Are You a Gaslighter?

There’s a very clear line between disagreeing with your partner and emotionally abusing her.

Are You A Gaslighter?


photo courtesy of Raymond Forbes LLC

filed under Advice, Fighting, Science of Love

You might think you’re just being reasonable. You’re a rational, cool-headed guy who doesn’t take well to expressions of anxiety or upset. When you think your girlfriend’s being hysterical, you tell her so.

Maybe you say “Calm down” or “Stop being so sensitive” when she gets mad at you. Maybe you expect her to apologize for annoying you with what you feel are unreasonable worries. Or maybe you grumble that she’s nagging when she reminds you of things you promised to do.

Or perhaps you go even further. Be honest: Do you ever tell her that her way of doing things is “crazy”? Do you put down her likes, her hobbies, or her friends? Do you, in short, make her feel like she’s being irrational—that she’s not normal, no matter what she does?

This way of treating someone is called gaslighting, and many more men than would care to admit it engage in it from time to time. You might be one of them, without even realizing it.

What Is Gaslighting?

As defined in Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy, gaslighting is the act of trying “to cause another individual to doubt his/her own judgments and perceptions.” The name is inspired by a famous Ingrid Bergman movie in which she is slowly driven insane by her husband.

A common method of gaslighting is known as the “double-whammy,” in which the gaslighter puts down the victim, waits for the victim’s response, and then attacks the victim’s judgment, perspective, or questioning of the original attack.

It’s a powerful way for manipulators to maintain control over others, especially if the person subjected to this treatment has less-than-robust self-esteem. In many cases, the gaslighter does this to help himself feel better by making someone else feel worse.

Gaslighting is hard to admit to. At the extremes, these behaviors qualify as emotional abuse. But even less egregious versions of gaslighting are insensitive, boorish, or just plain sexist.

The irony is that many people engaging in these behaviors—especially milder forms—may not even realize it.

Are You a Gaslighter?

How can you recognize if you’re engaging in this behavior, which can quickly escalate into full-scale emotional abuse? The nature of the beast means that your partner is unlikely to call you out on it; gaslighting sows self-doubt in the other person. But here are some warning signs to look for in your girlfriend:

  • She always second-guesses herself or can’t seem to make simple decisions when you’re around.
  • She seems less confident, fun-loving, or relaxed than she used to be when you first met.
  • She is constantly apologizing and expressing frustration that she “can’t do anything right.”
  • She starts avoiding her friends and family, or lying to them about your interactions.
  • She often asks whether she’s good enough, or whether you still love her.

Here are some warning signs to look for in yourself:

  • You find yourself putting your girlfriend and anything she likes down.
  • You tend to minimize, disregard, dismiss, or denigrate your girlfriend’s feelings.
  • You frequently find fault with your girlfriend and how she does things.
  • You expect your girlfriend to apologize when you find fault, and get annoyed when she doesn’t.
  • You feel good when you are able to control how your girlfriend feels.

What Can You Do?

If you recognize yourself in the above, take a look inward, perhaps with the help of a therapist. Even mild gaslighting hints at a serious issue you are not addressing: a need to make others feel inferior in order to feel good yourself. A trained therapist can help you unpack this.

Your goal should be to get to a place where you can unreservedly feel, and express, caring and concern for your partner. Conversation should revolve around validating and empathizing with her feelings instead of manipulating or judging them. Your relationship will become much stronger, and so will you.

  • Michael P
    Posted at 06:17h, 04 July Reply

    Gaslighting is not something that just men do. Women are fully capable of and do engage in it. Men can have self doubt and be vulnerable.

  • John weeks
    Posted at 00:16h, 28 November Reply

    I was so dissapointed to read such gender specific prejudices in this article. They immediately put down and condemned men as the source of all gaslighting. Having lived through years of manipulation and making countless efforts to adjust to the needs of someone that thrives on blaming you and twisting your words to cause you to be blamed, I know how extraordinarily destructure gaslight in can be. I am hurt by this posts assumption or accusation that men are it’s only perpetrators. Such a presumption only leads to more destructive and quite frankly truly mean behavior. Please have the very basic decency to revise your article to recognize that both genders are capable of gaslighting.

  • diary of a Yorkshire Lass
    Posted at 17:10h, 01 February Reply

    The first thing I thought when I read the comments was is this written by a woman? and sure enough it is. and as a woman I would have to also say stop being so quick to gender this condition, abuse comes from human nature not whether you are male or female.

    • Sean
      Posted at 19:14h, 24 February Reply

      Thank you. (Male)

  • Jonathan
    Posted at 10:49h, 04 August Reply

    I would like to take a moment, and mention that I am a male, and have ruined all my relationships due this new self discovery. I am a gas-lighter, and will not blame the author of this article for not being gender neutral. I’m just looking for more answers online to help me remove this characteristic entirely from me. I DESPISE IT! I’m looking for answers online on how to begin a healthier approach in my relationships. I will say this however, that the majority of articles I’ve come across online, simply depicted the characteristics of a gas-lighter, and provided to resolution.

    • Kelly
      Posted at 03:55h, 21 December Reply

      I personally was looking at this article to see if I gaslite people and wanting to address it. I am a woman I seen women and men do this. My sister is great at it, my Dad was good at it. Good for you willing to take the step as I am to solve it. I don’t think I am at this point because a lot of my reactions of self doubt and questioning myself has been a life time of being gas lite. I think I am just over defensive now and lash out easier form years of it (my job is full of gas lighter in our management).

  • Ellie
    Posted at 20:49h, 24 October Reply

    For me, the source of gas-lighting manipulation was from a woman, I had to tell her to stop talking to me, because she was wishy-washy with me and was not straight forward and forthright. She would not only put me down, but she would say she wanted what I wanted, when what she wanted was for her desires to be me, regardless of what I needed..

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