough.

What Gaslighting is Not

  • It is not a healthy relationship.

  • It is not genuine and honest.

  • It is not going to suddenly get better.

  • It is not ever going back to the “way it used to be.”

  • It is never going to be the ideal, fantasy-like, “perfect” relationship it felt like when you originally met.

  • Gaslighting is NOT FOR YOU.

An Example of Gaslighting

“My husband told me to have a special dinner ready by 6 p.m. for his work partners who were coming over for an important meeting. I was really accommodating and made an extra special dinner. Well, he never brought them over. In fact, he didn’t just NOT show up, but he didn’t call and worse than anything, he wouldn’t even answer my many calls and text messages. I was seriously worried something bad may have happened to him. Finally, at 11:30 p.m. he strolls in and I immediately question him about what happened. He tells me in a very flippant, uncaring way, they “changed plans.”

I told him how hurt I was and he blew me off and told me I am “way too sensitive.” He continued dismissing me, telling me to “stop making such a big deal out of something so minor.” He said, “You were making dinner for the kids anyway! Stop acting like such a martyr.” He followed up with another rude, dismissive remark accusing me of “always making such a big deal out of things that don’t even matter.”

Then I got livid. I just lost it! I mean, how could someone twist things around to ignore all the efforts I put into making a special dinner cause he asked me to. When I started yelling at him, he smugly turned to me so calmly and in control and said, “Look at how crazy you are. Why would I want to even be around someone who acts like you do? You are so disrespectful the way you are treating me.”

That is classic gaslighting.

Do you think you can stop gaslighting? Do you think you can control someone else’s behavior? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then you are susceptible to being gaslit.

How Can I Extinguish Gaslighting?

Here is the truth.

  • You never have control over how anyone acts.

  • You are not responsible for what anyone else does.


I see it all the time in my counseling practice, people hope and believe they can change the other person in order to fix the relationship. The gaslighter has you convinced it is all your fault when things go wrong, so of course, you delusionally believe you can control the dysfunction. After all, if you caused it then can fix it, right? Wrong. You have become so confused and overwhelmed in this relationship you have lost sight of whose responsible for what. Remember, you are only responsible for you. The other person is responsible for themselves. Don’t allow the gaslighter to convince you you are responsible for their behavior. It is common to hear a gaslighter say things like, “If you hadn’t been so negative, I would never have done that (bad thing I did).”

Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Gaslighting

Don’t continue to get played and sucked deeper into the never-ending, crazy-making cycle of staying in the toxic relationship. YOU can’t control what the gaslighter does or doesn’t do. You can’t change the way they do life. You may think “If they love me enough, they will change.” That my friend is a set-up for deep disappointment and despair. Love has nothing to do with it. The pattern of behaviors gaslighters use is to control and dominate, and control and domination is not the same thing as love. In reality, the only reason a gaslighter may choose to change is that the behavior they are using no longer is working for them.

The psychological trauma of gaslighting is serious and should not be ignored. The recipient of gaslighting abuse has ignored themselves long enough. It is time for a shift. Make a decision to value yourself enough to do whatever it takes to regain your clarity once again.

Start With a “30 day NO CONTACT of Any Kind” Rule

No social media stalking. No texting. No calling. No emailing. No speaking about them to friends or family. Literally purge them from your mind, body, and soul. See what happens after 30 days of no contact. You will gain objectivity you NEVER would have while still immersed in the relationship. Try it. See what happens for yourself. You will start to become the “you” you were before you got lured into the charm of the slippery slopes of a gaslighting relationship.

Healthy relationships

You have options!

Reclaim your freedom from toxic, gaslighting relationships.

  • Learn the signs.

  • Respect what you see.

  • Don’t keep listening to words that don’t match the actions.

  • Pay attention to actions because actions tell the true story.

  • Rebuild your confidence.

  • Never allow anyone else to convince you that your reality is not yours.

  • Adhere to a new policy for yourself and call it “Zero tolerance for bullshit.” Then truly stop tolerating bad behavior.

  • Quit making excuses to stay. You know what you know. Stick to YOUR truth no matter what anyone else is telling you.

  • Stop denying the truth of what you know.

  • Learn to catch the early signs in a relationship when someone is trying to manipulate your thoughts and feelings, and criticize you in small ways consistently over time.

  • Stop the cycle.

  • Get out of a relationship that doesn’t feel good.

Life is meant to be lived well. You are meant to be happy. Get help. Use your resources. Reach out. Don’t keep secrets. Secrets keep you stuck.

If you feel like you are in a relationship with mild symptoms of gaslighting, do whatever it takes to shift your patterns and the overall dynamic of the relationship now before it becomes your worst nightmare.

Why Do People Gaslight?

A lot of times, people repeat what they know. In my professional experience, if someone has gaslighting tendencies, they typically have grown up with at least one primary caregiver that used gaslighting as a way to control relationships.  If the person grows up witnessing gaslighting towards others then THAT is the technique they learn at a very deep, subconscious level. 

Can there be hope if someone who gaslights doesn’t like the way they behave and wants to change?

The answer is a resounding YES! The key phrase is “wants to change.”  If a gaslighter learned these behaviors and recognizes they are undesirable and works on themselves with a professional, they definitely can change their brain patterns. Our brain has the ability to change the way neural connections wire together to make up a habit (neuroplasticity). Patterns and habits take at least 90-120 days of new behaviors practiced over and over again before you will start to see a true shift. This can be frustrating but worth all the effort for sure.

You deserve a great life. You do have the power and ability to do whatever it takes to create the life you want. It is up to you to invest the time and energy into creating one.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for educational and informational purposes. This in no way serves as a substitute for seeking your own psychological guidance and is intended to be a general informational article to enlighten the reader to a more fulfilling and satisfying way of conducting relationships.

About the Author: Dilyse Diaz is a nationally acclaimed marriage and family therapist who operates her own private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. Dilyse specializes in children's counseling, family therapy, couples counseling and much more! To see all the areas Dilyse specializes in, visit her Therapy and Counseling page here.

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