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Gaslighting is a term that gets thrown into all sorts of conversations these days. But it’s not just a trendy term that describes any form of disagreement.

True gaslighting is a subtle yet powerful form of emotional abuse that chips away at your sense of reality and self-worth. It can be tricky to recognize in everyday situations, but learning to identify it is key to avoiding mental health issues including a loss of identity and mistrust of others.1

Gaslighting in romantic relationships

In romantic relationships, gaslighting often stems from one partner’s desire to control the other. It could be fueled by insecurities or fear of losing the relationship. Here are some ways it can manifest.

Rewriting shared experiences

A partner might insist on a different version of past events so they have a chance to control the narrative. For instance, they could claim, “You’re misremembering our anniversary dinner—we had a wonderful time,” even when you recall it being tense and filled with arguments.

This can lead you to wonder if your memories are reliable, slowly rewriting the script of your shared life to fit their agenda.

Invalidating your emotional reality

If you express discomfort with a situation, a gaslighter might respond by saying something like “You’re acting crazy—anyone else would be thrilled about this.” By doing so, they dismiss your feelings and slowly train you to dismiss them yourself.

Over time, you might begin to suppress your emotions and question your right to feel upset or uneasy.

Cutting you off from your social circle

Gaslighters may isolate their victims to increase their dependency. They might lie and say, “Your friends are always talking behind our backs—they don’t understand us,” encouraging you to withdraw from your social network.

As you pull away from friends and family, you lose external perspectives that could validate your experiences. This makes you even more reliant on the gaslighter’s version of reality.

Gaslighting in friendships

Friends can use gaslighting to dominate the friendship, avoid accountability, or manipulate situations. Here are some ways gaslighting might appear in friendships.

Downplaying your achievements

Imagine you cooked a successful, gourmet meal for a dinner party. When you excitedly discuss it with your friend afterward, they respond with, “Maybe the next one will go well.”

This tactic isn’t just about making you question your accomplishments—it’s about gradually eroding your self-efficacy and confidence. Over time, this makes you hesitant to share your successes, as each conversation makes your achievements seem less real.

Spreading gossip to change how others perceive you

A friend might tell others, “She’s always exaggerating her stories,” while telling you, “Everyone thinks you’re melodramatic.”

This dual strategy isolates you socially, making you hesitant to express yourself or seek validation from others. You may begin to feel that everyone else is “in the know” while you’re the one out of touch with reality.

Deflecting blame

When you confront a friend about missing a commitment, they might say, “I never agreed to that—you must be confused,” despite clear evidence to the contrary.

This ongoing denial reshapes your understanding of what happened. You may begin to feel that your memories are unreliable, or that you’re always making mistakes.

Gaslighting in families

In families, gaslighting can shape power dynamics or control family narratives. Here are some examples of family-based gaslighting.

Denying your worth

A parent might gaslight by saying, “Why can’t you be more like your brother? He never had this problem,” even if that isn’t the case. Not only are they implying that you’re underperforming, but they’re pretending that the issue you have isn’t typical.

Over time, you might start to internalize this false narrative, questioning your own unique abilities and worth. It may eventually undermine your sense of self and change your perception of your own value.

Rewriting history to create guilt

A family member might gaslight by saying something like, “I’ve sacrificed so much for you, and you’re still so ungrateful.” Even if your memories don’t align with this narrative, the accusation casts your actions in a negative light and burdens you with guilt.

The family member might make up false or exaggerated sacrifices to emphasize how much they’ve done for you, making you feel indebted to them and manipulating you into going along with their wishes.

Gaslighting at work

At work, colleagues or supervisors might use gaslighting to gain dominance or avoid accountability. Here are some examples of workplace gaslighting.

Erasing your contributions

In the workplace, a manager may gaslight by taking credit for your work. For example, during a team meeting they may say, “I developed this strategy last quarter,” even though you spearheaded the project. When you confront them privately, they might respond by saying something like, “You must be confused—I’ve always led this initiative.”

By downplaying or ignoring the work you’ve done and your memory of events, they make you question your importance to the team, the value of your work, and the accuracy of your memory. This tactic involves not only taking credit for your ideas, but systematically altering your perception of the truth.

Unrealistic expectations

A supervisor might assign you an overwhelming project or an unrealistic deadline, claiming “This is a typical amount of work; all of your coworkers are completing this without a problem.” Even when you struggle, your supervisor sticks to the false story that this workload is typical and you’re the problem.

This approach involves setting you up for failure through inconsistent or unclear expectations, making you question your competence and understanding.

Providing conflicting feedback

In your performance review, you might hear, “You need to be more assertive with your ideas,” followed shortly by, “You’re coming on too strong—let others speak.” When you point out the contradiction, your manager responds, “I never said that. You must be misremembering.”

This technique uses contradictory comments and denials to make you doubt your memory and ensure you remain off balance and uncertain of your performance.

Gaslighting in society

Gaslighting doesn’t only happen in personal relationships and at work—it impacts entire societal groups and communities. Media outlets, politicians, professionals, and public figures may use tactics to manipulate public opinion, spread misinformation, or weaken trust in institutions.

Gaslighting on social media

Creating false narratives or intentionally spreading misinformation is a common gaslighting tactic used on social media.

For example, a former friend or acquaintance might create posts or comments misrepresenting your actions or their impact. They may comment something like, “Remember when you made everyone super uncomfortable at this dinner?”

As a result, you may begin to question your own recollection of the evening and feel isolated from anyone in your online community who viewed the false comments.

Gaslighting in politics

Politicians may deny making certain statements even when they’re clearly documented. They could claim, “I never promised to cut taxes,” despite campaign videos and speeches proving otherwise.

This tactic can create confusion and mistrust. They may backtrack, saying that the videos were taken out of context or that the remarks didn’t mean what people thought. Beyond making it difficult for the public to hold the politician accountable, they may also begin to second guess the meaning of other remarks and doubt their own interpretation of claims.

Gaslighting in healthcare

A patient consistently complaining of severe, debilitating headaches might be gaslit by their doctor who dismisses their symptoms without running tests. Their doctor repeatedly insists, “You’re just under a lot of stress. There’s nothing actually wrong.”

Over time, the patient may start to question whether their pain is real or if they’re being overly sensitive, leading to increased anxiety and self-doubt. This dismissal not only delays proper diagnosis and treatment but also erodes the patient’s trust in their own body and intuition.

How to respond to gaslighting

Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and open communication. If you think you may be a victim of gaslighting, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Trust your instincts: Pay attention to your intuition and feelings. If something feels off, it likely is. Validate your emotions and perceptions by acknowledging them, even if others don’t.

Document interactions: Make a habit of recording events or conversations that cause confusion to reference them later. This will help you stay grounded in your reality.

Seek support: It can be helpful to get an objective perspective from a trusted friend, family member, colleague, or community member. They can provide validation and help you navigate the situation.

Set boundaries: Clearly communicate your limits and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to say no to interactions that make you uncomfortable or cause you to doubt yourself.

Practice self-care: Engage in activities that support your mental and emotional health. This can reinforce your sense of self and reduce the impact of gaslighting.

Distance yourself or cut ties if necessary: If the gaslighting persists, you may need to step back from the relationship or environment to protect your well-being.

Consider professional help: Therapists or counselors can provide strategies and support to strengthen your mental resilience and help you navigate challenging relationships. Visit our directory to find a provider in your area.

It’s important to note that if mistreatment crosses the line into abuse, you should seek immediate help. If you are in a relationship with someone that has become abusive, do not attend couples therapy with them. Free, confidential help is available 24/7 when you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.