10 manipulative tactics gaslighters use to make you question your sanity

Gaslighting sows seeds of doubt that slowly and silently mess with your sanity.

Their aim is to gain more control over you and they do this by undermining you.

By getting you to question your memory, or even your very perception of reality, they can exert greater power and influence.

They can twist the “truth” to suit them. They usually have a bag of tricks at their disposal to help them to do this.

Let’s take a look at them so you know what to watch out for.

1) Non stop lies

Most of us lie, at least occasionally. We may tell a few fibs to dodge a difficult situation or spare someone’s feelings.

But as Scientific America points out, most recent research has suggested that “lying tends to be rare, except in the case of a small group of frequent liars.”

It’s these rampant liars that we need to beware of.

Messing with the truth is one of the most common tactics a gaslighter will use in an attempt to distort reality.

That can mean:

  • Purposely withholding information from you — eg “forgetting” to mention something important
  • Distorting the facts rather than being upfront
  • Intentionally embellishing details to paint a different picture of events
  • Lying about something you know to be true
  • Frequently changing their story and telling you different things at different times

When lying becomes habitual it creates deep confusion that clouds what is real or not so you no longer know what to believe anymore.

This is what they want. By manipulating the narrative beyond all recognition, you can’t figure out what is going on.

2) Accusing you

A gaslighter may accuse you of doing the very thing they are doing.

It’s called projection, and it’s designed to turn the tables and make you the bad guy.

It could be an action they accuse you of doing — for example, being unfaithful.

Or it could be a bad quality they accuse you of having — for example, being deceitful and dishonest.

But it’s all just smoke and mirrors.

The idea is to take the heat off of them and put it back on you.

That way, you are on the back foot. You are too busy defending yourself to make accusations of your own.

You may start to question yourself, your words, and your behavior as you wonder how you could have given this impression.

3) Changing the subject

Think of this as the conversational version of when someone points at something behind you and says “What’s that?”.

As you become distracted and turn to look, they quickly run the other way.

It’s a form of distraction designed to deflect from the subject at hand.

You bring something up, and they quickly bat it away.

For example, you discover your partner wasn’t where they said they were last night.

You want to know where they really were.

They reply with:

“I’m surprised you even care. You’ve been so wrapped up in work recently that you barely even notice me anymore.”

And, voila, the conversation is now nicely primed to become about you and the lack of attention you are giving your partner.

Gaslighters have a special knack for making everything your fault, as we’ll see next.

4) Dodging blame and putting it back onto you

theyre more manipulative than you may realize 10 manipulative tactics gaslighters use to make you question your sanity

If you find that everything is always your fault, no matter what, there is a good chance gaslighting is at play.

Manipulative people are skilled at twisting the situation around to make you feel responsible for their actions or behavior.

By doing so, they divert attention from their wrongdoing and make you doubt your judgment.

Let me give you a real-life example:

I once had a girlfriend who cheated on me. Not just once, but more times than I care to admit.

When I’d confront her about it, she’d always manage to make me feel bad.

She’d say that I didn’t make her feel loved, and that’s why she went looking for attention.

She would cry, and tell me that her self-esteem had gotten so low since she had started dating me.

It always ended with me comforting her and promising to do more to make her feel good.

Looking back now, I can see how manipulative this was. I was showering her with affection, but it was never enough.

That’s because it wasn’t about me, it was about her. But I let her convince me that I was doing something wrong to make her behave that way.

If anyone tries to convince you that what they said or did was only in response to you (and hence your fault) — run a mile.

They are dodging all responsibility and gaslighting the hell out of you.

5) Deny, deny, deny

I think this is perhaps one of the strangest tactics gaslighters turn to to make you question your sanity.

I guess it’s a form of lying. It’s simple, yet sneakily effective.

They just deny whatever it is that you say. Even when the truth seems clear to you.

That’s it. They just deny, and deny and deny again.

But this constant denial works its magic to make you doubt your experiences.

They are busy telling you:

“That never happened” or “You’re imagining things”.

They’re so consistent with it that you start to wonder if they’re right.

Sticking to their story that nothing happened starts to discredit your version of things, even with yourself.

6) Downplaying things

I always take note when someone accuses their ex of being “crazy”.

Because experience has told me that gaslighters love to make out like others are constantly overreacting.

Rather than their behavior being the problem, it’s the drama that you are creating that is the issue.

They will try to habitually minimalize or trivialize their victims’ emotions or concerns.

They have plenty of phrases they pull out to do this:

  • “You’re being too sensitive”
  • “It’s not a big deal”
  • “You’re overreacting”
  • “Stop being such a drama queen”
  • “You’re making problems that don’t even exist”

This tactic is used to invalidate your feelings and make you question the relevance of your own experiences.

They want to make your concerns seem more insignificant than they are.

7) Saying mean things about you

When you look at the cruel things a gaslighter does, it’s easy to wonder from the outside looking in why someone puts up with it.

Of course, it’s never that simple when you are the victim of psychological manipulation.

The tactics usually work alongside one another. That way they create confusion to make you question yourself, and simultaneously eat away at your self-esteem.

Name-calling is one of the ways a gaslighter does the latter of the two.

The more they can undermine you, the less self-belief and confidence you have to stick up for yourself.

They want to weaken you from the inside out.

So they may say unkind things, purposely point out your flaws, and pick on your insecurities.

Sometimes they may mask this as being a joke. That way they can deny malicious intent afterward and say they were “just kidding”.

8) Cutting you off from support

youre lonely in life 10 manipulative tactics gaslighters use to make you question your sanity

There’s a very good reason gaslighters try to isolate their victims:

In doing so they cut you off from voices of reason.

If they can alienate you, then you can’t get a second opinion to wade in and offer you some much-needed clarity.

You are stuck with the thoughts in your head — and they are busy distorting these thoughts.

They may demand so much of your time that you rarely hang out with friends or family anymore.

They could try to turn you against certain people and suggest they have a negative influence on you

By cutting off external sources of validation, they can create a sense of dependency on them and take away the chance of gaining outside perspectives.

9) Love bombing

Love bombing is one of the very first tactics gaslighters use to lay the foundations.

If someone rolled up from day one and called you names, lied to your face, and non-stop twisted things, you’d show them the door sharpish.

That’s why this is an important step in gaining your trust and affection.

They idealize you in the early days to build your self-esteem, before unceremoniously eating away at it.

During the gaslighting days, you may often think back to when they were so loving, thoughtful, and kind.

This creates even more confusion for you.

Surely this person who thinks the world of you wouldn’t be so devious now?!

It’s the thing that keeps you trapped and questioning your sanity as to how they can suddenly be so Jekyll and Hyde.

10) Getting people to gang up on you

This is like gaslighting by proxy.

It involves recruiting other people to convince you of the gaslighter’s version of the truth.

Sadly, it often happens unwittingly. The other person gets sucked in by their manipulation too.

Remember my ex who I mentioned earlier?

This was another thing she’d do.

When I tried to break up with her, she would call my mom crying.

She’d give her skewed version of events, and my mom hearing the tears and seeing this distress would feel bad for her.

Without realizing it, she became a pawn in my ex’s attempts to make her version of reality, THE version of reality. 

By recruiting others to advocate for them or take their side, it adds credibility to the gaslighter’s tactics making it even harder for you to trust your own perceptions.

Free yourself from psychological abuse

When you’re in a web of deceit spun by gaslighters, it can be very hard to recognize that you’re trapped.

That’s why it’s so important to know these tactics.

Gaslighting is ultimately about exerting control, but it’s a form of psychological abuse.

If you think you may be stuck in a toxic situation, it’s important to seek support from trusted friends, family, or professionals.

That way you can break free from the gaslighting cycle and regain a sense of self-worth and your sanity.

Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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