Gaslighting is a sophisticated and subtle technique of deceit and psychological control typically carried out by one person, referred to as the “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended duration. It gradually diminishes the victim’s confidence in their ability to distinguish between truth and lies, right and wrong, or reality and appearance, leading them to become pathologically dependent on the gaslighter.
Gaslighting causes the victim to lose self-assurance and become more dependent on the gaslighter for emotional backing and validation. The ultimate objective of gaslighting may be to drive the victim to confusion and madness. This phenomenon is known in clinical literature as a type of narcissistic abuse in which the extreme narcissist aims to satisfy their pathological necessity for constant praise and admiration, also referred to as “narcissistic supply.” It is done by transforming vulnerable people into intellectual and emotional servants. But due to the gaslighter’s often existing psychological disorders, they may be unaware of their actions or their motivations.
What is Gaslighting in Relationships?
Gaslighting is a prevalent type of abuse in unhealthy relationships that can occur at any age, including teenage relationships, adult engagements, and marriages. It may not be evident at the start of a relationship, as the abuser often builds trust, making it difficult to detect. This abuse mostly occurs when individuals exploit gender-based stereotypes and other inequalities to manipulate their victims’ perceptions. In relationships, gaslighting is frequently present in domestic abuse cases.
It is a harmful strategy that creates doubt in one’s thoughts and emotions. The abuse begins subtly and grows into a distorted reality. That said, gaslighting can become even more challenging to recognize in a relationship. For instance, a typical scenario is when the gaslighter convinces their partner that their achievements and other connections are insignificant, aiming to make themselves the most important person in their victim’s life.
“Gaslighting is mind control to make victims doubt their reality.” ― Tracy Malone
Why is it called Gaslighting?
In the dating and relationship scene, trendy terms like breadcrumbing, breezing, and zombieing are often considered unimportant and silly in the long run. While these behaviours can cause harm, they are unlikely to cause significant distress to the person on the receiving end. On the other hand, gaslighting is a completely different type of behaviour that is a part of abusive relationships.
The term “gaslighting” was first used in the 1938 play “Gaslight” and referred to a behavioural pattern where the abuser repeatedly denies, lies, and misleads to make the victim question their sanity. The gaslighter aims to erode the victim’s judgment, diminish their self-esteem, and make them more reliant on the abuser. Gaslighting can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, or families and can have severe consequences, such as depression, other mental health problems, and even suicide. While the term is commonly used in popular culture, it is essential to acknowledge the severity of gaslighting in abusive relationships.
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Signs of Gaslighting in Relationships
Denial of Reality
In any relationship, challenges that require introspection and self-examination may arise. However, if you begin to doubt yourself to the point of feeling insane, it is a significant sign of gaslighting. Rosenberg identifies the most detrimental aspect of gaslighting as its ability to foster self-doubt and uncertainty, making self-trust challenging. Although the effects of gaslighting may not be immediately noticeable, they can develop over time. You are being gaslit if you regularly question your sanity and wonder if your emotions and encounters are legitimate.
Withholding is a gaslighting strategy where the abuser intentionally withholds information, empathy, or emotional support from their partner. It’s achieved by refusing to listen to the victim, pretending not to comprehend, or outrightly dismissing their emotions. By doing this, the abuser manipulates you into questioning your thoughts and emotions and gains control of the conversation.
For instance, if a victim expresses their worries about the relationship, the abuser may say, “I’m not listening to your nonsense tonight,” disregarding the victim’s feelings and ending the conversation. The abuser may also accuse you of purposely confusing them, deflecting any responsibility for their actions. These tactics can make anyone in a relationship feel isolated, bewildered, and uncertain.
Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse where the gaslighter uses words to control, demean, or harm their partner. In gaslighting, verbal abuse makes the partner doubt themselves and their perceptions of reality. If your partner regularly puts down, belittles, or harshly criticizes you, it is to make you small and helpless.
Misdirection and Diversion
Misdirection and diversion are gaslighting techniques that steer the conversation away from the original topic and onto the victim’s thoughts or emotions. This tactic allows the abuser to control the direction of the conversation and distract their partner. The abuser uses various methods, such as changing the subject suddenly, dismissing your concerns, or responding to your statements with irrelevant comments.
For example, if the victim tries to address a particular issue, the abuser might say, “We already talked about that; I’m not going to repeat myself,” even if the issue was not discussed. Alternatively, the abuser may question your thoughts and feelings, saying things like “Where did you get such a silly idea?” or “Stop whining.” These statements aim to make you feel guilty or ashamed of your emotions and thoughts so you stop discussing the issue entirely.
Making the Victim Feel Crazy
Gaslighting often makes a person feel like they are losing their mind. Your partner may use language that discredits your feelings and emotions, using words like “crazy” or “insane,” making you question your sanity. This kind of language is hurtful and stigmatizes mental health, making it difficult to speak up or seek help.
The abuser might control the relationship using your mental health as a weapon. It generates fear of losing credibility with friends and family if you speak out, as the gaslighter has already planted the seed of doubt that you’re “crazy.” This fear can lead to a sense of isolation and further disempowerment.
It’s important to recognize that feeling like you’re going crazy is a common symptom of gaslighting, and it does not mean losing your mind. It’s a sign that you are being manipulated and abused.
Blaming the Victim
Gaslighters frequently use victim blaming to deflect attention away from their misconduct and onto their partner. Instead of acknowledging their mistakes, the gaslighter makes the victim feel responsible. They may blame external factors like stress or a busy schedule to avoid taking accountability for their actions.
Additionally, gaslighters might redirect the conversation to unrelated topics to shame or guilt their partner. This way, they avoid discussing their behaviour and make the victim feel responsible for the problem. In some cases, gaslighters may downplay their partner’s emotions as too sensitive. These tactics can create self-doubt in the victim and cause them to question their reality.
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How Gaslighting Affects Relationships?
Damage to Self-esteem
Gaslighters employ subtle manipulation tactics to undermine their victims. Their use of charm can camouflage their abusive behaviour, making it difficult for the victim to recognize what is happening. Nevertheless, constantly belittling the victim’s choices, opinions, and beliefs harms their self-esteem. When someone who is supposed to be close to you fails to respect your individuality, it can cause you to question your self-worth. The emotional abuse a gaslighter perpetrates can leave you feeling useless, disheartened, and uncertain of your identity.
Aiming to make you dependent, your partner might try to demolish your self-esteem and confidence. By incessantly criticizing and belittling, gaslighters lead their victims to believe they cannot trust their judgment and rely on the abuser’s opinion. With time, this erodes your sense of self-worth and confidence, causing you to feel powerless and incapable of making decisions or taking action without your partner’s approval.
Isolation from Friends and Family
Gaslighting is an emotional abuse where the abuser alters the victim’s perception of reality, leading you to lose trust in your judgment and doubt your ability to perceive the world accurately. The victim mostly isolates themselves and avoids social situations due to decreased confidence. It can lead to a cycle of isolation, where your distorted perceptions become more entrenched, and you become even more hesitant to interact with others. As a result, you become cut off from your loved ones, friends, family, and society, making it harder to break free from your partner’s manipulation and regain your sense of self.
Difficulty Trusting Oneself
Gaslighting can make it hard for the victim to trust their judgment, memory, and perception of reality. When people constantly question their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, they start to doubt themselves and lose confidence in their ability to make sound judgments. Over time, this can lead to losing trust in oneself and feeling confused, disoriented, and overwhelmed.
For instance, if the partner denies or dismisses something you have experienced, such as an argument or an emotional hurt, you question your memory or perception of the event. It leads to uncertainty and confusion, degrading the trust in yourself.
Furthermore, when you repeatedly hear false information and are convinced that it’s true, it can be challenging to distinguish what’s real and what’s not. You may feel like you’re losing the grip on reality, creating isolation, anxiety, and fear. Ultimately, it becomes challenging to trust yourself, which leads to difficulty trusting others.
Anxiety and Depression
A relationship that involves mutual respect means that both partners value and recognize each other’s feelings, needs, and perspectives. This type of respect leads to behaviours that promote the health and longevity of the relationship, such as accepting each other’s flaws, forgiving mistakes, and working together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
In contrast, gaslighters use a manipulative tactic to gain power and control over their partner. The gaslighter lies, deceives, and manipulates to make you doubt reality. It can result in severe consequences, including stress, anxiety, and depression, as you question your sanity and lose trust in your thoughts and emotions.
How to Stop Gaslighting in Relationships?
Recognize and Name The Behaviour
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that can be challenging to identify because it often happens gradually and subtly over time. Recognizing and naming the behaviour is the first step in stopping gaslighting in a relationship. To recognize gaslighting, you must consider how your partner makes you feel. For example, gaslighters use tactics like denial, blame-shifting, and minimizing to make you doubt your perceptions and feelings. They may also use tactics like lying or manipulation to make you feel confused or uncertain.
Once you recognize these patterns, it’s important to name them and call them out when they happen. For example, you might say, “I’m not comfortable with how you’re dismissing my feelings right now,” or “I don’t appreciate how you’re trying to blame me for something that’s not my fault.” Naming it can help you regain your sense of reality and assert your boundaries with your partner. It can also help you take control of the situation and prevent the gaslighter from manipulating and controlling you.
Setting boundaries is an essential step in stopping gaslighting in relationships. Boundaries are limits you establish to protect your physical and emotional well-being, and they are an important way to assert your needs and protect yourself from manipulation and control. To set boundaries around gaslighting, you must first identify the behaviours causing you distress and determine what you’re willing and unwilling to tolerate. For example, you might set a boundary that you won’t engage in conversations with your partner when they’re using gaslighting tactics or that you won’t tolerate verbal abuse or manipulation.
When setting boundaries, it’s essential to be clear and assertive in communicating your needs. For example, you might say, “I’m not willing to tolerate being called names or manipulated in conversations. If you continue using those tactics, I must end the conversation.” It’s also important to enforce your boundaries consistently. If your partner continues to violate your boundaries, you may need to take more drastic measures, such as ending the relationship or seeking support from a therapist or counsellor.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can have long-lasting effects on your mental health and well-being. If you’re in a relationship where you’re being gaslit, seeking support is an essential step in stopping it and healing from its effects. There are several ways to seek support when dealing with gaslighting in relationships. One option is to talk to a trusted friend or family member who can provide a listening ear and emotional support. It can help you feel less alone and provide validation for your experiences.
Another option is to seek support from a therapist or counsellor who has experience working with people who have experienced emotional abuse or trauma. A therapist can help you understand the dynamics of gaslighting, identify unhealthy patterns in your relationship, and develop strategies for setting boundaries and coping with the emotional fallout of the abuse. Support groups for people who have experienced emotional abuse or gaslighting can also be helpful. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment where you can share your experiences with others who have gone through similar situations. In addition, you can learn from their experiences and gain insight into ways to cope with the effects of gaslighting.
Consider Professional Help
Gaslighting is a serious form of emotional abuse that can have long-lasting effects on your mental health and well-being. If you’re experiencing gaslighting in a relationship, it’s important to take steps to deal with it effectively, which may include considering professional help.
Professional help can come in many forms, depending on the type of gaslighting you’re experiencing and the severity of the abuse. Thrive Counselling Centre is here to help you recognize and tackle these different forms of gaslighting in relationships.
Narrative gaslighting is a specific form of gaslighting where someone manipulates another person’s perception of reality by altering the narrative or story of what happened. The gaslighter may try to convince the victim that an event or conversation didn’t happen the way they remember it or that their interpretation of events is incorrect.
For example, if you confront your partner about something hurtful they said or did, they might try to change the narrative by saying that you’re overreacting or that you misunderstood their intentions. They may also try to twist the facts to make themselves look better or to shift the blame onto you.
Emotional gaslighting is a specific form of gaslighting where someone manipulates another person’s emotions and feelings, often by denying or invalidating their emotions. The gaslighter accuses the victim of overreacting or that their feelings are invalid, leaving the victim confused and doubting their own emotions.
For example, if you express sadness or frustration about something that happened in your relationship, your partner might tell you that you’re being too sensitive or that you shouldn’t feel that way. They may try to convince you that your emotions are irrational or unwarranted.
Personal gaslighting is a form of gaslighting that involves manipulating someone’s perception of their own identity, beliefs, or values. The gaslighter may try to make the victim doubt their sense of self or question their beliefs, often by presenting false information or distorting the truth.
For example, your partner may try to convince you that you’re not as smart or capable as you think or that your beliefs and values are wrong. They may try to make you doubt your intuition and judgment, leaving you feeling confused and uncertain.
Note: If you suspect you’re being gaslit this way, relying on trusted friends and family is important to help you regain your sense of self. You can talk to someone you trust and ask them to provide a reality check by sharing your experience and asking for their feedback.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic one partner uses to control the other. It makes the victim question their sanity, memory, or perception of reality. The abuse can lead to confusion, self-doubt, and mental health issues, causing the victim to feel powerless and isolated. It is important to recognize the signs of gaslighting, such as constant apologizing, questioning memory, and feeling isolated from friends and family.
If you suspect you are experiencing gaslighting, seek help from a qualified professional like Thrive Counselling. We offer a safe and supportive environment for victims to learn how to identify and cope with gaslighting and regain self-worth and confidence. Contact Us Now!
Remember, you are not alone; help is available to deal with gaslighting in your relationship. Reach out Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre for support and guidance without hesitation. Get Help Now – Call Us at 604-227-0297
What is an example of gaslighting in a relationship?
Gaslighting in a relationship can take many forms. One example could be a partner constantly questioning the other person’s memory or sanity, causing them to doubt their perception of reality. For instance, if a partner repeatedly tells the other that they did not say or do something they distinctly remember, they may begin to doubt themselves and feel like they are losing their grip on reality.
Do gaslighters ever apologize?
Gaslighters may apologize superficially or in a manipulative way to maintain control over their victim. Still, their apologies are often insincere and do not lead to any real change in behaviour. As a result, gaslighters often use apologies as a way to deflect blame or avoid consequences.
How to talk to a partner who is gaslighting you?
Setting boundaries and communicating assertively with a partner who is gaslighting you is important. Avoid arguing or accepting blame for things that are not your fault. Seek support from a trusted friend or therapist, and consider leaving the relationship if the gaslighting persists.
Are there any legal consequences of gaslighting in relationships?
Gaslighting can be a form of emotional abuse, which is not always recognized as a crime in all jurisdictions. However, it may be grounds for a restraining order or other legal action if it is causing harm or threatening the victim’s safety.
Can someone who loves you gaslight you?
Yes, someone who loves you can gaslight you. People often use gaslighting to maintain control over their partner or feel threatened by their independence or autonomy. Therefore, it is important to recognize that love should not involve manipulation or abuse.
Can a relationship recover from gaslighting?
A relationship can recover from gaslighting with professional support and a willingness to change. However, it requires a commitment from both partners to rebuild trust and create healthy communication patterns.
How common is gaslighting in relationships?
Gaslighting in relationships is more common than many people realize. Most women tend to experience gaslighting in a romantic relationship; however, gaslighting can occur in any relationship, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.