10 subtle signs of gaslighting most people miss

From old Hollywood films to Taylor Swift music videos, the term gaslighting has been around for a minute. You'll know it as a form of psychological manipulation where the gaslighter deliberately feeds their victim false information to make them question their own sanity. You probably know the more obvious signs—like blatant lying or denying things you know to be true.

What you might not know is that gaslighting can also take a more subtle form, making it hard to spot. Here are 10 super-subtle signs of gaslighting to watch out for, so you can recognize it and protect yourself from being manipulated.

1. Constantly contradicting you

  • "Are you sure about that? Because I remember it differently."
  • "You just said you preferred the blue design, but now you're using the red one. Can't you keep your choices straight?"
  • "I know you said 8 o'clock, but I'm pretty sure you meant 9."

Pay attention to folks who are always contradicting you as this is a common gaslighting practice. Gaslighters will contradict your every statement, even if you’re only discussing trivial matters, like which one of you had to buy the cat’s food this week. 

They can even go a step further and claim that an argument you had never happened, and you’re only “imagining things.” The idea is to make you question your sanity, so they can rearrange a past narrative in a way that suits them.

2. Making casual remarks about your friends

Gaslighters tend to isolate their victims from their family and friends. This may sound like something very noticeable, but it could be happening without your realizing it. 

You see, the gaslighter will probably not ask you to stop seeing your friends and loved ones outright. Instead, they'll put down important people in your life and slowly make you distance yourself from them. They might say things like, "I didn't like how your friend talked to you the other day. Are they really a good influence on you?" or "Your sister is always causing drama, maybe it's best if we limit contact with her." 

By constantly planting doubt in your mind about those closest to you, the gaslighter gains more control over your relationships and increases their grip on you.

3. Making fun of the things you love

Disguised as an innocent joke, gaslighters can make fun of the things you love and enjoy. They may mock your hobbies, your favorite movie or even your career choices. It might seem like harmless teasing at first, but when it becomes a pattern, then it could be a subtle form of gaslighting.

The aim here is to slowly destroy your self-esteem. The gaslighter wants you to feel guilty for having certain likes and dislikes, so that you can rely on their opinions only. In the gaslighting playbook, they are the ones who know what’s best for you. You don’t get to decide for yourself.

4. Being clingy

It’s natural that in the early stages of a relationship, you’ll want to be together all the time. But when this clinginess reaches an unhealthy level, it may be a sign of gaslighting. The gaslighter wants you to rely solely on them for happiness and validation. They will constantly need your attention and reassurance that you love them, and they may even guilt trip you if you spend time with others.

What are some specific things to look out for? Well, if they're constantly sending you text messages when you're out with a friend, whining that you never spend enough time together, or getting upset when you make plans without them, even if it's for some much-needed self-care,  then it's a red flag.

5. Changing the subject when you need to talk

When you pull out the courage to confront the gaslighter, you’re met with a quick change of subject. You might just want an explanation for why they were over two hours late for dinner, but they'll brush it off with a joke or start talking about something else entirely. Or, you'll get stonewalled with something like: “I’ve got more important things to do than sitting here all day listening to this.” 

If they can’t get out of an uncomfortable conversation, they could also shift the blame onto you, using phrases, such as: “I only got angry because you accused me of X” or “You’re always the one picking up fights.” This is a classic way for them to avoid responsibility for their behavior. 

6. Using your vulnerability against you

This is an extremely hurtful form of gaslighting. People who trust easily can be prey to toxic people who see that you’re a caring person and take advantage of you.

For example, they may divulge your private information to the public, or use your past traumas against you. They might say something like “Your dad left because he didn’t love you” or “No wonder you got fired from that job, you’re incompetent.” It's a cruel tactic meant to break down your self-worth and make you feel like you can't trust anyone else.

7. Claiming to "not remember"

How can you ever have a productive conversation with someone who can’t remember things you've talked about before? They will use phrases like “You must have imagined it,” or "you're paranoid" or “I never said that” or “your memory is playing tricks on you.” By claiming amnesia, the gaslighter makes you question your own memory and perception of reality.

If you’re ever in such a situation, try to keep a record of important conversations or even make an audio recording. This way, you’ll have proof that the gaslighter is manipulating your memories.

8. Withholding affection

Gaslighters often operate on a cycle of giving and taking away affection. They might shower you with love and attention one day, only to ignore or belittle you the next. Their goal is to make you feel guilty and confused, thinking that they’re behaving this way due to something you did or said.

By doing this, the gaslighter keeps you on edge and constantly seeking their approval. It also makes it harder for victims to leave the relationship because they are afraid of losing the "good times."

9. Putting you in a position where you’re always apologizing 

Are you constantly apologizing, even for things you didn't do? If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells in your relationship, you could be dealing with a gaslighter. They want to have the upper hand in the relationship so they'll make you take the blame for literally everything—the train running late, someone else's mistake, the weather ruining your plans.

It seems irrational, but by making you apologize for these external circumstances, they invalidate your ability to judge the situation realistically and thus cement their dominance even further.

10. Dismissing your feelings

If every time you try to make yourself heard, they get defensive and respond with a condescending remark such as “calm down,” or “you’re being dramatic,” chances are you’re being gaslit.

This tactic is used so that the gaslighter can gain a sense of power in the relationship. They want to instill fear, making you believe that it is unsafe for you to share your feelings with them or even have emotions in the first place. 

The takeaway

Even in its most subtle forms, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation. It is a toxic pattern that can quickly escalate and have long-lasting effects on your self-esteem and self-worth. If you recognize any of these signs in your relationship, it’s important to seek help from a trusted friend or professional therapist. Remember, gaslighting is never okay and no one deserves to be treated this way. Trust yourself and don't let anyone else dictate your reality.

Andreia Esteves
Andreia is an INFJ who used to think she was the only person in the world terrified of answering the phone. She works as a freelance writer covering all things mental health, and psychology related. When not writing, you’ll find her cozying up with a book, or baking vegan treats. Find her at: https://andreiaesteves.com/