Galisghting: 17 Signs You’re Being Manipulated

a man gaslights another with a typical gaslighting sentence

Gaslighting is a loosely defined concept covering toxic and manipulative behavior to make the victim doubt reality, lose track of ethical standards, and abandon self-interest.

See this article for an overview on what is gaslighting and gaslighter’s psychology:

Here we show the signs of gaslighting with examples for each.

gaslighting example with a dialogue between two men

Lying that something has never happened is one of the most stereotypical gaslighting examples

1. Lying

Gaslighters have no respect for the truth.

Even if some gaslighters may prefer truth, they still lie.

Remember:

A gaslighter’s priority is power and winning, not truth or fairness.

So lying becomes a means to that end.

Example: Toxic Relationship

The crazy-making type of gaslighters deny the most obvious truth.

A good example is the Dalia Dippolito case.

Audio and video recordings unmistakably show Dippolito hired a hitman to kill her fiance.
From prison she then calls him and says:

Him: How the hell did I hear and see it
Her: Look, I heard what you heard, it’s not true

Note: good & sneakier gaslighters don’t outright lie!

The smarter gaslighters strategically avoid outright lies.

Instead, they spin, misinterpret, strategically ignore the most damning evidence, reframe, muddle waters, or lawyer.

Keep on reading:

2. Lawyering

Lawyering is a game of nitpicking, spinning, and reframing.

The goal is to confuse, divert, move away from the main issue, and open new topics of contention.

At worst, the gaslighter moves away from the real issue and, at best, he may even “win” into those new topics he’s opening.

Effects

Lawyering is an insidious technique.

Within the gaslighter’s manipulative reframes, lawyering makes it seem like the gaslighter is right.

But you know it’s NOT right. So lawyering pressures you to jump in to set things straight and defend yourself.
You get angry and slippery-slope into endless quicksand debates (keep reading).

You wanted to set things straight. But the lawyer pokes new holes, opens new threads, and spins your answer once again…

You forget, lose sight, or cannot return to the original main issue.

And when you lose sight of the core issue the gaslighter wins. Because the core issue had a clear right and wrong, but the gaslighter’s quicksand doesn’t.

So it feels like two people arguing without right or wrong, and it’s a draw.

In his review of abusive personalities in intimate relationships, Lundy Bancroft refers to lawyers as “master debaters” (Bancroft, 2002).
Also see:

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • Nitpicking: “But I never said that” / “what I actually said is… “
  • Definitions: “That’s not the definition of manipulative, the definition is… “
  • Out-of-context old quotes: “Just like you correctly said yourself when, I quote…”

Online forum behavior:

  • Quoting and reframing old posts
  • Quoting parts of someone’s posts to spin a new narrative the original post never intended
  • “Power borrowing” with links, dictionary definitions, or references

Example 2: Demeaning Partner

Her: maybe we could open a restaurant
Gaslighter: (rolls his eyes and sighs as if to say “here comes another stupid idea”)

When she later says that he doesn’t value her and treats her like an idiot, he says “not true, please tell me when I ever said you’re an idiot”.

3. Playing Dumb

mean clown face
Playing dumb reframes sh*tty behavior from malicious to “honest ignorance

Gaslighters play dumb to hide their malicious intent and, once again, to avoid owning and apologizing.

The rationale is that if one power moves out of ignorance, then “they didn’t mean”, it’s not “too bad”, and “it doesn’t need any ownership and apology”.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • “I didn’t know that was bad”
  • “Why would anyone take that as an offense?”
  • “I am confused”
  • “I don’t understand what you’re saying”

Example 2: Manipulative Learner’s Frames

  • “I want to understand your point of view”
  • “Help me understand better… “
  • “I’m lost. What do you mean when you say… “

This is the dynamic:

Manipulative learners’ frames reframe (malicious, deliberate or recurring) power moves as mistakes on the way to “improve and become better”.

So while the learner’s frame is lower power, the gaslighter uses it to “limit damage” and hoard power with:

  • Make you invest more and more as you explain and “teach them”
  • Dilution strategy: to add more words and confusion around the main issue (ie.: his shitty behavior)
  • Avoid owning and apologizing since if it was a mistake, then ownership and apologies are not due

The manipulative learner’s frame is enticing because it allows the victims to play the teacher.
But don’t fall for it: you’re only being set up.

Example: Our Forum

This is a good example in our forums.

After providing a convenient summation (manipulative summation power move), he ends by saying:

@Lucio, is this more or less what you saw too? It’s important for me to get this right.

If I explain even more what was already well explained, I:

  • Get re-dragged into the sh*t-storm
  • Raise his profile with my investment
  • Indirectly confirm his summation was “right” and sub-communicate that “everything was generally OK and that everyone is now equally good”.

None of that is true.

4. Word Salading

A word salad is a lengthy and convoluted speech to avoid discussing or answering precise questions and issues.

Skilled gaslighters provide a semblance of superficial logic.
But word salads still feel demented because they’re always off-topic.

You sometimes see word salad whenever you press the gaslighter with evidence or with a request for explanation, ownership, apology, or change.

Word salads signal desperation -and that you’re doing things right-.
The gaslighter looks crooked, illogical, and sneaky.
But gaslighters prioritize power-hoarding over their own status, reputation, and (social) success.

Examples: Typical Techniques

  • Circular conversations, repeating the same things over and over
  • Free associations. Start with one word from the issue or question, and use it to bridge into a wholly unconnected topic
  • Generalizations. Go from the specific of your issue, to general issues. Ie.: the “general importance of good communication, of ownership, and apologizing while NOT owning and apologizing”

5. Muddling The Water

mumble jumble to go from A to B
Normal people seek and expect to go from A to B. The gaslighter purposefully over-complicates things

Muddling the water includes a host of techniques to confuse things, and avoid straight and clear ownership and apology for cr@ppy behavior.

Muddling the water also serves to limit the gaslighter’s power loss in case he offers some half-assed apology.
By bracketing his half-assed apology with a litany of random stuff, the gaslighter nevers give the victim a clear, simple, and full apology.

Some tools of muddling the water:

  • Word salading
  • Changing topic
  • Questions
  • Questioning the victim’s motives or biases
  • Attack the “tone” of the victim
  • Etc. Etc.

Let’s review a couple of them:

Empty & Token Questions

Questions are an easy and innocent-seeming technique to divert attention away from the main issue.

It’s never honest questions though.
Especially not because he doesn’t want you to teach them, which is low power.

Instead, he wants to control the interaction, control the frame, and task you and make you invest.

Effect: Slippery slope into quicksanding

gaslighting slippery slope
Gaslighters will drag you down into bottomless and directionless circular and “going-nowhere” conversations if you let them

The slippery slope effect is how you end up in the quicksands.

The first explanation, the first question, or the first off-topic may seem legitimate.
You may extend the benefit of the doubt to the first power move.

And since good people think of others as also good, deep down, you wish it was a mistake.

So you give them some free reins.

Then maybe you explain again why it was not cool thinking they’re going to understand and own it.
But they have another excuse and open another new topic.
You think may be you need to be clearer and try again.
But it never ends.
And soon you end up neck-deep in the quicksands.

Remember, gaslighters are not looking for a resolution.
They start with a small diversion, but will invariably drag you down an endless pit of time-wasting.

And the more the gaslighter drags you down into his web of diversions, the more you lose sight of the main top-of-the-hill issue.

Example: Donald Trump Debate

When Trump had to apologize for his “grabbing by the pu**y leaked audio”, he:

  • Denies it: “it’s not what I said
  • Undermines the speaker’s authority and frame: “I don’t think you understood what was said at all
  • Justifies / reframes: “it was “locker room talk
  • Limited-scope apologies: “I’m not proud of it, I apologize to my family and the American people“.
    Notice: he doesn’t apologize because “it’s wrong”, and he limits his apologies to family and “American people” (most of the world hence is excluded)
  • Diverts: “we have ISIS chopping off heads
  • Counter-attacks: “Clinton has done much worse

Albeit this never feels like a clear-cut apology, Trump would claim that he “owned it and apologized”.

Example 2: Relationship Argument

Him: It wasn’t cool when you said in front of everyone that the dinner I spent 2 hours preparing was poor
Her: Yeah, it wasn’t too bad, but the steak was definitely over-cooked. I think next time maybe we can marinate it a bit longer
Him: Yeah we can do that, but I’m talking about you saying that the dinner was poor in front of our guests. It doesn’t seem like a friendly and supportive thing to do
Her: That feels a bit like thin-skin to me, like that time when I told you…

She never owns the issue and tries to move the conversation toward a detail.
When that fails, new tactic: she accuses him of being thin-skinned and brings old examples as “evidence”. “

6. Sh*tstorming: The “Beehive Effect”

Answer this:

Have you ever avoided bringing up an issue with someone because it would just be too draining?

Then you know “sh*tstorming”.

effect of gaslighting technique
Many victims and leaders don’t confront gaslighters to avoid the sh*tstorm of addressing their sh*tty behavior

Multi-threading or “sh*tstorming” in vernacular is the high-intensity opening of an onslaught of new threads to divert attention from the main issue and frustrate the victim.

The new threads can be covert power moves, questions, accusations, justifications, explanations, or resuming old topics.

It comes right after you flag their shitty behavior, often in quick succession, on several channels, with high intensity, and heightened emotions.

The sh*tstorm may last for days, with the gaslighter calling, texting, emailing, or asking you for coffee to “better discuss this thing”.

It’s one way the gaslighter leverages operant conditioning to maintain his sh*tty behavior over time.

Sh*tostorming is the human equivalent of poking a beehive because you raise (conversational) hell with one single poke.
The effect is that the gaslighter discourages you from even bringing anything up because you know that a sh*tstorm is coming and it’s going to take a lot of your energy and time.

Examples: Typical Expression

Imagine you tell him that his behavior is not cool.
Next, he says:

  • I don’t understand
  • X did the same and it was OK
  • How about when YOU did Y then…
  • Your friend was there and she was cool with it
  • Then does that mean that…

I experienced it on the forum.
Before adopting a new “hardliner resolution” for forum behavior I often refrained from addressing several power moves just to maintain some serenity.

7. Endless Excuses, Justifications, & Excusplaining

All to avoid owning and apologizing.

With gaslighters it all feels like a big word salad of excuses, justifications, and some nonsense bullsh*t thrown in there just for good confusing measure.

Hence the word “excusplaining”: you don’t know where one begins and the other ends.

Examples: Techniques & Typical Expressions

  • Intention-based excuses: “that’s not what I meant”
  • Judgment lapses excuses: “I was tired”, “had a bad day”
  • Blame shifting: “my work is stressing me out”
  • Blaming the victim: “you didn’t understand”
  • Reframing: “I only yell at you because I care about you”

8. Counterattacks To Put You On The Defensive

Putting you on the defensive is the checkmate of the game of power.

Most frame control in antagonistic exchanges is about who presses on -attacks, asks, or insinuates-, and who’s on the backfoot -defends, explains, or justifies-.

So stop whenever you find yourself defending or justifying a bit too much because it may mean you’re dealing with a gaslighter.

Attacks and defenses also include emotional dynamics.
Often, it’s a red flag if you feel bad for even bringing up uncool behavior.
Some gaslighters are good at making up valid-sounding excuses that make you feel bad for doubting or bothering him.

Example: Relationship Dynamic

gaslighting example in a relationship where he makes her feel guilty with his attitude

The moment you feel like a nuisance for your valid concerns, he successfully distorted your reality

Example 1.2: the “superficially kind” version

Gaslighter: (with a tired and half-annoyed expression of “why are you even adding to my woes”) hey, sorry baby, I’m just so beat from my work, do we really have to talk about this now

This is even more effective.

The superficial nice cover is harder to detect.

In the meanwhile, he pretends to be higher value with covert sub-communication.
You feel like a lower-value taker when you bring up your concerns.

Notice the sub-communication:

  • High-power frame: “I’m focused on the important stuff, you’re not”
  • Giver/taker frames: he covertly leverages that he’s the main provider, and makes her feel guilty for standing in the way
  • High-power victim frame: mix of both high-power and victim frames. He’s high power for focusing on important stuff, but he’s also a victim if she pesters him with “nonsense”

This is even more effective with men, since men feel it’s “not mannish” to shift focus away from business, and into what may feel “relationship talk”.

I can vouch for that: I fell for something similar.

Example 2: Dialogue Between Flatmates

Great example by Maverick:

Gaslighter: You always keep the house untidy
Victim: That’s not true, there was just one time that happened
Gaslighter: Your whole personality is argumentative, and you are not a tidy person, think about it with an open mind, don’t get defensive.
Victim: I’m not argumentative, and yeah sometimes I might not be a tidy person ( <—- already buying into the gaslighter’s frame)
Gaslighter: But you are, you are arguing with me right now, and you just accepted that you are untidy, listen to what I tell you, and you will become tidier

If you keep arguing and defending, you prove the gaslighter’s accusations.
But if you accept the initial accusation, at least you can show an “open mind”.

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8.2. Woke buzzwords misappropriation

The gaslighter borrows whatever is taboo or “not good” in the larger culture to play the offended victim and/or to push you on the defensive.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • That’s racist
  • Typical white privilege blindness
  • What you’re doing is gaslighting me

9. Blaming The Victim

in truth, this is part of “putting you on the defensive”, but deserves its own entry.

In crazymaking “blaming the victim” involves blaming the victim for being crazy.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • It’s your own fault
  • You deserve that
  • Can you hear yourself
  • You’re overreacting again
  • Oh, and that sounds normal to you?

Example 2: Toxic Marriage

Jimmy: (before leaving the house and after denying the truth of him having an affair) you’re fucked in the head Karen, this is all in your mind, you got a problem

Blatantly blaming the victim wouldn’t fly too well with confident and power-aware folks.
But it’s effective with low self-esteem and power-unaware victims.

Examples: Covert Typical Expressions

More subtle, sneakier and effective ways are::

  • Your dad and I were raised the exact same way” = our bad parenting is normal
  • “Nobody said anything about it” = you’re the only one complaining, so you are the issue

10. False Indignation

This power move plays on the fact that indignation is fair and natural when an innocent person is accused of something that feels “so beneath them”.

So the gaslighter plays indignant to pretend he’s “above” the pettiness that you’re pointing out.
If you fall for that, then you accept that it was either misunderstanding, your fault, or that you’re imagining “uncool behavior” that doesn’t exist.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • “How dare you say something like that”
  • “It’s such a despicable act it wouldn’t even cross my mind”
  • “I’m shocked anyone would even consider that” (false indignation + accusation and putting you on the defensive as it sub-communicates that YOU are malicious for implying malicious intent)
  • “What gives you the right to talk to me like that” (sub-communication “I’m an upstanding guy who deserves respect”)

10.2. Self-righteous attitude & power move

Google defines self-righteous as:

having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.

The self-righteous attitude is all about behavioral frame control.
If the gaslighter acts and speaks with total conviction righteousness and “moral superiority”, then you must be wrong or immoral.

The self-righteous power move instead consists of verbal frame control.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • I teach this stuff“, sub-communicating that he knows better and you better listen”
  • You wanna come here and teach me how to behave well?“, Subcommunicting he’s an authority on proper behavior
  • “It’s 30 years that I deal with this shit and now I’ve had enough, sub-communicating you’ve been in the wrong for 30 years

Example In Relationship: Andrew Tate Video

Her: (finds out he’s been cheating)
Him: (dominant and borderline aggressive) I don’t know what you’re worried about some stupid b*tch for. I thought you and me were serious, I thought you were the kind of girl who’s interested in a long-term relationship

The man in the video acts indignant that she’s even raising his infidelity as an issue.
And then proceeds with more manipulation.

11. Aggression

Aggressive behavior is another tool in the gaslighter’s toolbox.

Some abusive types are generally and more frequently aggressive, but some calmer gaslighters can still resort to aggression.
When?
When you stop falling for the BS, when you call all their BS and refuse to budge, and when you put them with their back against the wall -you know what they say of cornered rats-.

Don’t be afraid of that aggression, it’s often just the last power move before they’ll be forced into withdrawal.

Examples: Typical Techniques

  • Counterattacks: for example, you’re angry for X, and they get angry back for a (made-up) Y
  • Raging power move for intimidation: Adelyn Birch refers to this as “traumatic one-trial learning”.
  • Out-of-place assertiveness: assertiveness can be used properly, improperly, or… For manipulative ends.

Example 2: Our Forum

After we called out all his games:

So far you have made two serious accusations that I feel are unjustified(…) Don’t ever do that again, more so because as admin, host, or leader you naturally have more power (…)

For a reader who’s not power-aware, he may sound like an indignant straight person who’s enforcing a fair boundary.
We gave him a one-week ban.

12. Rewriting History

Every time the gaslighter revisits what happened, he changes the story to fit his narrative.

Examples: Typical Techniques

Some techniques for rewriting history include:

  • Manipulative Summation: summarize and review what happened, but spin everything in his favor
  • Manipulative “on the same page” frames: pretending to align with you, agree, or being “quite close”. It’s all a lie: he professes false values he doesn’t act upon. Or he may spin your own words
  • Last word power moves. As a power display, or to offer a last attempt at manipulative summation

13. Manipulative & Partial “Ownership”

Sneaky gaslighters want to sound like they own it to collect social and PR points.

But they still cannot stand truly owning anything.
So try to sound like they own it, but without going the full distance to “make you whole”.

That way, they think, they can get the best of both worlds: look good, and still maintain power.

Examples: Typical Techniques

  • PR ownerships:
    • Tape-delayed, public for PR, but in a convenient place, time, and environment (example: Logan Paul addressing Coffezilla’s investigative work on his podcast)
    • Virtue signaling ownership, with a big display of learner’s mindset and big talks of “growth opportunities” (example here and the following reneging and gaslighting behavior)
  • Smaller issue ownership, only owning the less damning behavior or words
  • Third-party ownership, “owning it” with or through someone else, but not directly to the victim

And particularly annoying:

  • Trap ownerships pretending to understand and agree, then deliberately doing or saying something to confuse or upset the victim again

14. Manipulative & False Apologies

"I'm NOT sorry" yellow post-it
Gaslighters hide more games and power moves behind their fake apologies

Same as above, but with apologies.

Ownership and apologies are interlinked because we have an innate sense that poor behavior must be fixed with an apology.

However, some power-hungry gaslighters will half-own their poor behavior, and still not apologize.
Even if you already owned and apologized for your part, they still won’t do it.

Examples: Typical Techniques

Partial and false apologies include:

  • Smaller issue apology: apologize for a smaller issue, then say that “he apologized already”
  • Power scalping apology: to apologize after the victim, but less significantly.
    Ie.:
    • less extensive
    • without making amends
    • while looking away
    • with a disdained tone
    • Etc. etc.
  • Apologize & summation power move: to apologize while following up with a manipulative summation
    • See here for an example.
      How it was then flagged, surfaced and disciplined here, here, here, and here)
  • Trap apology: to apologize only to make the victim apologize and then use it against them (see next paragraph)
  • Etc. Etc.

14.2. Trap apology & revisits gambit

This is a particularly annoying and frustrating one.

Imagine that finally the gaslighter owns it and apologizes.

You’re happy, you think things are finally good, the gaslighter finally “got it” and “changed for the better”.

But then, he U-turns and plays another game.

Example: Dialogue Between Friends

Gaslighter: OK, I get it. It wasn’t cool of me, and I’m truly sorry
You: it’s OK, I’m sorry too <—– a kind gesture on your side since most of the times the gaslighter is more in the wrong than fair people are
(maybe I shouldn’t have done and said XYZ) <—– optional, but it’s giving of you to provide details. An honest person would build on that and do the same back to you. But the gaslighter will use it against you
Gaslighter: yeah, to be honest, I’m still angry at that, it was really f*cked up of you to… <—– now that you vulnerably opened yourself up he “socially scalps” on it

The trap apology sometimes goes along with “one-sided closures”, for example adding “but we can close it now”.

15. One-sided Closures

The gaslighter one-sidedly decides when it’s “time to move on”.

Sometimes, he puts a positive spin on the closure to bait you into agreeing.
Or he may throw a couple of power moves early on, just to move on after to put some distance, and then go with the close.

Of course, don’t expect the gaslighter to seek to end it at a fair time.
The gaslighter seeks to end it not when it’s good for both to end it, but when it’s best for him.

Also, one-sided closures can never be true closures because both parties have to agree that the issue is resolved and that they feel understood and re-empowered.

Examples: Typical Expressions

  • I’m glad we solved it
  • OK, then we can move on
  • I’m tired of this, no more

P.S.:
Our program also teach you how to handle any gaslighter:

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16. Post-Victory Niceness

You get post-victory or post-humiliation niceness when the gaslighter scores a major win or when you submit.

Don’t mistake it for actual kindness.
The “niceness” only serves to re-empower the victim just so he can feel “OK enough” to stick with the gaslighter and/or follow through on the resolution.

16.2. Post-Victory “Pardon”

Major power move to:

  • Re-state the frame you were in the wrong -hence needed the “pardon”
  • Virtue-signal false kindness from a position of power -it’s the judge that grants “pardon” to others and makes them feel good again
  • Increase emotional leverage & control -with the “misery/joy rollercoaster”. The victim was in heavy distress during the argument and then feels good again thanks to the gaslighter’s “pardon”

Example: At Work

The boss makes the employee stay the weekend with a raging power move.

But then tells the victim it was the “right decision to help the business”.
Or that “he just flew off the handle, but truly cares for his career”.

He may invite him for lunch, or provide some meaningless trinket.

See more examples here.

17. Various Power Moves

We need a catch-all category because there are endless power moves the gaslighter may engage in.

It’s unwieldy to list them all.

Better than endless lists: develop power intelligence.
Once you understand social power dynamics, you can spot any nasty and win-lose behavior.

Examples & Extra Resources

  • Ganging up
    • Fake ganging up with third parties who didn’t take sides and/or didn’t want to take sides
  • Trojan horse compliments to sweeten and/or hide the bigger power move
  • Backhanded “compliments”

In-depth articles:

Or empower yourself for good with Power University.

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