🤐 Is Unintentional Gaslighting a Thing? How Do You Stop It?

Even though someone may not engage in this behavior consciously, unintentional gaslighting is real.

It refers to denying, dismissing, or distorting someone’s sense of reality. It can be considered emotional or psychological abuse.

Anyone can become an unintentional gaslighter- even a white lie or strong exaggeration may fall under this category.

But when someone constantly gaslights- even when unaware- they can hurt others and seriously erode their relationships.

🤐 Is Unintentional Gaslighting a Thing_ How Do You Stop It

In this article, I will talk about Unintentional gaslighting and how it occurs when someone unknowingly manipulates others, causing them to doubt their reality.

It can be harmful and have significant effects on relationships and personal well-being.

What Is Unintentional Gaslighting, And Is This a Thing?

There’s no specific term for unintentional gaslighting, but it’s a thing. Some people may call unintentional gaslighting ‘mild gaslighting,’ ‘shadow gaslighting,’ or ‘unconscious gaslighting.’

Others lump it in with gaslighting without differentiating whether the gaslighter is voluntarily lying.

Gaslighting allows people to maintain control over a situation or person. In abusive relationships, gaslighting can distort someone else’s reality so much that they second-guess their motives, relationships, and overall values.

Lying sets the stage for mind games, denial, and covert agendas.

In milder situations, gaslighting can help people avoid accountability or sidestep shame.

Are Gaslighters Aware They Are Gaslighting?

Sometimes gaslighters have insight into their behaviors. It’s a misconception that abusers or narcissists are oblivious to their actions.

Many people know what they’re doing is wrong, but they consider the validation and control they receive worth it. 

Some gaslighters may not recognize the true nature of their manipulation. They may have excellent intentions (lying to protect someone else or presenting themselves more positively as a way to seek approval), but the delivery can still be harmful. 

Is Unintentional Gaslighting a Form of Abuse?

Unintentional gaslighting can become abusive, even if the patterns aren’t explicit.

Lying sets the stage for mind games, denial, and covert agendas. This hurts other people and can destroy relationships. It leaves a victim feeling disrespected and unappreciated.

What Are the Effects of Unintentional Gaslighting?

Unintentional gaslighting can make people feel ashamed, guilty, afraid, or confused. It can also trigger someone to think a certain problem is their fault, even when that’s not true.

Unintentional gaslighting also blocks trust. It’s hard to rely on someone if you feel like they’re constantly manipulating you or making you out to be the bad guy.

You might find yourself withdrawing from the relationship and supposing resentful. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It can also exacerbate issues like substance use.

Examples of Unintentional Gaslighting

Most people engage in unintentional gaslighting from time to time. Here are some ways people can gaslight without even realizing it:

Example 1

Invalidating someone’s feelings or experiences: This can sound like a parent telling their toddler during a tantrum, “You’re just tired” (even if they feel upset or hungry).

It can also sound like a partner saying, “It’s a good thing you didn’t get that job. You would have ended up hating that commute.” Even if some of the statement is true, assuming a universal truth can be a type of gaslighting.

Example 2

Being overly positive: Toxic positivity may sound good in theory, but saying cliches like, “It’s all going to turn out okay!” or “Everything happens for a reason” sometimes comes across as dismissive or even callous.

The reality is that difficult things happen, and pretending they don’t invalidates someone’s actual experience. 

Example 3

Telling white lies: White lies (“I love your dress!” “I’m sorry I was late- I thought the party started an hour later!”) may seem harmless, but they can be a form of unintentional gaslighting, particularly if the other person discovers the truth.

Example 4

Being adamant about the definitive truth: Life can be so subjective, but when people assume they always know what’s best, they disregard other people’s needs and feelings. This can be a form of gaslighting.

Believing in all-or-nothing extremes: Phrases like, “You never listen to me!” or “We always do what you want on the weekends” are overly rigid and often untrue. This type of gaslighting often comes across as judgmental and can cause deep resentment in relationships.

Example 5

Accusing someone of being too emotional/sensitive: Dismissing someone’s internal state can be a form of gaslighting.

You may disagree with how a person responds to a specific situation, but outright demeaning their reaction isn’t considerate. 

How to Deal With Unintentional Gaslighting?

Gaslighting ranges from feeling mildly uncomfortable to infuriating. Chronic gaslighting becomes a form of abuse- you’re no longer emotionally safe in the relationship. It’s like the other person holds disproportionate power and control.

Here are some ways to manage and respond to unintentional gaslighting:

Give Someone the Benefit of the Doubt

Sometimes gaslighting can be annoying, but you might recognize it as fairly harmless. 

For example, your neighbor might tell you the street cleaning is canceled next week.

You’re pretty sure that’s not true, but he is adamant that it is. Instead of assuming that you know what’s best, giving someone the benefit of the doubt means checking their beliefs for accuracy. They might still be wrong, but it’s worth being open-minded.

Ignore It (When It Doesn’t Affect You)

You don’t always have to respond to unintentional gaslighting. When it doesn’t directly involve you, stepping in can cause other problems. 

For example, you might feel frustrated that your coworker often lies about getting stuck in traffic when you know she chronically runs late.

But it may not be appropriate for you to confront her or talk to your boss about it. The situation will run its course, and it’s probably best if you avoid getting involved.

Identify the Gaslighting 

If you want to address gaslighting, you must plant your feet in the truth and let the other person know what’s going on. If you want someone to change their behavior, they need to know how their behavior impacts you. 

Let’s say you want to order dessert, and someone snarkily says, “You surely can’t be hungry after that big dinner!” Instead of ignoring them or reacting passive-aggressively, you could respond by saying, “I love the cake here, and my appetite isn’t up for discussion.”

Set Firm Boundaries

Boundaries protect your integrity and can stop or reduce gaslighting. Boundaries require you to identify your truth and set limits with others. 

In that same example above, a boundary might sound like, “Please don’t talk about what I eat.

I find it uncomfortable. If you do it again, I will leave this dinner.” Remember that you are entitled to have boundaries at all times and in all relationships.

If someone can’t respect them, it’s worth reevaluating the parameters within that dynamic. 

Change How You Communicate

You might notice that specific topics trigger gaslighting in your relationships. For example, whenever you try to talk to your mother about how your father’s drinking bothers you, she becomes defensive and accuses you of being too judgmental and critical.

If you want to keep a positive relationship with your mother, you might decide it’s best to avoid the topic altogether.

While you may wish for a different outcome, focusing on safer and less emotionally-reactive subjects may be more beneficial.

How to Stop Unintentional Gaslighting?

If you recognize that you gaslight others, you’re certainly not alone. Insight is the first step toward change.

You can improve how you respond to others, but holding yourself accountable in your relationships is important. 

Here are some ways to avoid unintentional gaslighting in relationships.

Consider Why You Gaslight

Why do you lie or try to control a situation? Answering those questions can be painful, but they may uncover essential truths about yourself. 

Most people gaslight to maintain their image or feel a sense of power. They may have complex histories of abuse, and they learned to gaslight as a coping mechanism. Whatever the case, knowing your why is an essential step toward change.

Pause Before Responding

If you feel angry, upset, or let down by someone else, pause. Don’t react just yet.

In those heated moments, you’re more likely to try to hurt someone else in response. Think about the healthiest way you could respond, and try to commit to following through with that action.

Listen Deeply to Other People

Empathy sets the foundation for honesty and connection. When you can empathize with someone else’s feelings, you’re more likely to care about their integrity. That, in turn, makes you want to be a better person for them.

If you struggle to listen, commit to practicing more mindfulness during conversations.

Don’t interrupt or focus on what you want to say next. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and remember that their needs and emotions are valid.

Accept Different Truths and Realities

There are no universal truths about how people should live their lives. And assuming there is only creates tension within relationships.

Instead, try to focus on being more curious and open-minded. Learn about other people’s experiences. Practice embracing a more tolerant approach when meeting new people.

Apologize and Hold Yourself Accountable

If you notice yourself slipping back into gaslighting behavior, acknowledge it and aim to repair it.

There’s no need to go over the top with your apology, but you should label what happened and ask the other person how to make it right.

FAQ

What Is Shadow Gaslighting?

Shadow gaslighting is a type of unconscious gaslighting where people use more indirect or covert strategies to manipulate others. Usually, this entails one person trying to evoke doubt about what’s occurring in someone else’s life. 

For example, if one partner doesn’t like their partner’s coworker, they might keep dropping comments like, “He just seems so sketchy,” or “He’s always flirting with you, and it’s so obvious.”

Over time, these comments can cause the other person to feel guilty and distance themselves from their coworker. 

Why Do People Unconsciously Gaslight Others?

Gaslighting allows people to maintain control over a situation or person. In abusive relationships, gaslighting can distort someone else’s reality so much that they second-guess their motives, relationships, and overall values.

In milder situations, gaslighting can help people avoid accountability or sidestep shame.

Is Gaslighting Common?

Occasional gaslighting is common, but more chronic patterns of it are indicative of abusive relationships or narcissism.

These are less typical, but they can still occur in intimate relationships, workplace dynamics, and between family members.

Do You Tell a Gaslighter They’re Gaslighting?

Some gaslighters- mainly if they’re oriented towards introspection and growth- might respond well to your feedback.

But if they are generally more hostile or defensive, there’s a good chance they’ll respond poorly or gaslight you even more. 

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

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