Gaslighting has become the buzzword of the last decade. Most of us can state the obvious signs; deliberate isolation, demeaning behavior, making you doubt your memory, and second-guessing yourself. So, are there subtle signs of gaslighting?

Gaslighting is an insidious way of controlling someone, but it doesn’t start with obvious behavior. If it did, we’d spot it immediately and ditch the abuser.

For gaslighting to be truly effective, it must be subtle at first. A gaslighter will cross small lines to begin with; ones you may not even notice. Only then will they bring out the big guns. Being able to spot the less obvious signs now can save you from a toxic relationship in the future.

19 Subtle Signs of Gaslighting

1. Putting down important people in your life.

Manipulators know they have a better chance of controlling someone once isolated. However, if your partner suddenly asked you to stop seeing the important people in your life, you’d push against them.

Instead, they’ll start badmouthing your family or best friends. They’ll tell you that someone is a bad influence on you and perhaps you shouldn’t spend so much time with them. You don’t need people like that around you, they only bring you down. That you are better than them.

2. Being incapable of decision-making, then complaining about your choices.

Isn’t it annoying when someone won’t make a decision and then complains about the ones you make? Why do people do this?

There are several reasons; it’s a way of undermining your confidence and it is how manipulators shift the blame from themselves to others. Refusing to decide on a course of action and then moaning about your decision is a sneaky way of making you doubt yourself.

3. Changing their mind constantly and expecting you to keep up with them.

One of the more subtle signs of gaslighting is when someone constantly changes their mind. This is designed to make you doubt yourself. You question your memory.

When someone keeps changing their mind, it’s the equivalent of having the rug pulled from underneath your feet. You don’t know where you stand, literally. Moreover, it makes you anxious about future events.

4. Initially liking something about you then after a while putting you down about it.

subtle signs of gaslighting

Before I dated one guy, he would tell me how much he liked my outgoing and friendly nature. When we dated, he would get into a bad mood if I looked at or talked to another man. He would accuse me of having affairs, of eyeing up guys, and frequently would call me a slag. What he liked about me, in the beginning, he hated once we dated.

5. Implying you’re overreacting to a situation they’ve created.

This is classic gaslighting behavior, but it will start off subtly. The gaslighter will accuse you of being over-sensitive. You can’t take a joke. They’ll tell you to relax or chill out. You are the only person upset in these situations.

But you know how you feel. If only one person is accusing you of being overly sensitive, this is a subtle sign of gaslighting.

6. Telling you ‘They’re just being honest’ when talking about your faults.

Aren’t you fed up with people who use phrases like  ‘I’m just being honest’ or ‘I’m only telling it like it is’? This sort of behavior winds me up especially when I haven’t asked for advice.

This potential gaslighter does not have your best interests at heart. Here’s an idea, try bringing up one of their faults and see how they react. Then tell them ‘Hey, I’m just being honest’.

7. Bad-mouthing you to their friends and family behind your back.

I had a friend once; we called her BS Sue. She would shower you with attention when you were with her. She became my best friend. Then I noticed my other friends dropping off the radar or acting weird whenever I saw them.

Turns out, BS Sue was telling lies about me and alienating me from my other friends. Look out for changes with friends and family members. This could be one of the more subtle signs of gaslighting you haven’t considered.

8. Being over-the-top friendly to someone in your presence then hating them behind their back.

You might not relate this to one of the subtle signs of gaslighting, but it’s also a good way to judge character. You can tell if someone has integrity or not by the way they speak about them when they’re not around. But this is not just about integrity.

Acting one way and then behaving in another makes you feel off balance. You cannot trust what they’re saying from one moment to the next? How do you know when they’re telling the truth? You don’t, and that’s the point.

9. Claiming not to remember something hurtful about you they’d said in the past.

psychology of addiction

This subtle sign of gaslighting makes you question your recollection. Do you remember the situation correctly? Did this person say that? Perhaps you are overreacting or misremembering. You’re confused, which is exactly what the gaslighter wants.

10. Suggesting you should do something out of your comfort zone and then berating you for being negative.

I have a friend who learned to drive an automatic car. She wasn’t a confident driver, so an automatic suited her. Her boyfriend at the time kept pressurizing her to learn in a manual. She didn’t want to. He bought her a manual car to learn in, even though she didn’t ask or want to learn in one. That manual car sat on their drive as a constant reminder of how useless she was.

If you don’t want to do something, that’s up to you.

11. Constantly making promises and never keeping them.

This is another subtle gaslighting sign you might not immediately associate with manipulation. For example, some people are always late; that’s just who they are. However, if they mean to be on time, they’ll apologize for their lateness.

Making promises and never keeping them keeps you on edge. Are they going to turn up? Will they pay the bills this month? Can they keep their job this time?

12. Using your mental or physical problems to lower your self-esteem.

Mental health or physical problems are like catnip to a manipulator. They use your problems to goad, berate, or degrade you. Constant belittling lowers your self-esteem, making it easier for them to control you.

13. Saying they didn’t intend to upset you.

This is a little like the ‘I’m only being honest’ subtle sign of gaslighting. It’s a way of getting away with saying or doing something that does upset you.

You know when people say things like ‘No disrespect but…’ and then say something disrespectful? Of course, they intended to upset you; they just didn’t want you to argue about it.

14. If they apologize, they say ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’

manipulative apology

An apology that isn’t an apology. If someone is genuinely sorry, they’ll take responsibility for their actions. Saying they’re sorry for the way you feel leaves them unaccountable.

15. Arbitrarily withholding affection for no obvious reason.

It’s so disheartening when a partner rejects you when you go to them for a kiss or hug, but what a great way to lower someone’s esteem!

Fear of rejection can go back to childhood. It’s triggering for some people. The rejecting person can dismiss your reaction by explaining it away. For example, they have a headache, they’re tired, they’re concentrating on work, etc. You come across as a nagging, whiny, sad sap.

16. Lying about small things that don’t matter.

Lying about inconsequential things is an effective but one of the more subtle signs of gaslighting. You never know where you are with this person. They’ll deny the truth even when presented with the facts.

17. Changing the subject abruptly and projecting their faults onto you.

You’ll find that they quickly change the subject when a gaslighter is running out of lies. Watch out for replies like

Oh I haven’t got time for this nonsense” or “I’ve got more important things to do”.

If they really want to get out of the situation, they’ll turn it around and accuse you of what you’re asking them to explain.

18. Leaves your text messages on ‘read’ but doesn’t reply.

This is one of the more modern subtle signs of gaslighting. It’s frustrating when you know a person has read your message but hasn’t answered it for hours or even days.

However, it’s also a genius passive-aggressive technique. Manipulators will lie and say they haven’t seen your message or that you shouldn’t be so needy; they’ll answer when they can fit you in.

19. Uses ambiguous language and then berates you for not understanding what they meant.

The final example of my subtle signs of gaslighting is vague language. Gaslighters deliberately use ambiguous language to confuse you or make you feel uncertain. Their aim is to make you feel crazy or over-sensitive. You question your memory or second-guess yourself.

Final Thoughts

I said at the start, if gaslighting was obvious, we’d recognize it and run a mile. It must start off subtly to be effective. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spot the subtle signs of gaslighting before you get drawn into the manipulator’s web.



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Important information. Heartbreaking too.

    1. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

      Yes, it is heartbreaking.

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