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Gaslighting Abuse Examples and How to Respond

March 27, 2018 Emma-Marie Smith

Spotting examples of gaslighting abuse is tricky enough, but how do you know what to say when a gaslighter strikes? Learn some examples of gaslighting abuse and how to respond to it at HealthyPlace. Don't wait -- get ahead of your gaslighter now.

It's one thing to recognize examples of gaslighting abuse in a relationship, but it can be difficult to know how to respond. Part of the problem with gaslighting abuse is that if it were easy to spot, it wouldn't be so effective. The reason these abuse tactics are so insidious is because gaslighters expose themselves gradually, but not without first discovering what makes us tick. As gaslighting abuse targets, we need to understand why and how gaslighters work to get us under their thumb so we can figure out how to respond. You will learn some examples of gaslighting abuse and how to respond to it if you keep reading.

Stages of Gaslighting Abuse with Examples and How to Respond

Examples of gaslighting abuse are best organized into stages of a relationship. According to the book, Why Is It Always About You by Sandy Hotchkiss, there are three distinct stages of gaslighting.

1. Idealization

The idealization stage is when a gaslighter does everything possible to earn your trust. He will put you on a pedestal and make you feel you can do no wrong. The gaslighter will encourage you to be vulnerable and offer a shoulder to cry on, money, shelter, and anything else you need. This stage alone does not make for an abusive relationship, but the early idealization can be quite extreme (Early Warning Signs of Verbal Abuse).

Examples of gaslighting abuse in the idealization stage:

  • "You don't need to worry, I'll keep you safe."
  • "I can't imagine you ever making me unhappy."
  • "You're so perfect."
  • "I'll give you everything you want and need."
  • "Here, have these beautiful flowers/expensive jewelry/champagne as a token of my love -- and expect many more."

How to respond: Remind your partner that you are a human being with flaws, and you are most certainly not perfect. Try not to rely on someone you don't know very well, and keep your money/home/employment separate if possible. Be careful what you share early on in a relationship, especially if you suspect someone could be a gaslighter: abusers prey on vulnerability, after all.

2. Devaluation

The devaluation stage is where the gaslighter starts to break you down. He or she will repeatedly criticize you and undermine your self-esteem. You will be made aware you're doing something wrong, but it will be difficult to tell exactly what that is. You may be given extensive rules to follow under the guise that they are "in your best interests" and the gaslighter will make you feel like you've lost your mind.

Examples of gaslighting abuse in the devaluation stage:

  • "You've really disappointed me and I think you should feel disappointed with yourself."
  • "Why do you do that? Are you trying to make me unhappy?"
  • "You're so stupid sometimes."
  • "I never said that. You must have imagined it."
  • "That didn't happen -- you're crazy. You're exaggerating it to make me look bad."
  • "If you can't change, I can't be with you. You need to try harder to please me."

How to respond: Try to create boundaries in the relationship and take back some control. If someone repeatedly criticizes you or undermines you, tell him it's not okay and to treat you with more respect. If you're made to feel like you made something up or didn't happen, don't fight back. Calmly explain that your version of events is how you remember it and change the subject. Create distance between you and the gaslighter wherever possible, and if you can, leave.

3. Discarding

Once the gaslighter has eroded your self-esteem and convinces you you're crazy, he will eventually discard you. This could happen after many years, and it's important to note that it doesn't always mean breaking off a relationship. A gaslighter can discard you in other ways by telling you that you're not important, having an affair, ignoring you, withholding, coming and going, or keeping you in limbo about the future of your relationship.

Examples of gaslighting abuse in the discarding stage:

  • "You're pathetic. I deserve someone better."
  • "I'm leaving now, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
  • "You keep making me unhappy and you obviously don't care, so I'm leaving. It's your own fault."
  • "I don't care about you anymore."
  • "You're a waste of space."
  • "You disappointed me."

How to respond: Try to resist begging him to stay -- that's what he wants. Get out now before your dignity is destroyed and don't look back. Change your number, delete him from social media, and if he comes crawling back (which he inevitably will) don't fall for his charms -- he will undoubtedly revert back to the idealization stage if he thinks you have moved on (How to Recover From the Emotional Trauma of Domestic Abuse).

What If You Don't Want to Leave Your Gaslighter?

Not everyone can (or even wants to) leave an abusive relationship. However, if you stay with a gaslighter, you must be genuinely sure that person can change, and that you can develop abuse coping strategies for when the abuse returns. Tell him you're done with the games, and he needs to learn to treat you better. He should be getting help for his own issues before he can hope to have a healthy relationship with you.

Reference

Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss, Simon & Schuster Free Press, 2008.

Disclaimer: I realize that both men and women can be victims of abuse; my pronoun choices are merely reflective of my own experience.

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2018, March 27). Gaslighting Abuse Examples and How to Respond, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2018/03/gaslighting-abuse-examples-and-how-to-respond



Author: Emma-Marie Smith

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Lenette W
says:
May, 13 2019 at 4:16 pm
I have known my husband for almost 30 years. When my father passed away in 2016 suddenly, I had to go out of state to take care of his estate. I always knew my husband was a weirdo, but had no idea that he is a narcissist. I had heard of of the word before, but I had no idea that I would become an expert on them. I just got into another gas-lighting session by my husband.

To make a long story short, his mask fell and he acts like he could care less that I know. Of course I don't come right out and poor gas on the fire by calling him out by name. My narc acts like a complete moron, so it's hard to figure out just how aware he truly is. Since I have been observing him, I have to the conclusion that I despise him. Moving out in a couple of weeks and filing for divorce.
Rainbow Body
says:
February, 12 2019 at 1:47 pm
Not sure where I should write this but here goes.
Long story made shorter:
My wife told me she was sexual abused by her older brother-in-law when she was 10 years old. As a result I found it hard to be friendly to her sister who was married to the abuser ( the abuser is no longer on the scene), she (her sister) wasn't a nice person which made things much harder so as a result I avoided her sister at all costs because I knew sooner or later I would tell all to her sister, my wife wanted to know why I wouldn't talk to her sister or get involved with any of her sister's parties etc so i told her the truth, I said I found it hard to forgive her sister for what happened to my wife when she was younger, I wanted to ask her sister lots of questions such as where were you when this abuse was happening. As a result of me telling this to my wife my wife tried to Gaslight me by saying I made all the abuse claims up and was getting off on it too ( sick or what? smh ) , mentally I was at a low point and thought I was losing it, suicide had entered my head for a while, anyway a week or so past then my Wife told me she DID say she was abused but she was just naive, she said her brother-in-law had just put his arm around her whilst they were both sat on the sofa and she was 14 years old at time. She changed her story for the second time & if I told our children or anyone else anything different she would tell them I was lying. That was enough for me, our marriage was over. First of all my wife tried to make me think I was losing my mind by saying I made all the abuse claims up & then she went on & changed her story again and threatened to tell everyone I was lying if I did tell anyone the truth. Enough was enough and that was it. I avoid her at all costs now, she has moved out but when she comes over to see her son I avoid her at all costs. She is toxic and twisted and will do anything to keep her abuse claim a secret.I have no thoughts of suicide anymore but i do struggle on a daily basis with my mental health but I am getting better, time does heal and avoiding toxic ex-partners at all times does help.
Leslie Kelso
says:
August, 5 2018 at 8:53 pm
After reading and watching the video and the responses, i know my husband is an abuser, who probably did this gaslighting thing, still does. He smokes weed, I smoke also, which really makes things confusing. I've finally told him it's over (again)... He's given me bruises, black eyes, busted noses. But it's all my fault, always. I forgive easily, but can not let go, and when I finally get comfortable and think we're on the right track, he proves to me again that he has empty promises. He tells me he loves me, but love shouldn't hurt and I shouldn't feel like I do. I'm strong now, which is always how I am when I've finally had enough, but in a few days, I'll cave and the cycle will begin again. I finally noticed the last cycle that ended and began, and said to myself, I started the cycle over again.. I've been in relationships like this my whole life, my mother, my father (who was abusive to me), my daughter and son who mimics their dad... I am 44, married 4 times and have been with emotional abusers my whole life, but other than my father, no other man has put their hands on me like my abusive husband. He even spit in my face during one of our really bad physical fights. I had accidentally scratched his face when he came at me, and that was it. I ended up with two black eyes, a busted nose and lip and a huge hematoma on my calf where he kept punching me, as I was grasping for air after defending his blows to my face... I was gasping for air, he was punching away. Who does that? I definitely have PTSD from his abuse, my father's abuse and from my grandfather's sexual molestation from a little child. Before my husband, I worked full time as a nurse, had my own house I purchased on my own and two cars, one for me, paid off and one for my abusive son, who also tried to physically abuse me. When my husband got with me and found out about that, he kicked my son out when he started to be disrespectful to him. I felt my husband saved me from my disrespectful children, but he totally ruined my life. I have about 60thousand in debt right now, tons of creditors calling me daily. What I do have are good friends who understand what I'm going through and helping me, in my time. My family quit speaking to me after they tried to help me and I went back to him. In a way, it's better, I would rant about what he did to me, and then he'd gaslight... I love you, I'm sorry.... Then the cycle starts. They couldn't see me, can't see me like I am. I hope I stay away from him for good.
kim st
says:
August, 5 2018 at 1:49 pm
I know whAT I SEE I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING I AM NOT Crazy!! Can anyone please tell me if the security cameraS I HAVE Can be fudged because after I see things they seem to disappear leaving me feeling rather LOOKING crazy TO OTHERS!! I KNOW WHAT I SAW!!!! HELP PLEASE!! MY OLE MAN IS A LOCAL FUNERAL DIRECTOR and really is a likable guy hence the problem I have having ANYONE BELIEVE ING ME OVER MY CHARMING HUSBAND! UGH HELP ME IM LOSING EVERYONE Around me.. Oh God!
KimSt
says:
August, 5 2018 at 1:41 pm
OMG IM NOT ALONE!!!!~
Richard Gardner
says:
August, 1 2018 at 12:32 pm
The biggest mistake i made while president of a local NAMI chapter was to bring on the board of directors someone I thought was a friend. She gas-lighted me from the start which was part of a longer trend I did not see until later. Eventually, I resigned as president mostly because of her actions on the BOD. Unfortunately, she is beginning to show up in other parts of my life uninvited. I will be pushing her out of those areas or confronting her about it if needed. My wife is in full support of whatever reasonable actions I take to end this situation.
Pamela
says:
July, 1 2018 at 11:19 pm
I have been in a 17 year relationship that has slowly but surely locked up a little piece of "me", until I don't even recognize myself. This is the first time I have heard of gaslighting. In a way it is a huge relief to finally be able to define what he has done to me but in another way it is terrifying. He hasn't worked in over 10 years. In that 10 years I purchased a home while supporting my children and him. The home is in my name alone, but of course he tells everyone that he paid for everything and that he will never allow me to sell the house. Unfortunately if I don't sell the house I won't have the money to get away from him. I have almost erased this entire comment 10 times just for fear of him seeing it, somehow. What do I do???????
Helen
says:
May, 29 2018 at 8:19 am
My soon to be ex husband is my gaslighter. I am currently trying to get free of him and not expose my 10 year old daughter to anymore than she has been already. We have moved out and are in hiding. The most difficult thing now is reading letters from his lawyer defending him and repeating his lies. I know that that is what the lawyer is being paid to do, but it feels like I am reliving it all over again.
Eileen
says:
August, 25 2018 at 4:08 pm
I went through this too. My ex-husband lied to the extent of getting sole custody of our Daughter. I lost everything. I have no savings, no retirement and lost my apartment. I am now sleeping on a friends couch. Be careful...they are methodical and insidious.
daisy
says:
December, 27 2018 at 6:54 pm
how can that even happen, you didnt have a good lawyer, or he paid your lawyer not to protect your rights
Sue Ellen
says:
May, 15 2018 at 1:59 am
The relationship is with my son. He is Bipolar, narcissistic and a master at gaslighting. We've hit the Discarding stage - he has now discarded me and our last meeting will be in a few days. Found myself writing a message to salvage the relationship and then went searching for gaslighting articles to see if this was healthy. It isn't. He is the only one that can set boundaries even when living at my house. I've spent months in isolation and the moveout was very dramatic. He is showing signs of remorse however knowing my compassion is a weakness to attempt be leveraged - forgiveness is assumed.

How to be a mother to an adult offspring gaslighter? All psychological help he received was 'abuse' including medications. How does one continue to love and care deeply for someone who hurts you intentionally? How do you walk away from your only child? Forgiveness is inherent in motherhood - withholding forgiveness hurts everyone, So very sad.
Ygolitly
says:
July, 29 2018 at 1:27 pm
Dear Sue Ellen
I have learned after many years, that you can’t fix the relationship. He will break your heart over and over again, as long as you allow it. Do you know the Humpty Dumpty poem, all the kings men couldn’t put him together again. Such is your relationship. I would imaging he has been different even as a baby. He is a loner, who has little emotion for anyone and really prefers to be alone, except a few who are inferior to him, but will be there, when he needs them, for a tennis game, or to help him in some way in his life that he can’t do alone.
I can understand wanting to keep him in your life, but it will only break your heart again. If you want him, meet him at a coffee shop or restaurant a couple of times a year. He has cut the apron strings, severely and they can never be sewn back again. Don’t give him any advice, or give a negative opinion on anything you see or hear from him, only listen, ask questions but don’t comment, he doesn’t really want to hear your thoughts about his life. Just be a sounding board and he will tell you what is going on in his life.. He will only hurt you over and over. He might be in your life again, but then he will abandon you once again. Eventually you will except it, even though you want it differently. He isn’t normal with any relationships in his life, it’s not you or anything you have done. He is just who and what he is. A lot of the people in the world are not caring of others. Make him put his own roof over his head, etc. he is old enough to live the life he, himself, has earned.
Julie
says:
April, 28 2018 at 1:23 am
My husband doing this to me

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 14 2018 at 11:05 am
Sorry to hear this Julie, do you have anyone you can reach out to for support?

Sending you good vibes and strength from someone who's been there.

Emma

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

KIMST
says:
August, 5 2018 at 1:40 pm
MINE TO JULES!!!! AS OF AUGUST5,2018

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