Gaslighting, to me, has always been a very creepy term. It falls under the blanket term of “emotional abuse,” as it is a form of emotional abuse: it’s a sneaky, manipulative way for a significant other (or friend, or family member, or even boss) to take control of your behavior and bring you down. Gaslighting refers to behavior where your partner tries to gain control by telling you what you remember happened is wrong – they insist that your account of a situation is incorrect, and that something else happened entirely. See? It’s creepy. It’s also very common, it’s very easy to fall into the trap without realizing it, and it’s abusive.
The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play called Gaslight. The plot of the play is that a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights in their house (powered by gas), then denying that the lights are changing when she asks about them. This is clearly extreme, and probably wouldn’t happen to the average person – gaslighting today is more like you saying, “Why did you yell at me in front of everyone?” and your partner saying, “What are you talking about? I never even raised my voice at all. Are you okay?” – but it captures the essence of this manipulative behavior. Gaslighting is meant to make you distrust yourself and trust in your partner.
When you hear what gaslighting is, you’ll probably think to yourself, “What? That’s crazy. I would never fall for that.” But once it’s happening to you, it’s different. For one thing, gaslighting, when done correctly, happens slowly and over time… so slowly that you don’t even see it coming. As Psychology Today explains, “The Gaslight Effect happens over time, gradually, and often, by the time you are deep into the Gaslight Tango (the dance you do with your gaslighting partner, where you allow him to define your reality) you are not the same strong self you used to be. In fact, your ego functioning has been compromised and, no longer being certain of your reality, you are not often able to accurately identify when something is ‘off’ with your partner.”
The good news is that once you’re aware of the signs, you will probably be able to pick them out in your life, and then you can do your part to stop this behavior. The best way to do that is to end what is clearly an abusive relationship, probably with a narcissist (they are most often the personality type to pull this off). But the first step is recognizing if it’s happening to you, and knowing you aren’t alone. Here are some signs you’re being gaslighted.
You're Always Second Guessing YourselfA gaslighter will tell you that what you remember isn't true - or that it wasn't as bad as you thought. Example: your boyfriend tells you he'll call you later, then never calls and doesn't answer the phone. The next morning, you guys get in a fight about it. You say he promised he would call and he says, "I never said that! What are you talking about?" He insists that didn't happen so much, with such confidence, that you start to wonder if maybe you remembered things incorrectly. From an outsider's perspective, this sounds weird and slightly crazy - and also like it wouldn't work. But it does, when you're in the moment. The gaslighter is so confident and self-assured in what he's saying that it makes you feel like maybe you did mishear him. Over time, this type of deal - the gaslighter telling you what you remember is incorrect, making you feel silly and a little bit stupid - eats away at you, causing you to second guess yourself in every aspect of your life. Source: iStock
You Feel Sad A Lot And You Don't Really Know WhyIf you're always with the gaslighter, as is usually the case in a toxic relationship like this, you may start to feel a sense of sadness that won't leave you no matter what. A common feeling for people who are being gaslighted is something along the lines of, "I have a great life, friends, and relationship - why do I feel unhappy?" In theory, it's simple: you feel unhappy because your partner is constantly tearing you down and making you feel like there's something wrong with you. But in reality, you don't see that happening, and so you're left with a feeing of inadequacy and depression. Source: iStock
You Constantly Wonder If There's Something Wrong With Your EmotionsOne of the main tactics of manipulation a gaslighter uses is "diagnosing" you. They'll say things like, "I didn't say that. Are you okay?" implying that you aren't remembering correctly, and is there something wrong that's making that happen? Or they'll say, "You get angry WAY too easily, you need to fix that. Do you have anger management issues?" when you have a legitimate reason to be angry but they are trying to make you see that you're "wrong." Or they'll say, "I think you're too emotional. Have you ever talked to a therapist about it?" which makes you feel like maybe you are being irrational, and maybe there is something wrong with you. This is manipulation - belittling you and tearing you down in an effort to make you see that they're right and you're wrong. If you've never had a problem with your emotional well-being before and suddenly you feel like you do, that could be a sign. If you've never been too there's mentally something wrong with you, but this person constantly tells you there is - that's a major gaslighting sign. Source: iStock
Your Relationship Is All Ups and DownsRelationship highs and lows often accompany gaslighting. How would the gaslighter gain your trust (which he/she needs in order for you to believe what they say) if they were mean to you 24/7? You might experience something like this: certain days or times, your partner is super sweet, loving, caring, and totally perfect. But if they're not acting that wonderful, they're acting awful. Of course, every human person out there goes through mood swings like this. But the difference between someone who isn't gaslighting and someone who is that the person who is gaslighting is rarely in a happy middle of Prince Charming and Worst Guy Ever. The person who ISN'T gaslighting is. Source: iStock
You Feel Like You Can Never Remember AnythingBy now, you're probably like, "Okay, I get it, a gaslighter tries to make you believe you remembered things incorrectly. Stop repeating yourself." But it's worth noting that this is a huge sign of being gaslighted - that you feel like there's something wrong with your memory. Little by little, as your gaslighter continues to manipulate you, you start feeling like you have short term memory loss. And if you've never felt that way before, ever, that's a sign something shady is going on. Source: iStock
You Lie About Stuff To Avoid FightsLet's be real: every single relationship has moments where one person has to lie in order to avoid an unnecessary argument that will cause pain and anger over something way too minor. White lies are common and they're okay sometimes. Example: your boyfriend asks you if you think their arch-enemy, who is very good looking, is hot. You say no, because this is not the time to be brutally honest. That's fine! But there's a big difference between small white lies and lying quite often to avoid arguments. If you have to lie about a lot of things in order to avoid getting in a fight, there's something wrong - a relationship has to involve honesty, or it's not going to work. So if you find yourself tangled in a web of weird little lies, maybe it's time to evaluate things. Source: iStock
You Feel Like You Never Do Anything RightTwo things that a gaslighter does in order to successfully manipulate you will make you feel like you can't do anything right. One tactic is this: they minimize your feelings and everything you say. They'll say things like, "Wow, why are you so sensitive? I can't believe you would get that angry over a stupid little joke. I can't have any fun with you anymore" which makes you feel like you're the "boring" girlfriend who sucks the life out of everything. After time, comments like these make you feel like you are the worst, and why can't you just take a joke like everyone else?! The other tactic they employ is reframing situations to make them look good and you look bad. They'll say things like, "I never said that, but if I got a little angry, it's because you said blah blah blah and made me upset." This leaves you feeling like something you did caused whatever happened, and so it was your fault - you, who can't do anything right, ever. Source: iStock
You Find Yourself Making A Lot Of Excuses For Their BehaviorWhat do you talk about when you talk about your relationship to friends and/or family members? Do they seem happy to talk about your partner? Or do they seem like they're treading carefully on thin ice? Do you find yourself constantly having to defend your partner? If you feel like you're always saying things like, "Oh, he didn't mean it like that, you have to know him to know what he means sometimes" or "He did get really mad at me, but I did do this, so I get it." If you're always making excuses for your partner, that's not a good sign. Source: iStock
You Can Never Make DecisionsSome people are naturally indecisive. I am, and I always have been. But if you have never been so indecisive since you met this person, that could be a sign. Because a gaslighter brings you down, makes you feel insecure, and makes you feel like something is wrong with you, that extends to how you feel when you have to decide something - you might feel like you can't possibly make the right choice, because you don't know anything. Source: iStock
Your Fears and Insecurities Are Used Against YouWhat are arguments like with your partner? What kind of things do they say to you? Do they ever turn things around and subtly mention something you're worried about? If you're feeling confused about what I'm asking, here's an example: do they say things like, "Keep arguing with me and you might see how it feels to be the only single one in your friend group" when they know that's something you've felt insecure about in the past? Do they say things like, "You only think that happened because you're so jealous and you're always worried about me thinking other people are cute" when they're trying to get their way? Someone who cares about you wouldn't constantly use your weaknesses for their advantage, and once you open your eyes to it, you'll see if it's happening. Source: iStock
You Feel Like You've ChangedA lot of people who have been gaslighted report this feeling, which is sad. They feel like they've changed in some way, like maybe they aren't as happy as they used to be, maybe they're not as social as they used to be. My ex boyfriend gaslighted me quite a bit, and one of the reasons I ended the relationship was because I felt like a shell of my former self. When I had first started dating him, I was a social person who had lots of different friend groups, went to the "cool" parties, and posted a lot of fun pictures online. By the end of our relationship, I barely had any friends, I never went out, and I always felt a weird hatred for everyone (something he had). I felt like I wasn't myself. I looked back on life before him, and wondered why I wasn't that person anymore, and it made me sad. I thought about it so much that it helped me end things - and then I went back to being that social person, and it felt great. Think of yourself before your relationship and now. If you've changed for the worst, and it makes you feel bad, you really need to think about things. Source: iStock
You Know Something Is Wrong In Your Relationship, But You Don't Know WhatGaslighting is so hard to spot because it takes over your mind and makes you feel crazy. Because it's so subtle, you don't know it's happening, and so you feel like you don't know what's going on... but you also feel like there's something off with your relationship. You have this niggling sense that something isn't right, but you just can't put your finger on what it is. This, combined with these other signs, could mean you're being gaslighted. Source: iStock
Have you ever been the victim of gaslighting? What signs did I forget? Share in the comments.