24th September 2023

Understanding Unintentional Gaslighting – 4 Actionable Tips

Understanding Unintentional Gaslighting – 4 Actionable Tips

Have you ever doubted your reality or questioned your memories, but you can’t quite pinpoint why? It could be a subtle form of emotional manipulation known as unintentional gaslighting.

While it may not be intentional, it can still significantly impact your mental health and well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explore the effects of unintentional gaslighting and provide actionable tips on how to deal with it.

Why? Because it’s incredible common. According to DVCCC statistics, nearly 50% of women and 50% of men experience psychological aggression at least once in their lifetime.

Whether you’ve experienced it in a romantic relationship, friendship, or even at work, this post is for anyone who has ever felt their reality being undermined.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in various contexts, including romantic relationships. Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that causes the victim to question their version of reality and sense of reality.

Gaslighting can be intentional, but it can also happen unintentionally, known as unintentional gaslighting. Regardless of intent, gaslighting involves psychological control and can result in emotional abuse.

The gaslighter attempts to create a false reality by denying or distorting the victim’s experiences and perceptions, leading them to doubt themselves and their sense of reality.

Related: Gaslighting Phrases: Different Kinds, Examples and Responses

What is Unintentional Gaslighting?

Unintentional gaslighting, also known as unconscious gaslighting, is a form of abuse that can happen when you inadvertently manipulates another person’s perception of reality. It can take the form of verbal abuse or other manipulative behaviors.

Unlike intentional gaslighting, which is done with the explicit purpose of controlling or manipulating another person, unintentional gaslighting can be done unconsciously. It may stem from a lack of understanding or awareness of how one’s words or actions can impact others.

“Like many other unintentional things we do, unintentional gaslighting is not about malice and may happen because of lack of self-awareness, in which our well-intentioned behavior can still have harmful effects on someone’s sense of self.” says Leonita Ariesti Putri, mental health practitioner and our resident expert. “Unintentional gaslighting is a spontaneous, unconscious projection of one’s own insecurity.” she adds.

Nonetheless, it can still cause significant harm and erode the victim’s sense of self and reality.

Recognizing and addressing unintentional gaslighting is essential to avoid causing harm and promote healthy relationships.

Understanding Unintentional Gaslighting

Unintentional gaslighting, also known as unconscious gaslighting, can arise from a variety of personality traits or factors.

For instance, if you have poor communication skills or low emotional intelligence, you may struggle to express yourself healthily and you could inadvertently manipulate the other person’s perception of reality.

Furthermore, some who grew up in abusive households or witnessed gaslighting behavior may unconsciously perpetuate this behavior in their own relationships. Signs of gaslighting may be normalized or difficult to recognize for these people. 

When you’re a victim of unconscious gaslighting, fostering self-awareness, cultivating healthy communication skills, and seeking professional help is essential.

Is your wife gaslighting you? It might be due to a mental health issue. Read more about it in our article: Living with a ‘Crazy Wife’: Tips for Coping and Support

Differentiating Unintentional Gaslighting from Intentional Gaslighting

Differentiating from intentional and unintentional harm

Distinguishing between unintentional and intentional gaslighting is like walking a fine line, as Leonita says: “The fine line distinguishing unintentional from intentional gaslighting lies in the awareness and intent of one’s actions. While unintentional gaslighting arises from ignorance and lack of understanding, intentional gaslighting is a deliberate, calculated effort to undermine someone’s sense of reality.”

This means that the key difference lies in whether someone is doing it on purpose or by accident. Unintentional gaslighting happens when someone doesn’t realize they’re making someone doubt themselves. They might not fully understand the impact of their words or actions. Intentional gaslighting, on the other hand, is when someone is purposely trying to make another person feel like they’re crazy or wrong. Recognizing this difference is important for better communication and stopping harmful behavior.

  1. Intent:
    • Intentional Gaslighting: A deliberate effort to manipulate, control, or discredit someone’s experiences or emotions.
    • Unintentional Gaslighting: Here, the gaslighter may not be aware that their words or actions are causing the other person to doubt their perceptions.
  2. Awareness:
    • Intentional Gaslighting: Perpetrators of intentional gaslighting are fully aware of their actions and their impact on the victim.
    • Unintentional Gaslighting: Those engaging in unintentional gaslighting may genuinely believe they are helping or providing an alternative perspective.

Signs of Unintentional Gaslighting

Recognizing unintentional gaslighting is essential to prevent misunderstandings and maintain healthy relationships. Here are some signs to be mindful of:

  1. Invalidation of Feelings: Unintentional gaslighting can manifest as downplaying someone’s feelings or suggesting that their emotional responses are unwarranted or exaggerated.
  2. Frequent Contradictions: Offering conflicting viewpoints without ill intent can lead to confusion and self-doubt in the other person’s mind.
  3. Misremembering Details: Unintentional gaslighters might genuinely remember events differently, causing the other person to question their memory.
  4. Overriding Experiences: Unintentional gaslighting can occur when someone consistently prioritizes their own version of events over the other person’s experiences.
  5. Assuming Superior Knowledge: Implying that one person’s understanding is more accurate than the other’s can unintentionally cause doubt in the other person’s perspective.

Am I Gaslighting Without Realizing?

person realizing they are gaslighting

If you’re concerned about inadvertently gaslighting someone, reflect on your communication patterns:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take time to consider your interactions and whether they may inadvertently undermine someone’s reality.

    “Looking inwards for our own motives and thoughtfully considering the impact of our words on others can prevent us from unintentionally gaslighting those around us.” Leonita reminds us, emphasizing the need of introspection. “Self-awareness is the key to recognizing and preventing unintentional gaslighting. Regularly reflecting on our words and actions can help us can help us identify if we’re guilty of it.” She adds.
  2. Open Dialogue: Encourage open conversations about feelings and perceptions, allowing both parties to express their viewpoints.
  3. Empathy and Validation: Show empathy and validate the other person’s feelings even if you disagree or remember things differently.
  4. Active Listening: Practice active listening to better understand the other person’s experiences without immediately offering opposing views.

In considering whether unintentional gaslighting is at play, it’s crucial to acknowledge the impact of communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. As our resident expert encapsulates, “Unintentional gaslighting is often a result of communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. It’s important to address these instances with openness and willingness to learn, rather than resorting to blame.” This underscores the significance of approaching such instances with humility and a genuine desire to comprehend their origins.

Rather than assigning fault, embrace a stance of openness and a commitment to personal growth can pave the way for healthier, more empathetic interactions.

Unconscious Gaslighting and Its Impact

Unconscious gaslighting, also known as reflexive denial, occurs when someone unknowingly undermines another person’s reality. This form of manipulation can contribute to psychological abuse within relationships. It’s important to recognize the potential harm caused by unconscious gaslighting and address it to avoid toxic dynamics.

Cases of Unintentional Gaslighting

  • Offering unwarranted advice instead of validating someone’s feelings.
  • Contradicting a person’s memory of an event without malicious intent.
  • Responding to emotional expressions with a focus on positive aspects, ignoring the negative feelings.

Recognizing Unintentional Gaslighters: Unintentional gaslighters may display characteristics of toxic positivity, where they attempt to maintain an exclusively positive outlook, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging valid negative emotions.

Seeking Professional Help: If you suspect gaslighting in your relationships, especially if it is leading to psychological abuse, consider consulting a licensed therapist. They can provide guidance on addressing underlying issues and promoting healthier communication patterns.

Examples of Unintentional Gaslighting

  1. Constantly questioning a person’s memory or experiences without realizing it can be a form of unintentional gaslighting. For example, saying, “Are you sure that happened?” or “I don’t remember it that way” can make a person doubt their recollection of events.
  2. Making someone feel guilty or responsible for your own emotions without realizing it is another example of unintentional gaslighting. For instance, saying, “You make me so angry” or “I wouldn’t be upset if it weren’t for you,” can manipulate a person’s emotions and make them doubt their worth.
  3. Criticizing someone’s decisions or actions without offering any constructive feedback can be a sign of gaslighting. This behavior can make a person feel inadequate and doubt their abilities, leading to low self-esteem.
  4. Using intricate manipulation to control or coerce someone is a clear example of gaslighting. This tactic can make a person doubt their judgment and rely on the gaslighter for guidance.
  5. Refusing to take responsibility for one’s actions and blaming others is a manipulative behavior that can lead to gaslighting. This behavior can make people doubt their perceptions and feel they are to blame for everything that goes wrong.
  6. Engaging in abusive behaviors such as name-calling, yelling, and belittling can also be a sign of gaslighting. These behaviors can make a person doubt their worth and feel responsible for the gaslighter’s behavior.
  7. Using gaslighting tactics to make someone feel like they are losing their mind or going crazy is a malicious form of gaslighting. This type of behavior can cause severe mental health issues and lead to long-term damage.
  8. Unconscious gaslighting can occur when someone is unaware of their words and actions’ impact on others. This can be especially damaging because the gaslighter may not realize the harm they are causing.
  9. Gaslighting can also occur in relationships where one partner has a mental health condition. For example, if one partner has depression, the other may unintentionally gaslight them by saying things like “You’re just being dramatic” or “It’s not that bad.”
  10. Mental health issues can make someone more susceptible to gaslighting. Gaslighters may use a person’s anxiety or depression to manipulate them and make them doubt their perceptions. It’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional if you feel like you are being gaslit.

Curious about more examples of gaslighting? Read here: Examples Gaslighting – Protecting Yourself Against Abusive Behavior

Explanation of Why Unintentional Gaslighting Happens

Unintentional gaslighting can happen for various reasons, but it is often rooted in a lack of awareness about the impact of one’s words and actions on others.

According to licensed clinical social worker Laura Khoudari, “most people are not aware that their actions or statements may be perceived as gaslighting, nor are they aware of the damage it can cause to a person’s mental health.”

Additionally, people may unintentionally gaslight others due to their own insecurities and need for control. Psychologist Dr. Stephanie Sarkis explains that “people who gaslight may be insecure, controlling, and have a need to be right or in charge. They may feel threatened by others and use gaslighting as a way to maintain control.”

It is important to recognize that unintentional gaslighting can still have serious consequences on a person’s mental health and well-being. It is crucial to educate oneself and seek help if needed.

As Khoudari notes, “It’s important for people to learn what gaslighting is and how to recognize it, so that they can become more aware of their behaviors and make changes to avoid unintentionally hurting others.”

It’s possible that you or your partner is influenced by the upbringing of your parents. This article explains the effects of gaslighting your children very well!

Effects of Unintentional Gaslighting

Unintentional gaslighting, a subtle form of gaslighting, can have significant and long-lasting effects on a person’s mental health and well-being.

Despite being unintentional, the constant questioning of one’s memories or experiences, invalidation of emotions, and other manipulative behaviors can cause a person to doubt themselves and their reality, leading to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

The Emotional Impact on The Victim

Unintentional gaslighting can have a profound emotional impact on the victim. Due to the psychological manipulation and lack of awareness of the gaslighter, the victim can experience confusion, self-doubt, and even question their own sanity.

According to therapist Julia Hogan, “Unintentional gaslighting can be especially confusing because the gaslighter may not even realize they are doing it. It can lead the victim to question their own reality and trust in their own judgment, which can have long-lasting effects on their mental health.”

The unconscious mind plays a significant role in unintentional gaslighting, making it important for gaslighters to become more aware of their words and actions to avoid causing harm to those around them.

How it Affects Their Perception of Reality

Unintentional gaslighting can profoundly affect a person’s perception of reality. Gaslighting is a pattern of behavior that undermines a person’s confidence in their memory, emotions, and perceptions of reality.

When it comes to unintentional gaslighting, the gaslighter may not even be aware that they are doing it, making it harder for the victim to recognize and address the issue. Constantly questioning one’s memory or experiences can cause the victim to doubt their reality and feel like they are going crazy.

As therapist Julia Hogan explains, “Gaslighting is not just about the facts; it’s about the emotional reality of the victim. Even unintentional gaslighting can cause the victim to question their own emotional reactions and experiences, leading them to feel like their perception of reality is fundamentally flawed.”

Long-term Consequences if it Goes Unchecked

If left unchecked, unintentional gaslighting can have long-term consequences, especially if the victim is in a toxic relationship with an unintentional gaslighter. Constantly questioning one’s reality and the emotional manipulation involved in gaslighting can lead to serious mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

According to therapist Shahida Arabi, “Gaslighting can cause a person to feel like they are losing their mind, which can lead to symptoms of mental illness like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Additionally, if the gaslighter is unaware of their behavior, it can be difficult for the victim to confront them and make them understand the damage they are causing. This can lead to a continued cycle of emotional abuse and manipulation, further perpetuating the adverse effects of unintentional gaslighting on the victim’s mental health.

How to Deal With Unintentional Gaslighting

Dealing with unintentional gaslighting can be a challenging and sensitive process. It involves addressing the gaslighter’s manipulative behavior while recognizing its impact on the victim’s mental health and well-being. It requires a delicate balance of education, communication, and boundary-setting to effectively address the issue and prevent it from happening in the future.

Identifying the Behavior and its Impact

Recognizing and dealing with unintentional gaslighting starts with acknowledging the behavior and understanding its serious consequences. It’s not just a minor misunderstanding but a manipulative tactic. As therapist Avigail Lev explains, “Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that undermines your sense of reality and self-worth.”

So, knowing about gaslighting and how it affects you is not just an intellectual exercise. It helps you recognize when it’s happening to you, so you can stand up for yourself and protect your emotional well-being. In short, addressing unintentional gaslighting starts with learning and self-awareness, which leads to healing and personal growth. It also reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy sense of reality and self-worth.

Communicating With The Gaslighter

Communicating with the gaslighter is a critical step in dealing with unintentional gaslighting. It is important to approach the conversation with empathy and compassion, helping the gaslighter understand the impact of their behavior on your mental health.

According to therapist Darlene Lancer, “The key to effective communication is to approach the conversation from a place of understanding, rather than blame.” It is important to have an open and honest dialogue while setting clear boundaries to prevent future instances of gaslighting.

Related: Tips for Communicating in Relationships: Build a Stronger Bond

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is essential in dealing with unintentional gaslighting. It involves creating a safe space for yourself and protecting your mental health.

Setting boundaries may include limiting contact with the gaslighter, seeking support from friends or family, or ending the relationship altogether. As therapist Lisa Ferentz explains, “Boundaries are an act of self-care, and they are necessary for your emotional well-being.”

Mind games are a telltale sign of gaslighting.

Gaslighters may use manipulation tactics to make you doubt your reality, question your memories, or feel guilty for their behavior. Recognizing these mind games and standing firm in your truth is essential.

As therapist Robin Stern explains, “The key to overcoming gaslighting is to stay rooted in your truth and not allow the gaslighter to manipulate your emotions or thoughts.”

Seeking professional help if necessary

Seeking professional help if necessary, is crucial in dealing with unintentional gaslighting. A therapist or counselor can provide a safe and supportive space to process your emotions, address any underlying mental health issues, and develop coping strategies. As author Shahida Arabi explains, “Seeking professional help can provide you with the tools and resources you need to break free from the cycle of gaslighting and move forward healthily and positively.”


In conclusion, unintentional gaslighting can have serious consequences on a person’s mental health and well-being. It is important to recognize the behavior, communicate effectively with the gaslighter, set clear boundaries, and seek professional help if necessary.

By taking these steps, you can protect yourself from further harm and reclaim your sense of reality and self-worth.


Can you unintentionally be gaslighted by someone?

Yes, unintentional gaslighting can happen when someone inadvertently manipulates or distorts another person’s reality, causing them to question their own perceptions and experiences.

How do you stop unintentional gaslighting?

Here are some tips on how to stop unintentional gaslighting

  • Recognize the behavior and its impact.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with the person you may be unintentionally gaslighting
  • Practice active listening and validate the other person’s feelings
  • Set clear boundaries and be mindful of your language and actions
  • Seek professional help if necessary

Do I gaslight without realizing it?

  • It is possible to gaslight someone without realizing it, especially if you are unfamiliar with the concept of gaslighting or have not thoroughly examined your behavior.

Why do I gaslight without knowing?

  • Gaslighting behaviors can be learned and perpetuated by upbringing, cultural norms, or social conditioning.
  • Unconscious biases or insecurities can also contribute to unintentional gaslighting.
  • A lack of emotional intelligence or empathy can make it challenging to understand the impact of one’s actions on others.
About Author

Johan Froentjes

A veteran writer for relationship content who uses academic research to write articles and provide expert insights.

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