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Gaslighting: the most subtle emotional abuse

Gaslighting: the most subtle emotional abuse

February 8, 2024

Have you ever been told these phrases in response to a complaint ?: "you are crazy", "that never happened", "you are very sensitive", etc.

If so, They may be using the "Gaslighting" technique to confuse you .

What is Gaslighting?

"Gaslighting" is a pattern of emotional abuse in which the victim is manipulated so that he comes to doubt his own perception, judgment or memory . This makes the person feel anxious, confused or even depressed.

This term, which does not really have a translation into Spanish, comes from the classic Hollywood movie called "Gaslight" , in which a man manipulates his wife to believe that she is crazy and thus steal her hidden fortune. He hides objects (pictures, jewels) making his wife believe that she has been responsible, even if he does not remember. He also dimmed the gas light (there was no electricity) and made him believe that the fire still shines in the same intensity as before.


Of course, that makes the protagonist feel that she is going crazy, do not want to leave the house, be anxious and cry continuously. The husband warns her that she will leave the relationship, and threatens to send her to a doctor to be medicated or secluded. Of course, the abuser knows very well what he is doing and almost gets his job if it were not for an investigator who deciphers the situation and unmasks the thief.

  • Related article: "Manipulators have these 5 traits in common"

The characteristics of this type of deception

Although this movie presents us with an extreme case, this manipulation technique is used consciously or unconsciously in relationships .


Let's see some scenarios. For example, you can say:

"When you said that you hurt me" and the abuser says "I never said that, you are imagining it" and there plant the seed of doubt.

It could also occur in this way:

"When you did that I felt very bad", to which the abuser replies "you are very sensitive, it was a joke only". Try to persuade us to believe that it has been a matter of an error of perception itself.

In the same way, you may fight and defend yourself but still get the same words: "You are exaggerated", "you are making a storm in a glass of water" or "you are delirious" etc. so that instead of continuing to confront or move away, you allow doubt to arise within you in an attempt to favor the relationship and seek the approval of your partner or family member.

This type of manipulation is very subtle but dangerous, since it leads to continue toxic relationships, to believe that there is really something wrong with us, to be insecure and to depend on the opinion of others. It can also take us away from our loved ones for fear of being confronted about your relationship.


  • Maybe you're interested: "Emotional blackmail: a powerful form of manipulation in the couple"

How to realize Gaslighting

These are 10 signs to know if we are being "Gassed" (information collected from psychologist Robin Stern, author of the book The gaslighting effect).

  1. You constantly question your ideas or actions.
  2. You wonder if you are too sensitive many times a day.
  3. You are always apologizing: your parents, the couple, the boss.
  4. You wonder why you are not happy, if so many good things are apparently happening in your life.
  5. You constantly offer excuses to your family or friends for the behavior of your partner.
  6. You see yourself holding or hiding information so you do not have to explain or give excuses to couples or friends.
  7. You start to lie to prevent them from changing your reality.
  8. It's hard for you to make decisions, even simple ones.
  9. You feel that you can not do anything right.
  10. You wonder if you are being good enough daughter / friend / employee / boyfriend / girlfriend constantly.

What can you do?

However subtle this type of manipulation may be, we are not helpless before it. There are ways to deal with this type of attack, unless there is already a strong precedent of abuse and we can not face the situation while maintaining a minimum of serenity. For Act before Gaslighting cases, you can follow these guidelines :

1. Trust your intuition

If you feel that something is not right, pay attention to that and examine which parts do not fit . When analyzing our own experiences, our experience counts more than the rest.

In addition, communication is not a game in which you have to strive to understand everything that others say. In a couple, if a message has not been understood, the responsibility is often shared (provided we have paid attention).

2. Do not look for approval

Resist the temptation to convince the other to get approval , instead you can say "We disagree" or "I thought about what you told me but I do not feel it is true for me" or "I listen to what you say, but my reality is very different from yours". You are perfectly free to end a conversation.

This is only recommended in cases of Gaslighting, since in any other context, as in a discussion in which the arguments of the other person are solid, it can become an excuse to not admit that you are not right and, ultimately, in a tool of cognitive dissonance.

3. Remember your sovereignty over your own thoughts

Remember that emotions are neither good nor bad, and no one can tell you if what you feel is true or not. If you say "that made me feel criticized" or "I felt sad for what you did" you are not subjecting it to debate. After all, if you feel that they humiliate you or harm you psychologically, only you feel that; what you experience is not subject to discussion.

Do not apologize for feeling , what you should avoid is to attack, manipulate or act in a harmful way.

4. Be aware of your values

Why values ​​do you want to be reminded? Create a list of personal values. For example, "spend quality time with my loved ones," "keep promises," "be generous / compassionate," "tell the truth," "travel," "have an open mind," "maintain spirituality." That will help you stay focused and also know what you value from others .

In a way, values ​​act as the backbone of our behavior. Whatever happens, what others say or do or should not force us to go against them. The moment someone pressures us to violate these basic principles, we will know that we are being manipulated.

5. Keep your personal limits

If someone transfers them, let them know and raise a consequence . For example, if they shout or verbally abuse you, you can say "I'm not comfortable with what you said, I think it's disrespectful and I do not intend to let it go". Keep firm.

If it is repeated, make it known again and depending on the relationship, look for a sincere dialogue where both are committed not to do it again or go away.

If the person is not responsible for their faults and continues "gaslighteándote" ask yourself if you want to continue the relationship or frequency of visits in the case of family or friends. Working your own assertiveness is essential to assert your own interests with dignity.


Bibliographic references:

  • Rey-Anacona, C. A. (2009). Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Sexual and Economic Abuse at the Courtship: An Exploratory Study. Colombian Act of Psychology 12 (2): pp. 27-36.
  • Rodríguez-Carballeira, A. (2005). A comparative study of psychological abuse strategies: in pairs, in the workplace and in manipulative groups. Psychology Yearbook.

10 Gaslighting Signs in an Abusive Relationship (February 2024).


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