Gaslighting in Relationships: How to Recognise and Deal With it

Has anyone ever doubted your judgment or tried to paint you as a liar even when you know that you were telling the truth? This might be one of the many signs of gaslighting. Keep reading to find out how it can be a serious red flag in your relationship.

By Adarsh Soni
25 Sep 2021

The term “Gaslight” was first introduced to us in a 1944 Hollywood movie of the same name. In the film, a husband manipulates his naive and trusting wife into believing that she can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality. In a particularly enthralling scene, he causes the gaslights in the house to sparkle by turning them on while hiding in the attic. Yet when she asks why the gaslights are sparkling, he insists that it’s not really happening and that it’s all in her mind, causing her to doubt her self-perception. Hence the term “gaslighting” was born.


But the term didn’t actually become a part of the modern zeitgeist up until the 2016 US elections when the entire nation started questioning if they were being gaslighted by their political leaders. Moving on to the present day, the word is not only a regular part of our vocabulary, it’s also pretty popular.


But what exactly is gaslighting? And how can you tell if you are being gaslighted? We spoke to Dr C Manjula Rao, clinical psychologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad seeking answers. And here they are.


What is Gaslighting?

According to a paper published in the Berkeley Science Review, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships. “It is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser makes the victim question their judgments and reality. This results in self-doubt and the victim starts to question their own sanity,” says Dr Rao. “This phenomenon primarily exists in marriages and romantic relationships but it’s not an uncommon sighting in families, friendships and even workplaces,” she adds. Basically, anyone who has a certain amount of power and control can gaslight someone. They use their power as a means of abusing the target because they know that no one would believe the weaker person.



How to identify gaslighting?

  • Before you begin to question your partner’s intentions, take a moment for self-realisation and ask yourself the following questions. Do you:
  • Often find yourself wondering, “Am I good enough?”
  • Keep thinking if you’re oversensitive or that you are overreacting a lot?
  • Apologise a lot? Even for the most trivial things?
  • Make excuses for your partner’s bad behaviour when confronted by friends or family?
  • Lie just so that you can avoid an argument with your partner?
  • Doubt your own judgement and can’t make simple decisions without your partner’s approval?
  • Feel unhappy on a regular basis but don’t know what is causing that?


If most of the answers turn out to be “Yes”, then you might be involved in a gaslighting relationship. While it’s true that most of these symptoms are common when you’re suffering from depression and anxiety, the difference between them and gaslighting is that the latter involves another person that might be directly or indirectly trying to hurt you. “They actively make you doubt your own decision-making skills up to a point that you don’t even trust yourself anymore,” says Dr Rao.


After you’ve gone over your own thoughts and feelings, it’s time to analyse your partner’s behaviour. Do any of these phrases sound familiar?


  • You’re absolutely crazy
  • Why are you always so insecure?
  • That never happened, you’re just imagining things now.
  • Don’t be so dramatic
  • You are bad at remembering things
  • Why are you so sensitive?
  • I don’t believe you


And the classic:

I was just joking

If you found yourself nodding throughout the whole list, then it might be time to stand up for yourself.



How to deal with gaslighting?

Now that you’ve identified the common signs of gaslighting, the next step is taking action. Here’s what you can do.

  • Take out time for yourself: Temporarily distance yourself from the situation because the overwhelming thoughts of anger and frustration can be bad for your mental health. Take a little break and act only when you are calm and composed.
  • Keep a journal: This is beneficial in two ways; firstly, “it will help you document the whole situation” says Dr Rao and secondly, “writing down your experience on a piece of paper can help you look at the situation from a different perspective,” she adds. You might not even realise how serious it is, until you get the thoughts out of your head.
  • Confront them: If you stay silent and let them constantly manipulate you, they will think that you are weak and it will further make the situation worse. Find an ideal time and place for this conversation and do it politely.


  • Understand that they might try to deflect: “The most common habit of a person that gaslights is that they will never regard your argument as valid,” says Dr Rao. They might try to disguise insults as jokes and even brush off your concerns with sarcasm. But you must be persistent so that they realise that their tactics are not going to work on you anymore.
  • Talk to someone: The best thing you can do in a situation like this is seek comfort in your closest confidants. “Talk to your parents and your siblings. Share your experience with your friends and don’t be afraid to seek professional help. A good therapist can help you navigate through the whole situation efficiently,” she says.
  • Know that it’s not your fault: Most people that end up getting gaslighted often think that this is happening to them because of their naivety or their ability to trust people too quickly. You must understand that you are not the one to be blamed.

“While you deal with the whole situation, keep taking out time for self-care activities and spend quality time with the people that actually love and support you,” she adds.


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