Helping others is, of course, an admirable quality. But, for those who thrive on the…
Dealing with gaslighting in relationships is something I help many clients with. It’s a term that’s just recently started to be commonly used but the behaviour has been around for much longer. The term gaslighting comes from a play and movie called ‘Gaslight’ where a manipulative husband convinces her wife she is going mad.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a dynamic present in some relationships where one person continually questions or denies another person’s reality until they begin to question it themselves. It is often seen in romantic relationships but can also be seen in friendships, professional situations and in parenting.
Gaslighting causes you to question your own memory, perception and judgement. It can leave you feeling confused about the world and your own understanding of events and the world around you. At it’s most severe it can even cause you to question your own sanity.
Is Gaslighting Abuse?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation. It definitely can be a type of emotional and mental abuse. As with all behaviour, it takes place on a spectrum. If gaslighting behaviours are starting to creep in to your relationship with someone, it should be dealt with as early as possible. It’s an unhealthy dynamic. If they do not realise what they are doing, something like couples therapy could help them change the way they interact with you.
Other times, the behaviours are deeply ingrained and the relationship has become damaging and toxic. Gaslighting in relationships can definitely be a form of abuse. Once you realise what gaslighting is you can start to understand why it is causing you to feel the way you do. Only then can you start to unravel the damage that’s been done to your own wellbeing.
The definition of gaslighting focuses on three things which a person may cause you to question. They are your memory, perception and judgement.
Gaslighters may deny that things happened even if you have proof. They will question or completely refute your memory of events. They may insist you have completely forgotten things that happened or claim that your memory is failing you.
Similarly to memory, your perception of events may be questioned. Your understanding of things, your feelings or your perception of another’s actions may all be questioned. It’s difficult because these can be abstract concepts and you have a right to your own understanding of the world and your reality. No one else has the right to insist that you are wrong, or that your perception is always flawed. Some healthy discussion and sharing of views can be useful, but gaslighters will steamroll over any type of discussion, insisting that you are always at fault.
Victims of gaslighting start to question their own sense of judgment which leaves them feeling unsure of themselves and their sense of self. If you start to feel that you can’t trust your own judgement, you can be very easily controlled by someone else.
Why is Gaslighting so Damaging?
Gaslighting is so damaging in a relationship because it causes a very uneven power dynamic. In order for one person to gain the upper hand, the other person has to submit their power. Gaslighting causes a person to become so unsure of themselves and the situation, that they no longer defend themselves. They may spend a lot of time in their own heads and often experience anxiety, depression and low self esteem. Even after moving on from this relationship, it can take a while for someone to regain their confidence and self belief.
Examples of Gaslighting
What are some examples of gaslighting behaviour in a relationship?
- Denying that certain events or conversations ever happened (even when you’re sure they did)
- Attacking your mental state, memory or emotional stability
- Outright lying and refusal to budge
- Turning others against you
- Calling you confused, paranoid, overreacting, crazy, forgetful, sensitive etc.
- Dismissing your point of view or feelings completely
- Backtracking or saying ‘I was only joking’ and claiming you misunderstood
Gaslighting Red Flags
How does gaslighting feel? These are the red flags which might suggest that you’re the victim of gaslighting in your relationship.
- You often feel powerless and confused
- You apologise without really knowing what for
- You constantly edit your language
- You are often dismissed as ‘over-sensitive’, ‘crazy’ or ‘over-reacting’
- You are often made to feel small or ashamed
- You feel misunderstood and attacked
- You constantly question yourself
- You feel the need to seek proof of your sanity or situations
Gaslighting and Infidelity
Gaslighting is commonly seen in relationships where infidelity is an issue. When someone is trying to cover up or hide something, the easiest way can often be to make the other person question their own mind. Then, no matter what they observe or become suspicious of, it’s easily brushed away by claiming they are ‘paranoid’ or ‘crazy’. Although the cheating party may see this an effective way of protecting themselves, it is damaging the injured party twice over.
How to Respond to Gaslighting
It can be extremely difficult to deal with gaslighting in a way that doesn’t either escalate the situation or leave you feeling like a victim. Your response may well depend on the nature of the relationship and the severity of the behaviours and their effect on you.
The important thing with gaslighting is to focus on regaining your own confidence and sense of self. Take some space and time to realise how the gaslighting made you feel and how this may have affected your past and future behaviour. If the relationship’s ended, you may want to seek some help to gain some closure, reprogram your mind and re-establish your mental wellbeing. This is something I can definitely help with.
In the moment, you might try:
- Letting the person know you won’t stand for their behaviour any longer
- Asking them to explain ‘the joke’ if they often say ‘I was only joking’
- Refuse to engage in arguments where they are over criticizing or lying
- Try phrases like ‘we clearly remember things differently’, ‘I’m not going to engage whilst you are talking to me like this’, ‘I am confident in my own feelings and memory’
Help with Gaslighting
Gaslighting can range from poor communication to aggressive or even abusive behaviour patterns. Whatever your situation, it can help to gain some perspective from a professional. Whether you’re coming to terms with an abusive relationship or you want to improve your relationship to eradicate gaslighting behaviour for good, I can help.