Subconscious gaslighting refers to the unintentional manipulation of another person’s sense of reality. It typically occurs when the gaslighter is not consciously aware that they are distorting the truth. The term “gaslighting” refers to the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a man manipulates his wife into questioning her own sanity. While traditional gaslighting is a deliberate form of emotional abuse, subconscious gaslighting lacks intent to harm. However, it can still significantly impact the mental health and self-esteem of the victim.
What causes subconscious gaslighting?
There are several potential causes of subconscious gaslighting:
- Poor memory – The gaslighter may have a legitimately poor or inaccurate memory. They may insist events happened differently than the victim recalls, without realizing they are mistaken.
- Self-deception – People have a remarkable capacity for self-deception. Gaslighters may alter their own memories or perceptions of reality to align with their desires or ego.
- Narcissism – Narcissists often distort facts to bolster their self-image. Their version of events frequently differs from others’ recollections. They are typically unaware of their self-centered bias.
- Cognitive dissonance – When experiences conflict with deeply held beliefs, people may subconsciously deny or distort memories to reduce discomfort. The gaslighter genuinely believes their version of events.
In many cases of subconscious gaslighting, the perpetrator is not purposely lying. Their perspective differs from the victim’s based on biases, false memories, or limited self-awareness. They are unwilling to acknowledge that their account may be inaccurate or colored by personal motivations.
Signs of subconscious gaslighting
Victims of subconscious gaslighting may recognize the following patterns of behavior in the gaslighter:
- Insistence – They stubbornly insist their version of events is correct, even when provided with contrary evidence.
- Defensiveness – When challenged, they become extremely defensive and double-down on their position.
- Projecting blame – They deflect responsibility by accusing the victim of misremembering, exaggerating, or lying.
- Condescension – They speak to the victim in a belittling, patronizing way that makes them feel confused and inferior.
- Indifference – They show little concern for the victim’s feelings and refuse to acknowledge the victim’s experience.
- Rewriting history – They may literally rewrite previous emails, documents, or records to align with their recall.
Unlike intentional gaslighters, subconscious gaslighters do not consciously recognize that they are distorting the truth. As a result, they are unlikely to show remorse or change their problematic behavior when it is pointed out to them.
Examples of subconscious gaslighting
Subconscious gaslighting can occur in various relationships and contexts. Some examples include:
- An employer who misremembers giving instructions or feedback to an employee. When the employee cannot produce the work, the employer accuses them of being negligent, incompetent, or lying.
- A friend who cancels plans at the last minute. When confronted, the friend denies making the plans or insists the victim must have misunderstood.
- A partner who borrows money but recalls different loan amounts and repayment timelines. They make the victim feel financially unstable.
- A parent who questions their child’s recollections of events from the past: “You have a very active imagination” or “Things weren’t nearly that bad.”
- A political or community leader who distorts previous statements or outright contradicts them. When questioned, they dismiss and discredit all criticism.
In many cases, the gaslighter genuinely believes their portrayal of events. Their version aligns with internal biases and blindspots. However, the resulting confusion and self-doubt for victims can feel very real.
Impacts of subconscious gaslighting
Chronic subconscious gaslighting can have detrimental effects on victims, including:
- Distorted sense of reality – Victims start to distrust their own memory, perception, and judgment.
- Hypervigilance – They become hyperaware and on-guard, constantly second-guessing themselves.
- Diminished self-esteem – They feel confused, ashamed, worthless, and helpless.
- Isolation – They withdraw from other relationships that might provide clarity and support.
- Anxiety and depression – Mental health suffers as a result of constant self-doubt and dismissal.
- Appeasing behavior – Victims work extremely hard to please the gaslighter and avoid conflict.
Without intervention, victims may develop complex trauma and PTSD. Subconscious gaslighting that occurs in childhood can hinder emotional development. The impacts can last a lifetime without proper treatment.
How to respond to subconscious gaslighting
It is challenging to convince a subconscious gaslighter to change their behaviors or acknowledge their role. Some tips for coping include:
- Avoid arguing over specifics – Focus on understanding their perspective rather than proving facts.
- Point out general patterns – Help them see how inconsistencies align with their own motivations and biases.
- Set firm boundaries – Make clear what behaviors you will not tolerate from them.
- Talk to trusted allies – Ask other people who know the gaslighter if they notice similar patterns of distortion.
- Seek counseling support – Therapists can help you reality test and maintain self-confidence.
- Limit contact – If necessary for your mental health, reduce contact with the gaslighter as much as possible.
You have a right to be heard, respected, and believed. With self-care and support, you can regain your sense of reality and self-worth.
Recovering from the effects of subconscious gaslighting
If you have been the ongoing victim of subconscious gaslighting, here are some tips to help you recover:
- Allow yourself to feel anger and grief over the mistreatment you experienced. Avoid repressing emotions or self-blame.
- Replace self-criticism with self-compassion and positive self-talk. You are enough.
- Make a list of your core values, strengths, and past accomplishments to reinforce your identity.
- Spend more time with people who make you feel validated, understood, and accepted.
- Challenge negative automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions.
- Seek professional counseling to process traumatic memories and re-establish trust in yourself.
- Practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to get more in tune with the present moment.
- Limit contact with the gaslighter while setting clear boundaries if cutting them off is not possible.
Healing from subconscious gaslighting takes time, but recovery is absolutely possible. Developing coping strategies and surrounding yourself with support enables you to move forward.
Protecting yourself from future subconscious gaslighting
While you cannot control whether others gaslight you, you can take steps to protect yourself:
- Notice early signs such as insistence, defensiveness, and indifference when interacting with new people.
- Trust your own memories and perceptions. Keep a journal to record events as they happen.
- Build your confidence and self-trust through positive affirmations, therapy, and self-care.
- Maintain strong personal boundaries. Require respect from those close to you.
- Discuss concerning incidents with trusted friends to reality test.
- Avoid giving certain people the power to make you question yourself.
- Speak up for yourself in the moment when you sense gaslighting occurring.
While you should not immediately write people off as gaslighters, be attuned to patterns over time. Prioritize relationships that make you feel secure and valued.
Getting help for subconscious gaslighting
You do not have to navigate subconscious gaslighting alone. Consider seeking professional support, such as:
- Individual counseling – Work one-on-one with a therapist to process your experiences, challenge negative thoughts, and boost self-esteem.
- Group counseling – Connect with other gaslighting victims to validate your experiences and develop coping skills together.
- Peer support groups – Self-help groups provide both informal counseling and social connection.
- Life coaching – Coaches help set empowering goals and design an action plan to regain confidence.
- Online forums – Anonymously read how others cope with gaslighting for insights.
Seeking counseling does not mean you are broken or at fault. Therapists provide objective feedback to help you trust yourself again. There are many compassionate professionals ready to help you heal.
Subconscious gaslighting can be an insidious form of emotional manipulation and distortion of reality. Unlike conscious gaslighting, the perpetrator is typically unaware of the harm they are causing. They genuinely believe their inaccurate version of events. However, the mental health consequences for victims are very real. With self-care, professional support, and strong boundaries, it is possible to reclaim your self-worth and validation. You know the truth of your own lived experiences, even when others falsely deny or distort them. By prioritizing relationships that bring clarity rather than confusion, you can protect against future gaslighting.