When Is a Relationship "Bad Enough"? Leaving a Gaslighter

How to decide whether it is time to cut and run.

Posted Apr 29, 2019

Knowing when to leave a gaslighter is a difficult decision
Source: kconnors/Morguefile

Several readers have asked me, after reading my post, "11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting," or reading the first chapter of my book Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People and Break Free: How many characteristics of gaslighting does a partner need to have before it is time to leave for good? What if it's just one or two? What if it's not all of them, but just some? 

To review, here are 11 warning signs of a gaslighter. (After writing the post mentioned above, I discovered more signs, which can be found in my book.)

11 Signs of a Gaslighter  

  1. They tell blatant lies.
  2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
  3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
  4. They wear you down over time.
  5. Their actions do not match their words.
  6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
  7. They know confusion weakens people.
  8. They project.
  9. They try to align people against you.
  10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.
  11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

How Many Signs Does He or She Need to Meet?

First, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, and abuse should never be tolerated in a relationship. However, life is not as simple as that: Gaslighters erode people's self-esteem and their ability to make decisions. This can mean that making the decision to leave seems almost impossible. Add to this the fact that the most lethal time in an abusive relationship is when you are leaving it, or when you have already left. Even one item on this list should make you take pause and evaluate if this relationship is an unhealthy one.

What Are Your Personal Values?

Consider your personal values about the 11 gaslighting items above. For example, it may not seem like a big deal to you when your partner's actions don't match their words (#5), while "they tell you or others that you are crazy" may be a deal-breaker for you. The opposite may be true for someone else. We all have different standards for levels of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Learn your "line in the sand" and stick to it. Let your friends and family know your line in the sand for a relationship: If those lines are crossed, your friends and family can remind you of where you stand on that behavior. This is especially important if you are in relationships with gaslighters, as they turn your boundaries against you and also will blatantly ignore them.

What Is Your Partner's Intent?

Does it appear that your partner is willfully working at making you feel dependent, or does it seem like the two of you may have communication difficulties instead? If you're having difficulty figuring out which is which, I recommend reading my three-part post, "Is it Gaslighting or Bad Communication?" (Click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Be Aware That Emotional Abuse Escalates

When a relationship has emotional abuse, it is also more likely to have verbal and physical abuse as well. Every minute in the United States, 24 people are raped, stalked, or physically attacked by their partner (US Department of Justice, 2008). Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at and 1−800−799−7233. 

Do You Have Children in the Home?

Children witnessed domestic violence in 22 percent of cases filed in state courts, with an additional 14 percent of children having been present during domestic violence incidents but not witnessing them (US Department of Justice, 2008). Be aware that children who witness domestic violence or are present in the home during domestic violence incidents are 15 times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted (Unicef, 2006). Your children may be at risk. 

"But What If I've Had Some of These Behaviors, Too?"

If you've also engaged in one or more of the behaviors on the list above, it doesn't mean that the gaslighting behaviors your partner has engaged in are acceptable; nor did you "deserve" to be treated like that. Sometimes people in relationships with gaslighters will take on characteristics of the gaslighter as a way to "beat them at their own game." However, the gaslighter will always win with their manipulation and guilt tactics. If you feel you have some gaslighting behaviors, it is recommended that you speak to a mental health professional. He or she can help you discover if you were just responding to the gaslighter's behaviors in kind, or if this is a deeper pattern of behavior.

Remember, if you answered "yes" to even one item on the list above, it is important that you take a look at what other signs of gaslighting and other emotionally abusive behaviors may be present in your relationship.

Here's an episode of my podcast, Talking Brains, where I speak on when it is time to leave a gaslighter.
Copyright 2019 Sarkis Media


Sarkis, S. M. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Smith, E. L., Durose, M. R., & Langan, P. A. (2008). State court processing of domestic violence cases. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Unicef. (2006). Behind closed doors: The impact of domestic violence on children. In Behind closed doors: the impact of domestic violence on children. Unicef.