While you may not be familiar with the term gaslighting, you might be familiar with the description and the toll it can cause on a relationship. Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity manipulates another person in the hopes of acquiring power of them. Often times this manipulation leads to the victim questioning their own reality, and in doing so, not questioning the motives and actions of the person gaslighting them. This post will provide you with an overview of what gaslighting is, and how to detect it in your marriage/relationship, or the marriage/relationship of someone you know.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in relationships. It happens when one person convinces their target that they’re remembering things wrong or that they’re misinterpreting events. The gaslighter tries to manipulate the other person and presents their own thoughts and feelings as the truth.
How Does Gaslighting Work?
Gaslighting is a very effective tactic that causes tremendous pain and suffering to the victims. Unfortunately, it can also take hold easier than you might think. Anyone can be the victim of gaslighting. It can occur in a parent-child relationship, between siblings, in a romantic relationship and in a marriage.
On a larger scale, it can occur between an employer and subordinates, social or religious leaders and their followers and heads of government and their constituents. And it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.
The effects of gaslighting are slow and gradual. Gaslighting is conducted slowly so the victim doesn’t realize that they’re are being manipulated. Isolated acts of manipulation are often dismissed by the victim as a random event if done over a longer period of time. Whereas if the events took place over a shorter period of time, the victim might notice and connect the events to the greater overall ploy. The term gaslighting is dated back to the 1944 film Gaslight starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman where a young woman is manipulated into believing that she is imagining events by her husband. Among the events he makes he believe to be imaginary, are an old mansions gas lights being lit in the evenings. The film was quite popular and the term was adapted by the clinical psychiatry community shortly after.
When does Gaslighting happen in Relationships?
Gaslighting is a common form of abuse in unhealthy relationships. It can happen in romantic relationships at any age — teenage relationships, adult engagements, and even marriage.
Gaslighting may not happen at the beginning of a relationship. The person doing it may first build trust, which is part of why gaslighting can go unrecognized for a long time.
Studies show that gaslighting happens when people use gender-based stereotypes and other inequalities against their victims to manipulate their reality. In relationships, gaslighting is common in domestic abuse.
Gaslighting is an abusive tactic, meant to make you doubt your thoughts and feelings. It may start in small ways, then grow into a false sense of reality. It can occur in minor incidents, making it so it’s hard to notice there’s a problem at all, especially in a relationship where you trust your partner.
A common example is when the gaslighter convinces their partner that their accomplishments and other relationships are unimportant. The goal is to make the abuser the most important person in their victim’s life.
There are ways to recognize gaslighting as its happening. However, it can be difficult to notice those signs when you’re the one being manipulated. Below, you’ll learn how to recognize the signs of gaslighting and understand their impact on your mental health.
The Warning Signs of Gaslighting
The following are traits and behaviors that suggest that someone is trying to gaslight another person, as well as some examples of what it might look like in a relationship:
- White Lies.
If someone is telling you a white lie that you know to be false, they might be gaslighting you. Now not all lies are created equal. For gaslighting to be at play, this must be a white lie. A blatantly untrue statement as opposed to a confused inaccuracy. For example, if you were at the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa, and your wife told you that she thinks the famous piece was painted by Donatello, instead of Leonardo Da Vinci, this would be a lie that you know to be untrue, but simply your wife is mistaken. However, if your wife told you that the Mona Lisa is your favorite painting, and when you say no The Starry Night is, and your wife insists that you have told her that the Mona Lisa is your favorite painting dozens of times before — that would be a white lie, and an example of gaslighting. Her adamance that what you believe to be a lie is actually true will gradually weaken your reality.
- Denial in The Face of Proof.
This sign of gaslighting occurs when someone is insisting that they’re not lying, even if you have proof that they are. They do this to disrupt your perception of truth, and to get you to doubt the proof that you have. Say you told your husband to take at the trash on his way to work. He hears you say it and takes off for work. When you come home that night you see the trash not taken out. So, you take the trash out yourself. A few hours later when he arrives home you ask him why he didn’t take out the trash, and he tells you that he did. You counter saying no, that you took at the trash, and he insists that it was him that took out the trash, that instead it’s you that are confused.
- Manipulate Your Feelings Towards People or Things Against You.
A gaslighter will try and twist the way your feel about people or things you love. By doing this, they eliminate competition for your love and create a higher level of dependability upon them. An example might be your parents. If your boyfriend knows that you’re very close with your parents, and he tries to disrupt that relationship, it could be gaslighting. He might try and poison the way you feel about them by creating lies. Maybe he’ll say that your mother told him something upsetting. When you question her about why she’d say that to him, and she tells you she didn’t, your boyfriend will use that denial as further proof that your mother is a liar. Convincing their victim that everyone is a liar, not them, is a very common move by a gaslighter. By doing this they’re attacking your identity and being.
- They wear you down over time.
This sign is the formula for gaslighting and what makes it so destructive. Because it is conducted slowly and the effects gradually affect the victim’s conscience and perception of reality, a victim will wear down over time. An analogy would be the Sorites Paradox. If you remove a single grain of sand from a heap of sand, it is still a heap and you won’t notice the missing grain. However, if you keep doing this over time, eventually there will be no sand and the heap is no longer a heap.
- Their Actions do not Match Their Words.
When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, it’s important to examine their actions as opposed to what they’re telling you. The gaslighting will only work if you allow their words to have more power than their actions. They are simply using their words to distract you from their actions. This is very common when gaslighting occurs with political leaders. If a President or elected officials tells those that elected them that they’ll do one thing, and then they end up passing legislation or voting against that very thing, then the constituents are being gaslit.
The Effects of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is bad for your mental health. It can make you doubt your sanity and make it difficult to tell truth from lies. It creates unhealthy, codependent relationships, and it may feel impossible to leave.
Recovering from gaslighting can be difficult. During this emotional abuse, all trust is lost. You may have a hard time identifying what is real and the truth.
Feeling like you’re insane.
When you’re being gaslit, your partner may use terms like “crazy” and “insane.” They’re trying to make you question yourself. Being told that you’re “crazy” stigmatizes mental health. Your mental health is used against you as a weapon, and that can make you fear losing credibility with your friends and family.
Difficulty getting treatment.
Getting help for gaslighting can be a challenge if you don’t recognize the abuse. If you’ve been gaslit, your partner’s behavior may not seem wrong or dangerous. You may even feel grateful because they still care about you. People who gaslight will make their victim feel guilty or question their sanity if they try to seek help.
If you’re experiencing gaslighting in your relationship, it isn’t your fault. It can be difficult to recognize, let alone keep gaslighting from happening. Knowing the signs and understanding that you’re not “insane” can help keep gaslighting from affecting your mental health.
Family Psychiatry and Therapy
It’s hard, but you can leave an unhealthy relationship. If any of these five signs sound familiar to your marriage, relationship, or the relationship or marriage of someone you know, you need to act upon it. Once the gaslighting fully takes hold a victim is in for a long road to recovery as they’ll need to completely rewire the way they perceive reality. If you don’t know how to act, talking to a mental health professional is an excellent first step. You can talk to your primary care provider or mental health professionals about getting treatment for being gaslit.
Seeking help may let you heal faster.
Once you’re out of an abusive relationship, you can focus on reaffirming positivity in your life. It may be helpful to journal and write down what’s true as you know it. Surrounding yourself with people who validate you and your reality will help ground you.
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