5 Telltale Signs of Gaslighting in a Friendship, According to Psychologists

Friendship, although often wonderful, isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. While people tend to focus on romantic partnerships as the relationships in our lives that need work, friendships frequently need some elbow grease, too, to operate at their very best. But when gaslighting trickles into a friendship, it can be difficult to spot the signs. What is gaslighting, exactly? And how does it manifest in a friendship?

Related: How to Spot the Telltale Signs of a Toxic Friendship

What Exactly Is Gaslighting?

Licensed psychologist Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart says that gaslighting is a psychological or mental manipulation tactic where one person distorts another's reality.

“In friendships, this can involve denying past events, downplaying emotional experiences, dismissing hurtful experiences and distorting facts to benefit themselves,” she explains.

“A person being gaslit may question their own beliefs, instincts and perceptions,” Dr. Brittney Jones, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Today’s Psychologist, a modern therapy and testing practice, says. “It is often used to deflect responsibility in conflict and to uphold a possible power dynamic.”

Related: 9 Subtle Signs of Gaslighting That Are Often Easy to Miss, According to Psychologists

5 Signs of a Gaslighting in a Friendship, According to Psychologists

1. Lying

Dr. Jones says that a gaslighting friend may habitually lie even if you have proof to the contrary.

According to Dr. Haywood Stewart, a gaslighter often uses lies to make you doubt yourself—something that can lead to constant questioning of your memory or perceptions.

Related: 8 Types of Toxic Friends You Should Cut Out of Your Life, According to Psychotherapists

2. Trivializing Your Perceptions

Be on the lookout for anyone who’s in the habit of “dismissing your feelings,” as Dr. Haywood Stewart says.

“Be aware of friends who minimize what you think or feel,” Dr. Jones adds. “Gaslighters often engage in this behavior to devalue or discredit you.”

3. Shifting Blame

Dr. Jones says that oftentimes, a gaslighting friend will twist or shift the blame, even if you did nothing wrong. “The gaslighting friend may shift the blame to you, causing you to wonder if you were the cause of the problem,” she says.

Related: 12 Phrases to Shut Down a Toxic Friend, According to a Psychoanalyst

4. Projecting

“If a gas lighter is doing something to cause trouble in the friendship, they may accuse you of doing that same behavior even if you did not,” Dr. Jones says. “If you feel like you must defend yourself against accusations you’ve never done, this is a sign of projecting.”

5. Withholding

“Withholding” means that a person refuses to listen to what you have to say. Dr. Jones explains that a gaslighting friend who withholds may not listen to you or your thoughts in a disagreement. Instead, they may turn to accusation or pretend not to get you or understand you.

Related: 14 Genius Phrases To Shut Down Gaslighting, According to Psychologists

Why Is Gaslighting Negative in a Friendship?

“Gaslighting is a negative experience in friendships because it damages trust, creates emotional turmoil, undermines self-worth and reality and can lead to anxiety, depression and communication breakdowns,” Dr. Haywood Stewart cautions.

Additionally, as Dr. Jones says, gaslighting not only affects how friends can connect and attach with one another, but it also deflects from actually dealing with the situation at hand.

“Because gaslighting is a form of emotional/psychological abuse, any friendships in which gaslighting is involved are inherently doomed for conflict and no real resolutions,” she says.

So, why would your friend gaslight you? Dr. Haywood Stewart details that the gaslighting might stem from past traumas, an inability to handle accountability, personal insecurities, control issues, “or it may be a sign of a narcissistic personality,” she explains.

Related: Do Gaslighters Know What They're Doing? Psychologists Share the Truth

How to Deal with Gaslighting

First things first? Notice how you feel when you’re around this person.

Dr. Jones says, “Do you notice that you are constantly questioning yourself and your instincts? If so, you can communicate with your gaslighting friend, noting specifically what you’re reacting to. The gaslighter may try to deflect the conversation, but remaining on the topic at hand is important.”

Related: 15 Genius Phrases to Respond to a Toxic Friend's Text

She also says that if this person continues with this behavior or makes threats, it’s key to set boundaries and limits.

“Boundaries can include limiting how much contact they have with you or communicating the consequences that the gaslighting will have on how you will engage with them moving forward,” she says. “You can also choose not to further engage in the argument or take time to cool off.”

Furthermore, you can also seek trusted support outside of the friendship, or in some cases, reassess the friendship as a whole, as Dr. Haywood Stewart recommends.

Next up, pick up on 35 common gaslighting phrases.