So what exactly is gaslighting?
According to Healthy Place, it’s a common technique emotional abusers use to manipulate their victims into believing that their own memories, thoughts and feelings are a lie.
The idea is to make you doubt everything you’ve believed about yourself and your life. Sometimes it can be aggressive and invasive, but sometimes it can be so subtle that you don’t even notice it.
The term gaslighting comes from a 1944 film called Gaslight where a husband slowly manipulates his wife into thinking she is going insane.
It can happen to anyone. No one is immune to abuse, especially at the hands of someone you love dearly. It starts slowly with a few comments every now and then until they’ve worn you down so much that it becomes your way of life.
What are the signs of gaslighting?
Withholding information or emotions
If you’ve heard the words “I’m not listening to that nonsense again” or they accuse you of trying to confuse them by what you’re saying, this is called withholding. It’s the deliberate feigning of a lack of understanding, refusing to listen to your concerns and declining to share their emotions with you.
They tell you blatant lies
They tell you something you know is a big lie, but they say it with a straight face. This is done in order to make you question yourself and what they’re saying to you. It’s a tactic that is deliberately meant to make you unsure of yourself.
Denying that they said something
Even if you have proof that it happened that way or that they said it, the abuser denies it and will tell you that you’re recollection of events is incorrect. This not only makes you question your own memory and perceptions of events, but it’s a derailing tactic designed to make you forget about the actual issue being discussed.
They change the conversation to suit them
This is very similar to the previous point, but here they guide the conversation in a way that deflects attention from the issue. You’ll be talking about something and your partner will deliberately change the conversation so that they can question your thoughts and control what is being said.
“Where did you get that idea from?”, “stop moaning”, “you’re just saying that to hurt me” are all the kinds of things that will be said in order to avoid the fact that your partner is actually being emotionally abusive.
They use the things that are important to you to knock you down
Whether it’s your job, your family or your ambitions, they attack what’s important to you because they know it’ll hurt the most. They’ll insult your work, or use an old argument you had with your family as ammunition against you in an argument you’re having with them. They focus on all your negative traits and tell you why they make you less worthy.
They make you doubt yourself all the time
You find yourself questioning the way you remember things, how you do things and why. You wonder if your decisions are valid and if you’re making the best choices especially when it concerns your partner. You begin to think that you need to put their needs above your own because otherwise you’re being selfish even if the decision you need to make could lead to a positive outcome for you and those nearest to you.
You start to think maybe you’re oversensitive even if you’re being completely reasonable. Or you’ll tell yourself you’re just being jealous for no reason even if there’s obvious reason to be.
You find yourself apologising for everything
Even when it’s not remotely your fault, you say you’re sorry. You constantly feel the need to apologise even when you’ve done nothing wrong. Your confidence has been broken down to the point where, even if you have an argument with your partner where they started it, you find yourself saying sorry because you feel like you started it.
They project their issues onto you
They cheat and they lie, or could have something as serious as a drug or mental health problem but they’re constantly accusing you of being guilty of the very things that they are doing. They tell you you’re crazy, or that you’re lying about something to distract you from what they’re actually doing.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to information and signs of gaslighting. If you think you or someone you know could be in this situation, then getting ample information is crucial.
Read Robin Stern’s (author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulations Other People Use to Control Your Life) article on gaslighting and its effects on people.
Here’s another list of signs about gaslighting in a relationship from Psychology Today.
And here’s an article from Loner Wolf with great examples of gaslighting in family scenarios, relationship scenarios and work scenarios.
If you recognise any of these signs, then it might be time to get out of that toxic relationship.