What Is Gaslighting? 17 Signs (& Solutions)

stop gaslighting sign

Gaslighting is a cluster of covert power moves, manipulation, and abuse techniques to maintain power, “win”, or control someone to keep them into lose-wins toxic relationships.

infographic with gaslighter major signs

Intro: What’s Gaslighting

Gaslighting means to confuse a victim into losing sight of what’s true, relevant, fair, or in the victim’s best interest.

At the most extreme level, gaslighting’s confusion and reality distortions go beyond a specific topic or issue and engulf the victim’s whole sense of reality.

Gaslighting has become a buzzword and, like many buzzwords, it’s often misused.
Specifically, it’s often misused as synonymous with “manipulation“.

But albeit gaslighting includes many different forms of manipulations, gaslighting is a specific and discrete pattern of behavior with specific goals and effects.

The Gaslighter Psychology: Power & Fragile Egos

The gaslighter’s ultimate goal is power.

Power in the form of control, “winning”, or refusing to concede.
Indeed, one of the main features of the gaslighter’s personality and psychology is that the gaslighter prioritizes power over anything else.
In any conversation, that means the gaslighter chooses power and “victory” over truth, trust, reputation, and, of course, fairness.

Some gaslighters, lost in their inability to concede, may destroy their own reputation and closest relationships just so they can “win” -see Trump or our own forums-.

As a natural consequence, more times than not, the gaslighter is a taker.
Surely a taker from a social power point of view but, often, also in different forms -takes your time, emotional investment, mental well-being and, possibly, money-.

The gaslighter personality overlaps with other takers and win-lose personalities such as assholes, manipulators, power-hungry, and sociopaths.

Fragile Egos

Many gaslighters have narcissistic traits, including big egos but, crucially, fragile egos.

Psychologist Roy Baumeister explains that people with big egos but fragile self-esteem attack out of self-defense to protect their own egos (Baumeister, 1997).
And albeit the need for self-defense is not an excuse, it explains why even some non-sociopaths may gaslight. And it’s because gaslighters with a fragile ego take things very personally and can’t own their sh*tty behavior without feeling like they must be sh*t.

That means that giving feedback to a gaslighter is a useless and potentially self-defeating effort because they may resent you and/or come to see you as an enemy.
The gaslighter is utterly unable to take any constructive criticism, no matter how nicely you may frame it.

Why Arguing With A Gaslighter Is A Maddening Experience

talking to a gaslighter meme
You feel like you’re talking to a wall when the gaslighter feigns inability to keep it brief and simple, stick to the main topic, and pretends not to understand basic fairness principles such as the importance of an apologizy

Arguing with a gaslighter is a maddening experience.

Power-aware people aren’t going to go crazy for a gaslighting turkey.
But it can still make you angry enough to the point of getting emotional and, potentially, overreacting.

We’ve seen it in our forums more than once.

The core of the issue is that you and the gaslighter have very different goals for an argument.

You may want to clarify, understand, patch things up, and improve.
But the gaslighter is out for power and winning.

Throw out your “communication skills” manuals

Most popular communication skills resources are useless with gaslighters.

As a matter of fact, standard communication skills are harmful with a gaslighter because they’re based on sensible person standards.
You know, people who generally prefer doing “the right thing” -and what’s also good for them-.
But the gaslighter is not a sensible person.

Standard social and communication skills advice puts you at a marked disadvantage with gaslighters and, in general, with anyone who’s not straight and out for win-win.

man throwing away a book that is useless against gaslighting
Great book, but that’s where it belongs when it comes to gaslighters, manipulators, and Machiavellians

Power Hoarding: The True Gaslighter’s Game Plan

All the gaslighter seeks to do is to:

  1. Avoid ownership of his sh*tty behavior, or his “less than ideal” intent
  2. Avoid apologizing (“apologies withholding”).
  3. Maintain power for not doing the 2 steps above.
  4. Avoid making amends which for the power-hungry feels like a humiliating thread expansion on their defeat
  5. Maintain the lose-win and his shitty behavior rather than change for the better

The craziest thing for people who are not well-versed with the gaslighter thwarted psychology is that this “power hoarding” game plan is “always on”, and not reserved for the “big stuff”.
The gaslighter gaslights for the smallest and most trivial stuff.

For us though it’s great news!
It’s great news because the inveterate gaslighter will give you plenty of opportunities to spot early red flags over the small stuff.

The only caveats are: you must be power-aware enough, and know what to look for.
So let’s help you with that:

Gaslighting Signs & Behaviors

Gaslighting is a high-level pattern that includes a host of power moves and games.

Some of the common ones are:

1. Lying

Some manipulators and gaslighters have no respect for the truth.

Even if some gaslighters prefer truth, they can still end up lying because remember: their priority is not truth or fairness, but winning.
So lying simply becomes a means to that end.

Denying the obvious

The crazy-making type of gaslighters wouldn’t “just” lie but deny the most obvious truth.

A good example is the Dalia Dippolito case.
Dippolito was caught on audio and video hiring a hitman to kill his boyfriend. From prison he then calls said boyfriend 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!

Albeit we put “lying” first, some of the best and sneakiest 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

  • 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…”

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

While initially the lawyer may address the main issue, the goal is to confuse, divert, move away from the main issue, and branch out into 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.

In an online forum, lawyering may include quoting and reframing old posts, quoting parts of someone’s posts to spin a new narrative the original post never intended, or “power borrowing” with links, dictionary definitions, or references.

Lawyering is an insidious technique because, within the selective reframes of the gaslighter, lawyering can truly make it sound like the gaslighter may be right.
But you know it’s NOT right, so lawyering pressures you to jump in to set things straight and defend yourself.
And that’s how you slippery-slope your way into endless debates: you just wanted to set things straight, but the lawyer pokes new holes, opens new threads, and spins your answer once again…

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

Lawyering Drains You Into Quicksand Trap Debates

Lawyering drags you into endless debates.

It’s a quicksand.

But those endless debates have a specific goal and harmful effect:

You either forget, lose sight, or are unable to go back to the core of the issue.

And when you lose sight of the core issue the gaslighter wins because the core issue had a clear right and wrong, but this long diatribe doesn’t.
So it feels like two people arguing without right or wrong, and it’s a draw.

And, equally frustrating for people who value their time: it’s a time waste (all for an ahole who couldn’t own his sh*tty behavior).

Covert Criticism + Lawyering = Gaslighting

For example:

Her: maybe we could open a restaurant
Gaslighter: (rolls his eye 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 seeks to reframe sh*tty behavior from malicious and self-interested into a mistake out of ignorance

AKA “Pretending not to understand the victim”.

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”.

For example:

  • “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”

Manipulative Learner’s Frames

The gaslighters can sometimes play dumb with “learner’s frames”.

It looks like this:

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

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

So while the learner’s frame is generally lower power, it can be used 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.

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, so not going to happen.

4. Word Salading

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

Sometimes word salads don’t make sense, but the more skilled gaslighter will at least formulate them with a semblance of logic.
But they’re still illogical at the higher level because while you press for specific answers or issues, word salads are always off-topic in an attempt to skirt the issues.

It includes:

  • Circular conversations, repeating the same things over and over
  • Free associations, or to start with one single word from the issue or question, and use it to bridge into a wholly unconnected topic
  • Generalizations, or going from the specific of your issue, to general issues. Such as the “general importance of good communication, of ownership, and apologizing”

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

Word salads are sometimes a sign of desperation and that you’re doing things right.
They make the gaslighter and come across as super sneaky and crooked, illogical, and low-power. But as we mentioned, gaslighters prioritize power-hoarding over their own status, reputation, and (social) success.

5. Muddling The Water

mumble jumble to go from A to B
Normal people seek and expect to go from A to B logically and relatively quickly. The gaslighter purposefully over-complicates things to severe any logical link that would surface and display their sh*tty behavior

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

It includes anything that can move him away from the main issue, including:

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

Like many other gaslighting techniques, muddling the water can also serve as a diluting technique to limit the gaslighter’s power damage in case he offers some half-assed apology.
It “works” because by bracketing his half-assed apology with a bunch of different stuff, he never gives the victim a clear, simple, and full apology.

See for example Trump:

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

  • Denies it: “it’s not what I said
  • Undermine 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-attack: “Clinton has done much worse

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

And just to be clear, we’re not saying Trump should have necessarily done anything differently, and not even that what he said was “terribly wrong” or “not true” -it was just words after all and not a far-off description of dating power dynamics-.
But it’s a good example of what an apology by a gaslighter would look like.

Empty & Token Questions

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

And while a question may frame you as the teacher/explainer, it can also disempower you because you’ll have to invest more time and effort for the gaslighter.
And if you’re higher status, the gaslighter also piggybacks on your status since you spend effort and time to engage him.

Quicksanding

Quicksanding means to (willingly) move and keep the conversation away from the main topic and towards off-topic issues that do not address the speaker’s main concern but that much of his time, effort, and (emotional) investment.

Example:

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 friednly 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 first tries to move the conversation toward a detail that doesn’t address his main concern.
When that fails, new tactic: she accuses him of being thin-skinned and brings old examples as “evidence”. “Thin-skin” and the new examples are the quicksanding moves she’ll try to keep him stuck with.

6. Sh*tstorming: The “Beehive Effect”

effect of gaslighting technique
Many victims and leaders will let a gaslighter be, “win”, or one-up them or their team just to avoid dealing with the sh*tstorm of addressing their sh*tty behavior

Sh*tstorming is one of the ways the gaslighter leverages operant conditioning to maintain his sh*tty behavior over time.

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 can be anything, but with the defining feature of coming 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”.

So, for example, you tell him that his behavior is not cool, and in the next discussion he says:

  • I don’t understand
  • Of course it wasn’t bad, X did something similar, how was mine different
  • How about when YOU did it
  • Your friend was also there and she was cool with it
  • Then does that mean that…

Sh*tostorming is the human equivalent of poking a beehive because you raise (conversational) hell with one single poke.
The effect is that with beehiving 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.

I personally experienced this effect myself.
And before adopting a new “hardliner resolution” for forum behavior I often refrained from flagging several power moves just because I knew that it would raise a sh*tstrom.

“Slippery Slope” Effects

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

Diversions can easily lead to quicksands because of the slippery slope effect.

In the beginning, the first explanation, the first question or the first new topic may seem legitimate.
You may even give benefit of the doubt to the first covert power move or the first manipulative reframing.

And since good people prefer to 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 back why it was not cool, and they have another excuse and open another new topic. But you tell yourself “OK, I’ll give them some more”. But it never ends, and soon you end up neck-deep in the quicksands.

Remember, gaslighters are not looking for a resolution.
They only 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.

7. Excuses, Justifications, & Excusplaining

Excuses and justifications serve, once again, to avoid owning and apologizing.

There are endless ways to excuse and justify poor behavior, including:

  • 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”

With gaslighters it all feels like a big word salad of excuses, justifications and, often, some nonsense bullsh*t thrown in there.
Hence the word “excusplaining”: you don’t know where one begins and the other ends.

8. Counterattacks & Putting You On The Defensive

If gaslighting is about power, 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 -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 an inveterate -and skilled- gaslighter.

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

Here’s a good one:

You’re Being a Nuisance – “I’m Too Busy For This Sh*t Power Move”

This is very effective, even among more seasoned players.

How does it work?
By pretending to be higher value with covert sub-communication and making you feel like a lower-value taker when you bring up your concerns.

Imagine for example:

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

Notice the sub-communication as well:

  • High-power frame: “I’m focused on the important stuff, you’re not”
  • Giver/taker frames: he indirectly leverages that he may be making more money and paying more, and makes her feel guilty for standing in the way of his providing
  • High-power victim frame: a powerful mix of both high-power and victim frames. He’s high power for focusing on important stuff, but he’s also close to being a victim if she pesters him with “nonsense”

And albeit we use the example with a woman, 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 “relationships talk”.

I can vouch for that: I teach this stuff and I myself have fallen for something similar.

Accuse You Of Defensiveness & “Argumentativeness”

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

The power move is here that 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”.
So to stop part of the accusations relating to defensiveness , the unaware victim will end up accepting the criticism.

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.

For example:

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

9. Blaming The Victim

This is part of “putting you on the defensive”, but deserves its own entry because it’s a crucial dynamic you want to be aware of.

Some examples:

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

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

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 really fly too well with confident and power-aware folks.
But it can be super effective with low self-esteem and power-unaware victims. It’s for these people that gaslighting is more likely to become “crazymaking”.

Also, there are many more subtle ways of blaming the victim that can be a lot sneakier and effective even with more power-aware folks, for example:

  • Your dad and I were raised the exact same way = our parenting is normal and it’s only who’s making a big fuss about it
  • “Nobody said anything about it” = you’re the only one complaining, so it’s probably you who’s the issue

10. False Indignation

  • “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” (combines false indignation with accusation and putting you on the defensive as it sub-communicates that YOU must have a sick mind to even think of a malicious intent)
  • “What gives you the right to talk to me like that” (sub-communication “I’m an upstanding guy who deserves respect”)

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 inherently must accept that it was either misunderstanding, that it was your fault, or that you’er seeing or imagining “uncool behavior” that doesn’t exist.

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 of being right and “morally superior”, that means that you must be wrong or immoral.

The self-righteous power move instead consists of verbal frame control, with sentences such as:

  • 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

11. Aggression

Aggressive behavior is just 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’ll stop falling for the BS, when you’ll 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 most often just the last power move before they’ll be forced into withdrawal.

Raging Power Move For Intimidation

To use rage for the intimidation factor.
Adelyn Birch refers to this as “traumatic one-trial learning”.

Out-of-place assertiveness

Albeit generally good, assertiveness can be used properly, improperly, or… For manipulative ends.

For example, in our forums, a user came up with this when we refused to budge on gaslighting:

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 either new or not power-aware, he may sound like an indignant straight person who’s enforcing a fair boundary.
Since we’re power aware here, that resulted in a one-week ban.

12. Rewriting History

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

Some techniques for rewriting history include:

Manipulative Summation

To pretend to summarize and review what happened in an unbiased fashion, but instead to present a summation that is heavily biased and convenient to the gaslighter.

Manipulative “On The Same Page” Offers

The gaslighter may offer to summarize what happened under the ruse of “taking stock of the situation” or “being on the same page”.

But, again, he’ll slip in details and reframes that fit his narrative and goals.

Last Word Power Moves

Gaslighters love to put in the last words for two reasons:

  • As a power move to end and cap the discussion, since it’s generally the high-power hosts or organizers who put in the last word
  • As a last manipulative reframe, so they can offer their last mis-representation of the facts

13. Partial & False Ownership

The sneakiest gaslighters want to sound like they own it to collect their social and PR points.

But they still cannot stand truly owning anything, so they’ll look for ways to look like they own it, but without going the full distance that would be required to “make you whole”.

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

  • PR ownerships:
    • Tape-delayed, done publicly but may be in a more convenient place, time, and environment (see for example Logan Paul addressing Coffezilla’s investigative work with softball questions and friendly folks on his own podcast)
    • Virtue signaling ownership, with a big display of learner’s mindset and big talks of “growth opportunities” (see 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. Partial & False Apologies

"I'm NOT sorry" yellow post-it
Gaslighters often hide a ton of games and power moves behind their false or trap apologies

Same as above, but with apologies.

Ownership and apologies are often interlinked since humans have an innate sense that owning shitty behavior and not apologizing is a huge behavioral red flag.

However, some power-hungry gaslighters will half-own their shitty behavior, and still not apologize.
Sometimes, even when the other party already owned and apologized for their contributions to the issue.

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 (less intense, 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 and 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)

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.

For example:

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 that things are good and that it’s a good time to end it.

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.

16. Post-Victory Niceness & Re-Empowerment

You’ll 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.

For example, the gaslighter may obtain what he wants with a raging power move, but then tells the victim it was the “right decision for them”, or that “he just flew off the handle, but truly means well”.
Or he may invite for food -say “thanks but I’m busy”- or provide some meaningless trinket -only use it as a wake-up call for your much-needed empowerment-.

See more examples here.

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”

17. Various Power Moves

This is a bigger container category for gaslighting signs.

But, albeit generic, it’s as important as any other.

We need a catch-all category because there are endless power moves the gaslighter may engage on, and it’s impossible to list them all.

However, you don’t need an endless list: you need instead to develop power intelligence.
Once you gain a good grasp of social power dynamics, you’ll be able to spot any nasty, uncooperative and win-lose behavior.

Just some more examples of nasty power moves:

  • Nasty jokes
  • Covert power moves
  • Comparisons / triangulations
  • Appeals to authority
  • Gaging up
    • Fake teaming up with third parties who didn’t take side and/or didn’t want to take sides
  • Trojan horse compliments to sweeten and/or hide the bigger power move”
  • Backhanded “compliments”

See some more here:

Gaslighting VS Crazymaking

In simple words, crazymaking is the most extreme form of gaslighting.

We can indeed recognize two levels of gaslighting:

  • Lower-danger gaslighting (turkey behavior): not owning poor behavior, not apologizing, and confusing the victim to walk away scot-free and without re-empowering them
  • Higher danger gaslighting (abusive behavior): also referred to as “crazymaking”, it’s associated with longer-term win-lose exchanges or toxic relationships and can make the victim go crazy and lose the sense of reality

Components of Crazymaking

mean looking mask
While gaslighting does not entail a personality disorder, most crazy-makers are high in antisocial and psychopathic traits
  • More malicious and/or skilled gaslighters, dark triad individuals with little or no empathy and conscience.
    Some crazymakers are naturally born dark psychologists.
  • Closer relationships: crazymaking requires more interpersonal leverage, and that most often comes with closer relationships such as spouses, relatives, close friends, flatmates, judge roles, bosses, etc.
    • Emotionally, as in intimate relationships or close relatives
    • Physically, as in “same cubicle coworker”, for example
    • Repeat encounters
  • Lower self-esteem victims
  • Power unaware and unskilled victims in terms of (not) recognizing and handling gaslighting

Generally speaking, the empowered people we breed here at TPM wouldn’t let a gaslighter control them, their life, or their emotional well-being.

Process of Crazymaking

The victim starts with a functioning mind and a healthy approach to the world.

This healthy approach is based on foundational self-preservation functions such as:

  • Logic and rationality -at least to some degree-
  • Instinctual feel for what are fair value exchanges, relationships, and win-wins
  • Healthy “what’s in it for me”

Until the victim maintains those foundational self-preservation functions, win-lose relationships cannot work with her consent.
Hence the gaslighter must undermine all of them in order for his games, manipulations, and lose-win behavior to even seem acceptable -let alone “good”-.

Since self-preservation instincts are deeply rooted, the crazy-making process takes some time and repetitions and always starts from the top.
Crazymaking works its “dark” magic when the frame control that starts at the single interaction level moves deeper and deeper -until it undoes both the most basic instinct of self-preservation as well as logic-.

gaslighting stages infographic
Crazy-making is an act of mental takeover on one side, and surrender and submission on the other. Over time, the victim relinquishes its “mental hold” on reality

As the victim increasingly accepts what’s win-lose and illogical as fair and normal, she increasingly distrusts her ability to understand and operate in the world.
The crazymaker then becomes the only mediator and conduit for her reality.
Obviously, he’s going to present a reality that is good for him and, often, highly harmful to the victim.

Conviction & Eternal Doubt: The Specular Common Denominators

Gaslighting and, even more, crazymaking work in large part because of the gaslighter’s conviction.

You can see why from a frame control point of view: it requires strong conviction to make someone doubt what’s right or wrong, cool or not cool behavior, and what’s win-win or win-lose.

So conviction, paradoxically, is a also warning sign.

Subjectivity & lack of “right” and “wrong”

Some gaslighters though prefer to seed doubt by constantly shifting positions, questioning everything, and appealing to “subjective experience”.

In that “subjective experience” there are no rights or wrong so, conveniently, the gaslighter also “cannot be wrong”.
These types of gaslighters often resort to psychologizing, including questioning their own motives and understanding.

It may look like this:

  • “Are you sure?” / “I’m not so sure”
  • “It really depends, who can really say”
  • “We all have our own subjective opinion and preferences. There are no absolutes”
  • “Give me feedback, I want to learn (and I’ll give you feedback back)”
  • “It’s only you who doesn’t make mistakes?”

Crazymaking signs

  • Double binds “damned if you do” and damned if you don’t
    • Example: assign tasks the gaslighter requires done to perfection, then complain he has to make them again and tell her to “leave it to him next time”. But he gets angry when she leaves it to him. She’s damned whatever she does
  • Provoke & blame for the outburst
    • Example: flirting with another woman and when the partner gets angry saying “she’s always like this, unfortunately she’s not well”
  • Private mistreat & public compliments, or vice versa
    • Example: demeaning the victim at home, then praising her during the event while saying that “she’s always in such a “low mood”
  • Mistreat & normalization, pretend there’s nothing wrong with mistreatment
    • Example: writing nasty all-caps emails and justifying as “that’s just how I write to everyone, I respect you though”
  • Deliberate sabotage & blaming
    • Example: move, hide or lose objects, and pretend hold that the victim was responsible
  • Pathologizing
    • Example: your father was a cheating alcoholic, maybe he even abused you and you removed it. That’s why you’re so obsessively untrustworthy
  • Trivializing, or framing the victim’s issues, beliefs, or complaints as “small stuff”, unimportant, or unjustified
  • Reality distortion, denying real events and making up non-existing ones
  • Harm & cover as “mistake”
    • Example: pretending to forget birthdays with the excuse of “not caring about birthdays” (but then maybe remember third-party birthdays)
  • Endless criticism, including of non-existent faults or lacks

Severity and effects

Effects of low-danger gaslighting tend be short-term, including:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Dislike for the gaslighter
  • Loss of respect the gaslighter

The effects of more extreme, prolonged, or continuous gaslighting can be psychosomatic, meaning they affect both mind and body, including:

  • confusion
  • muscle pain
  • digestive problems
  • vertigo
  • inability to sleep

In extreme cases, continuous gaslighting can drive a person psychotic (see, as an example, the 1971 movie “Family Life”), or even to suicide.

The effects are connected to the fight-or-flight response.

Humans have an innate gut mechanism to recognize (and get away from) abuse. Even if they don’t consciously understand what is happening.

Gaslight FAQs

Now some frequently asked questions about gaslighting and manipulation in general:

1. Is there a strategic use for gaslighting?

There is a strategic use for almost anything.

So, yes, gaslighting can be effective and good for you.
And may even be fair game.

See Power University for those use cases.

However, don’t make the rules with the exceptions.
And, generally speaking, gaslight has higher costs than benefits.

Generally speaking, the gaslighter gains by taking from the “bottom of the pyramid” people who have less awareness, less skills, and fewer options.

Overall, we aim for more here so we don’t recommend it.

And the downsides may still outweigh the upsides, even when it seems like you’re winning.

The gaslighter still turns many of his relationships into lose-loses, destroys social capital, and drives away all the highest-quality people from his life.

This is simple basic social exchange: no high-quality person wants to be close to a gaslighter.
They may be dealing with him out of self-interest, but never out of choice or pleasure and they’ll always keep a healthy distance.

This is a typical case of “ceiling behavior”.
Such as, it’s “effective” only up to a (modest) point, and it turns harmful when you try to go level higher:

gaslighter pyramid with social status strata
Gaslighters tend to struggle to hold top positions because they burn bridges and ruin relationships. Even more commonly, they tend to have a lower quality of life

Also, just to be clear: since this is a place for high-quality eagles, we don’t like gaslighting here.

2. Can gaslighters improve?

Let’s say that everything is possible, but don’t count on it.

Gaslighting may be indicative of psychological issues (ie a way of being, rather than a way of doing), and cannot be easily changed by others at that root level.

So make sure you don’t over-extend the benefit of the doubt and remember the proverb:

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me

3. Can I improve my own gaslighting?

It’s possible.

The simple fact that one is asking that question is a great sign that you may be able to grow beyond it.

See Power University for the details.

4. Is gaslighting always conscious and premeditated?

Several sources say that gaslighting is always conscious and premeditated.

We don’t necessarily agree, instead.

Bel says that after much researching and reflecting, he came to this conclusion: it starts consciously in the life of someone who uses it. Meaning, there is a decision point where someone uses it and sees that the results are better than the alternative (which is honesty and accepting consequences). And then continues using it.

But it can reach the point where it is almost an automatic reflex whenever shame is called into question. In that sense, while it continues to be a choice, it can be very difficult to change.

Lucio believes that some gaslighters learned it from their parents or from their environment and never realized how “not-cool” it is, and how much it’s costing them.
For these people it’s possible to improve and grow beyond gaslighting -they’ll have to consciously unlearn it-.

5. Can I win against a gaslighter?

stop gaslighting sign
See Power University for the practical steps

You can win against anyone.

The better questions though are if you can get through one -possible but unlikely- and if you should even engage one.

Sometimes, you may be better off distancing yourself.

Often, it’s one of those “exporting democracy” types of wars that you’re a lot better off not fighting in the first place.
Some places aren’t ready for democracy and some people aren’t ready -or even born- for win-win and straight behavior.

Be careful of “turkey spirals”

Finally, gaslighters are turkeys, and they only drag you down to turkey level while we prefer you fly here.

If you’re still looking for the “how to”, join Power University.

Power University students please go to this lesson for practical techniques & strategies

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