Here Are 4 Early Signs Of Gaslighting According To Mental Health Professionals


Gaslighting, as we know, is a manipulative tactic used to make you question your sense of reality. It is often used by someone who attempts to gain power and control over you or the situation. When you are being gaslighted, you might feel like you’re losing your perception of reality, feel confused about your character, start to believe that you are “too sensitive,” second-guess your judgment or recall of events, and notice an increase in self-doubt and a decline in your sense of self-trust. According to Natasha Reynolds, therapist at Bloom Psychology comments that can be seen as gaslighting might sound like this:

“You’re so sensitive. You’re blowing it out of proportion. That never happened.”

“I never said that. You’re remembering it wrong.”

“You’re so dramatic. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“That never happened…you’re always making things up. What happened was…”

If confronted with this gaslighting behavior, standing firm in your truth and knowing when to disengage is important to protecting your mental well-being.

But what are the early signs of gaslighting in relationships, and tips on what to do when confronted with this type of behavior? Beverley Andre, a licensed marriage and family therapist, believes that early signs of gaslighting involve the gaslighter employing strategic methods to challenge a person’s reality. “This may manifest in playing the innocent victim and deflecting responsibility for their actions. They may also downplay their partner’s experiences to minimize their feelings and use coded language, such as labeling emotions as “hysterical” or “irrational,” to invalidate their emotions further,” she says to ESSENCE. 

Her advice when confronted with this behavior? Keep a detailed log of interactions with the individuals so you have a point of reference, particularly when the gaslighter attempts to manipulate the details of the previous experience. Seeking professional help is also strongly recommended, as being in a relationship with a gaslighter can have severe and detrimental effects on personal wellness.

Additional early signs of gaslighting in relationships, according to Meghan Watson, founder of Bloom Psychology & Wellness and psychotherapist: 

Early signs may start with small invalidating statements that minimize and dismiss your feelings and experiences. 

  • E.g., “This isn’t even a big deal” or “You’re always blowing things out of proportion.” 
  • Even when one experiences an intense emotional reaction, healthy relationships prioritize curiosity and compassion over denial and dismissal.
    • For example, ” This seems stressful for you. What’s going on?” or “I’ve noticed that X has been making you more anxious than normal.”

Regularly being defensive, shifting blame, and refusing ownership and accountability for your behavior is also an early warning sign. These behavioral responses often lay the foundation for partners who gaslight you to put forward beliefs that you are not a reliable narrator of your own experiences. Or when you do share feelings, any negative reactions on their part are always your fault.

Personal insults related to questions about your memory and sanity are a common punchline for people who gaslight others in relationships. It’s important to notice when people in your life find a way to insult or shame you by manipulating and convincing you to believe something is wrong with you.

  • E.g., “Do you even have a brain?”, “ you’re always messing things up”,  “you never remember things correctly,” or “Do you have a screw loose or something?”

Additionally, using your struggles with mental health or personal wounds as a way to evade responsibility for their bad behavior, as well as weaponizing your trauma against you, is also a big red flag

  • E.g., “You only think this way because your parents hate you” or “Here we go again with your moodiness.”
  • This often creates relationship dynamics that can push folks into problematic core beliefs about themselves and their ability to thrive.
    • E.g., “I’m broken.” Or “I can’t do anything right.” 

Here’s how to manage, according to Watson:

Remember that the most powerful way to evade influence from people who gaslight you in the long term is to practice validating your own experiences and emotions. 

  • For example, if you notice an emotional or mental reaction to someone’s behavior, instead of questioning yourself or immediately asking others what they think, see if you can check the facts for yourself first.
    • E.g., Feeling anxious when a partner is always lying about texting their ex —> “It’s normal to feel stressed about my relationship in this way when I’m being deceived.”

Take space from the person you suspect may be gaslighting you and spend time with trusted friends, family, and loved ones. Sometimes, it’s helpful to take a break from spending all of your time in problematic relationships and, when possible, notice the differences in how you feel when you’re not around them.

Be clear about your boundaries when it comes to fights and arguments. Setting up ground rules like using I statements, being respectful in tone and volume, and practicing taking ownership of your feelings during fights can help you draw a line in the sand during the conflict.

We often know what red flags look like in relationships and what it looks and feels like when we’re not happy and satisfied. One way to address problematic invalidating and gaslighting in relationships is to get clear on what you do want in a partner/ friend/ loved one and what it looks and feels like to experience a positive, healthy, and supportive connection. Your trauma history and your past experiences with unhealthy relationship dynamics can make this work hard, so don’t be afraid to talk to a professional or a mental health support to learn new ways of healing forward beyond toxic relationships.

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