Identifying Gaslighting Tactics And Protecting Yourself From Emotional Abuse

Updated September 20, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Emotional abuse is toxic and often manifests in unhealthy relationships. Those who experience emotional abuse can often be manipulated to believe they are the problem rather than the abuser. This type of manipulation is known as gaslighting, and it’s dangerous to one’s mental health to be around someone who gaslights. Identifying gaslighting tactics is essential for defending yourself from this form of emotional abuse. Read on to learn more about specific gaslighting tactics so that you can spot this kind of manipulative behavior.

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Gaslighting Can Be Hard to Spot - Learn the Signs

A Closer Look At Gaslighting

What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is an “extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power” Gaslighting is generally intended to exert control and gain power via manipulation. By getting into the person’s head and making them question reality, perpetrators of gaslighting can proceed with their abusive behavior. Someone unaware of gaslighting and its various tactics will likely struggle to break free from abuse.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

The Dynamics Of Gaslighting

Often, gaslighting occurs progressively, which can make the behavior even more difficult to recognize and stop. In many scenarios, it can initially come off as genuine misunderstandings or cases of miscommunication. Over time, these supposed “misunderstandings” become more frequent, and the target eventually mistrusts their feelings and gut instincts. In situations that involve gaslighting, it is essential to remember that the perpetrator of abuse, or gaslighter, is always at fault.

How To Identify Gaslighting Tactics

As previously stated, it is vital to identify gaslighting tactics. Learning and understanding the methods of gaslighters is imperative to help shield yourself from experiencing this type of abuse.

In many cases, gaslighters count on those experiencing the abuse not to process what is happening. Ignorance of gaslighting tactics is another dynamic that tips the scales to favor the perpetrator. Here are some specific things to look for.

Dismissal Of Your Personal Feelings

Dismissing your personal feelings is a common tactic of emotional abusers. When someone expresses anger or frustration about specific behaviors, a gaslighter may tell them they’re overreacting or making a big deal out of nothing.

Gaslighting can also occur subtly when the perpetrator condescends to or patronizes the person they are abusing. While the latter may not be as obvious as an outright dismissal of someone’s personal feelings, it can be equally toxic in its own right and quite damaging to one’s mental health.

Changing The Topic When Things Get Uncomfortable

Many gaslighters tend to deflect and change the topic when discussing important issues. When individuals are directly confronted about something they did, common moves involve redirecting by asking a question that’s slightly related yet still off-topic.

This tactic of gaslighting is employed to throw the person off their game, causing them to lose focus on the matter. This is highly manipulative behavior on all counts. The inability to face honesty and truth is a telltale indicator of a gaslighter.

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Rewriting History

Individuals who choose to gaslight others tend to rewrite history in their favor. Rewriting history is a form of lying, and it’s done so the individual experiencing gaslighting will begin to question their memory. A gaslighter may suggest that the one they abuse doesn’t remember what happened or is otherwise mistaken. Of course, whenever a gaslighter chooses to rewrite history, it’s always rewritten in their favor, feeding into the perpetrator’s compulsion to maintain power and control.

Badmouthing To Friends And Peers

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, and abuse of all kinds tends to thrive when the targeted person remains isolated and alienated from others who could help them. For this reason, it’s not unusual for a gaslighter to attempt to turn other people against the one they are abusing. They may spread untrue rumors or shed doubt on their experiencer’s sanity, reasoning, or account of events.

Sometimes outsiders can see through the charade, but this is unfortunately not always the case. Perpetrators of gaslighting know that the abuse they’re inflicting is likely to carry greater power if the person has nowhere else to turn.

How To Defend Yourself From Emotional Abuse

Knowing various ways to defend yourself from emotional abuse is imperative. Gaslighters and other emotional abusers don’t care about your feelings or how their mistreatment impacts you. For these reasons, taking the necessary steps to shield yourself could save you from the effects of this type of abuse.

Cut Ties With Them

The ultimate form of defense against emotional abuse is to cut ties with the abuser. Often, emotional abusers engage in this type of behavior because they believe that the person they’re targeting won’t fight back or recognize their behavior for what it is.

As long as abusers think they have the green light to continue, it is unlikely that they will change. Waiting for an emotional abuser to wake up, see the light, and change is unwise. By cutting ties with your abuser, you will move towards freeing yourself and opening the door to other relationships, which will likely be healthier and more conducive to your well-being.

Don’t Feed Into Them

If you cannot cut ties with an emotional abuser, not feeding into them or giving them what they want is the next best step. 

It’s important to remember that emotional abusers thrive on confusion, chaos, and unrest. By not allowing yourself to fall into arguments, you can regain power and control. This can serve as major kryptonite to emotional abusers who rely upon manipulating others.

Confide In Others

Gaslighting Can Be Hard to Spot - Learn the Signs

Letting other trusted individuals know about what you’re facing is always helpful. First and foremost, this ensures you are not entirely isolated with no one else to turn to. Secondly, confiding in other reliable individuals ensures they know what’s happening if an emotional abuser tries to get to them and manipulate them against you.

Remember, perpetrators of emotional abuse thrive on alienating those experiencing the abuse from other people who could be of aid. Confiding in others can prevent this.

Take Note Of What’s Happening

At some point, there is a genuine possibility that the behavior of emotional abusers could escalate. A written, documented pattern of this individual’s mistreatment and bad behavior will be helpful if this happens. This will especially be advantageous in a situation where law enforcement or other authorities have to get involved.

Notes of abuse instances should be kept safely, preferably in more than one place, and dated. Dates and repeated written testimonies establish a pattern of bad behavior that an abuser will not be able to manipulate their way out of.

Don’t Doubt Yourself

Everything an emotional abuser does is consciously or unconsciously calculated to get you to doubt yourself and what you know to be real. If something feels off, trust that. If you have a clear memory of events and find yourself in a situation where an abuser is trying to taint that memory, remain firm in what you know to be true.

When you stand your ground and don’t allow yourself to waver, you retain the power the emotional abuser is trying to take from you.

Knowing When To Seek Professional Help

Dealing with gaslighting and abuse can be extremely challenging. Even when you know the necessary ways of defending yourself, the overall experience still presents challenges. In many cases, gaslighting and emotional abuse can happen when we least expect it and from unexpected sources.

If you find yourself facing emotional abuse or some other hardship, talking to a therapist can help. No matter who you are or what you are going through, a therapist is an excellent and professionally qualified confidant. Therapy also ensures that you are not isolated and have someone who will understand your side of things.

If you’re interested in talking to a professional, consider online therapy. You can take advantage of online therapy regardless of who you are or where you live. The ability to get professional help and advice tailored to your needs is something that everyone deserves. With online therapy, you attend sessions from the comfort of your home, or anywhere you have an internet connection, and you can communicate with your therapist via video chat, phone, online chat, or phone call. In addition to being convenient, research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person treatment. Ready to learn more? Contact Regain to take the next step.


Gaslighting is a dangerous form of emotional abuse and is difficult to spot because of its nature. If you’re dealing with gaslighting in your relationship or have recently cut ties with your abuser and are trying to figure it all out, talk to an online therapist for support.

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