9 little-known red flags of gaslighting in friendships, according to psychology

As individuals, it’s crucial that we are acknowledged, accepted, and valued in our relationships.

However, these essential qualities can be missing in toxic friendships, replaced by feelings of self-doubt, confusion and emotional turmoil.

Gaslighting in friendships refers to a psychological manipulation where one person causes another to question their sanity, perception of reality or memories. This can be an incredibly subtle and insidious form of emotional abuse that builds over time.

Due to its covert nature, gaslighting may be challenging to identify early on in a friendship.

For this article, I’ve gathered nine lesser-known signs of gaslighting in friendships based on psychological insights, to help you recognize and address this damaging behavior.

1) They question your memory

Memory questioning is a typical, but often overlooked sign of gaslighting in friendships. This can happen subtly over an extended period, making it hard to recognize.

You may find your friend consistently challenging your recall of past events or conversations. They might insist that you’re wrong about details, even when you’re certain of your memory.

They may say things like, “You’re always forgetting things” or “That’s not how it happened”. This is designed to make you doubt your own memory, and trust their version of reality instead.

Over time, this consistent undermining can lead to confusion and even a loss of trust in your own perception. You might start to question your ability to remember things accurately, which can make you feel dependent on them for the ‘correct’ version of events.

2) They twist your words

Another red flag in a gaslighting friendship is when your friend consistently twists and misconstrues your words. This manipulation tactic can be incredibly damaging over time.

They might take something you’ve said out of context, or misrepresent your words to make you appear unreasonable or irrational. This could be something as simple as taking a sarcastic comment seriously to cause a fight, or turning a casual observation into an accusation.

When confronted, they may claim that you’re overreacting or being overly sensitive. This is meant to deflect blame and make you question your own judgement and reactions, leaving you feeling distressed and unsure of yourself.

Over time, this can lead to anxiety about expressing yourself freely around them, for fear of how your words might be twisted or used against you.

3) They shower you with compliments

Oddly enough, a constant barrage of compliments can also be a sign of gaslighting. It may seem strange, as we usually associate compliments with positive interactions.

However, in the context of gaslighting, these compliments often serve two purposes. First, they create a sense that the friend is caring and attentive, which can make you doubt any negative feelings or suspicions you have about the friendship.

Secondly, they can be used to distract you from their manipulative behavior. If you’re being lavished with praise, you might overlook or excuse instances where they’ve undermined or manipulated you.

The constant positive reinforcement can create an emotional dependency where you find yourself seeking their approval and validation, making it even harder to perceive or confront the gaslighting.

4) They use your secrets against you

In a true friendship, secrets shared are held in confidence, providing a safe space for vulnerability. But in a gaslighting friendship, your deepest secrets can be weaponized.

Your friend may use the information you’ve shared with them in a moment of trust to manipulate or control you. They might subtly hint at your insecurities or past mistakes during disagreements, using them as ammunition to gain an upper hand.

This betrayal of trust can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable. It can make you doubt your own judgement, question your worth and even impact your ability to trust others in the future.

It’s a harsh reality to face, but recognizing this behavior is a crucial step in standing up to gaslighting.

5) They’re always the victim

In a gaslighting friendship, you may notice that your friend always positions themselves as the victim, regardless of the situation.

They might constantly feel misunderstood, persecuted or wronged by others. They’ll share their tales of woe, seeking your empathy and validation, often shifting the blame onto someone else.

This isn’t to say that they don’t experience genuine struggles; everyone does. However, the consistent portrayal of themselves as a victim can be a manipulation tactic to gain your sympathy and loyalty.

Being there for a friend in need is important, but it’s also crucial to recognize when empathy is being exploited for manipulation. Remember, it’s okay to set boundaries and protect your own mental wellbeing.

6) They’re hot and cold

pic2610 9 little-known red flags of gaslighting in friendships, according to psychology

Another tell-tale sign of gaslighting in friendships is inconsistent behavior, often described as being ‘hot and cold’.

One moment, they’re your best friend – supportive, fun-loving, and caring. The next moment, they are distant, dismissive or even hostile. This unpredictable behavior can leave you feeling confused and on edge, not knowing which version of your friend you’ll get each day.

You might find yourself constantly trying to appease them or avoid potential triggers, just to keep the peace. This emotional rollercoaster can be exhausting and damaging to your self-esteem.

Recognizing this pattern can be a step towards understanding that it’s not about you – it’s a manipulation tactic designed to keep you off balance.

7) They have a knack for ‘forgetfulness’

Is your friend always forgetting? Not just where they left their keys, but important conversations or promises they made? This could be a subtle sign of gaslighting.

They might conveniently forget a hurtful comment they made, or a commitment they agreed to. When you bring it up, they act surprised and insist you must be mistaken.

While everyone forgets things occasionally, consistent ‘forgetfulness’ when it comes to their own actions or words is a common gaslighting tactic. It’s designed to make you question your memory and reality.

So next time your friend ‘forgets’ something crucial, remember it might not be a simple case of a bad memory!

8) They belittle your emotions

Tough as it may be to hear, a friend who consistently belittles your emotions or reactions is showing a glaring red flag of gaslighting.

They might dismiss your feelings as overreactions or accuse you of being too sensitive. They could make light of situations that upset you, or tell you that you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

This is not okay. Your feelings are valid and deserve to be acknowledged and respected.

Don’t forget, a true friend won’t belittle your emotions. They won’t make you feel guilty for expressing your feelings. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

9) They make you feel like you’re going crazy

The most significant and overriding sign of gaslighting is when a friend consistently makes you feel like you’re losing your mind.

They might convince you that events didn’t happen as you remember, or deny saying things that you clearly heard. This can make you question your perception, your memory, even your sanity.

But here’s the most important thing to remember: Trust yourself. You’re not going crazy. This is a manipulation tactic, not a reflection of your mental state.

Believe in your experiences, trust your judgement and know that it’s okay to seek help if you’re feeling trapped in a manipulative friendship.

Reflecting on gaslighting in friendships

Being in a friendship with someone who’s consistently gaslighting you can feel mentally draining. You may find yourself constantly questioning your memory, your experiences and even your sanity.

As psychologist Dr. Robin Stern puts it, “Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so, and the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

It’s crucial to remember that you cannot change a person who is gaslighting you, nor can you control their behavior. The only thing within your control is your response.

“Gaslighting is not about love and understanding. It is about control and power,” Stern adds.

Essentially, no matter how much you try to appease them or maintain the peace, it’ll never be enough because the issue lies with them, not you.

You may find it most beneficial to distance yourself from such a friend. This isn’t easy, especially when the friendship may have moments of warmth and closeness. But remember that your mental health should always be a priority.

The purpose of this article isn’t to diagnose your friends but to raise awareness of these lesser-known signs of gaslighting in friendships. If one or more of these signs ring true for you, consider it an opportunity to reflect on whether this friendship is truly serving your wellbeing.

Remember to trust yourself, your experiences, and your feelings. They are valid, they are important, and they are yours.

Picture of Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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