3 Signs Someone Is Gaslighting You and How to Stop It

By Marisa Cohen
November 30, 2022

When Alyssa,* a jewelry designer in New York City, was first trying to get her business off the ground, her then-husband would constantly tell her she was being extravagant by spending money to make samples. “He even told me I was wasting money by paying for a babysitter so I could work,” she says. When she asked for funds to buy their daughters new shoes or clothes, he would blame her spending for their lack of cash, Alyssa recalls. “It wasn’t until years later that I discovered he had a gambling addiction, and that’s where all the money had gone.”

What Alyssa went through is classic gaslighting behavior, says Robin Stern, Ph.D., co-founder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect. “I've talked to so many women who are confident and decisive in their jobs, or with their friends and family, yet, in their romantic relationship, they are constantly second-guessing themselves.”

Though the phrase “gaslighting” has been in the news a lot recently, the term actually goes back to a 1944 film. In Gaslight, a young bride is driven to the brink by her husband, who removes things from her purse, rearranges items in the house, and dims the gaslights, then accuses her of imagining it all when she notices. But gaslighting can happen in any relationship where one person tries to emotionally undermine the other by convincing them that they’re misinterpreting, misremembering, or misunderstanding situations, making them question their own perception of reality. This could mean a boss who “forgets” to invite you to important meetings, then suggests you’re being overly sensitive when you bring it up at your annual review; or, the parent who always blames the child for being late to school when, in fact, it is the parent who has a chaotic morning routine; or, the friend who constantly makes fun of how you dress, then denies saying it or complains that you can't take a joke.