A common question people often have when they learn more about gaslighting is, “Is gaslighting always intentional?”
Gaslighting isn’t always intentional. Of course, unintentional gaslighting is just as invalidating as intentional gaslighting, but the truth is that not everyone who gaslights is doing it intentionally.
In this article, I will guide you through seven examples of unintentional gaslighting so you can better understand this topic.
1.) Accidentally Invalidating Your Emotional Responses
The first way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by invalidating your emotional responses.
For example, imagine you’re opening up to someone in your life about the anxiety and fear you’ve been feeling because of your experiences with abuse.
They respond with, “Oh, don’t worry. I promise not everyone is like (the name of your abuser). You’re probably just being overly cautious now.”
In this example, the person unintentionally gaslights you by invalidating your feelings when they say, “You’re probably just being overly cautious now.”
Of course, they didn’t mean to do this, but a comment like this can leave you questioning whether or not you’re actually being “overly cautious.”
2.) Unintentionally Minimizing Your Experiences
The second way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by minimizing your experiences.
For example, I want you to imagine a scenario where you have decided to talk to one of your friends about the emotional toll an abusive past relationship has taken on you.
They try to comfort you by saying, “Hey, at least it’s over now. Some people are still stuck in abusive relationships and will be for years.”
In this scenario, your friend had good intentions, but when they commented about some people still being in abusive relationships, they accidentally minimized your experiences.
If you were still struggling with self-blame or self-doubt, a comment like this could cause you to question the gravity of what you’ve been through.
3.) Accidentally Questioning Your Memory
The third way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by questioning your memory.
For example, let’s say you are having a discussion with someone in your life about a manipulative friend you had in the past.
You tell this person some of the manipulative things your ex-friend has done to you, and they respond, “Oh my gosh. Really? Are you sure it was that bad? That sounds crazy! Of course, I wasn’t there. But maybe be misremembering things?”
Again, just like the other examples, this person in your life isn’t trying to gaslight you, but their reactions and comments could lead you to question your memory.
Suggested Reading: 100 of the Most Common Gaslighting Phrases
So despite their attempt to engage in a neutral conversation about your ex-friend, they’ve unintentionally gaslighted you.
4.) Unknowingly Dismissing Your Personal Experiences
The fourth way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by dismissing your personal experiences.
For example, imagine your spouse doesn’t quite understand the emotional abuse that you’ve been through.
One day, you start talking about some of your childhood experiences.
Because of their lack of understanding, they respond, “I don’t know. Your parents seem great to me. Besides, they are allowed to make mistakes, it is part of being human. I just think you are still in that teenage ‘I hate my parents’ phase”
While they aren’t trying to gaslight you, a comment like this can feel deeply invalidation, shaking you to your core and causing you to question the validity of the emotional abuse you experienced throughout your childhood.
5.) Unconsciously Making Assumptions about Your Experiences
The fifth way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by making assumptions about your experiences.
For example, let’s say you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse from one of your exes.
You open up to someone in your life, and they say, “You’re strong and independent. I can’t believe you let this happen to you.”
While this is a wildly insensitive comment, the person didn’t mean any harm by it.
Nonetheless, it is a form of unintentional gaslighting and can leave you questioning your self-worth and the reality surrounding the abuse.
6.) Accidentally Defining Your Reality
The sixth way someone could unintentionally gaslight you is by defining your reality based on their perception of you.
For example, I want you to imagine a scenario where you are opening up about your struggle to trust people after a toxic relationship.
The person you confide in tells you, “You’re not distrustful. You’re just careful. You’re usually great at judging people’s character!”
Now, they are trying to compliment you, but they’ve accidentally gaslighted you.
This is gaslighting because they are defining your reality purely based on their perception of you.
In other words, they aren’t actively listening to your words. They are just reacting.
This interaction could cause you to question your self-perception and the struggle you’re going through (learning how to trust others again).
The seventh form of unintentional gaslighting is self-gaslighting.
Yes. You read that right. You can gaslight yourself.
Self-gaslighting occurs when you doubt or invalidate your thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, memories, perceptions, etc.
Some of the ways this can manifest are:
1.) Discrediting Your Feelings
You’re upset because you got into a heated argument with a friend. Instead of allowing yourself to feel upset, you think to yourself, “I’m overreacting. It’s not a big deal.”
In this scenario, you have unintentionally gaslighted yourself by dismissing and minimizing your feelings (being upset because of the argument).
2.) Downplaying Your Accomplishments
You have just achieved a significant milestone at work.
Instead of celebrating, you think to yourself, “It was luck. Anyone could have done it.”
This is an example of self-gaslighting because you downplay the milestone you achieved at work. You are devaluing your well-earned success.
3.) Denying Your Experiences
Your boss is incredibly toxic. They make everyone around them uncomfortable.
One day, you have a one-on-one meeting with them, and they say something degrading to you.
Instead of reporting them to HR, you think, “I’m just imagining things. This is a competitive environment. I need to toughen up.”
This is an example of you unintentionally gaslighting yourself because you deny your experiences.
4.) Ignoring Your Self-Care Needs
After a long day at work, you feel exhausted and need rest.
Instead of caring for yourself, you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t be tired. Other people work harder than I do.”
This is yet another example of self-gaslighting because you are ignoring your needs.
Suggested Reading: A Complete Guide to Gaslighting with Therapist Insights
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
While it can feel just as invalidating, gaslighting isn’t always done intentionally.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.