Gaslighting. Its become somewhat of a buzz word since becoming Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. We have covered both what gaslighting is in our first article: Word of the Year: Gaslighting. Then we talked about How To Protect Yourself From a Gaslighter. Now, I’d like to give you the warning signs that you are in a relationship with a gaslighter.
Gaslighters have a common goal: control and power.
To achieve that goal, they might insult you or demean you in front of others or when the two of you are alone. They might use humor as a weapon and tease you or mock you under the guise of “I’m just kidding.” They can make you doubt your own memory or perceptions by saying things like “I never said that,” or “You said you’d pay that bill,” or “I wasn’t flirting with that woman—you’re paranoid!”
In other situations—such as during an argument—they might categorically deny facts that you know are true. Or, to justify insensitive behavior or cover their tracks when you’re upset that they’re late for an important date, a gaslighter might tell you that you’re too sensitive or too rigid or too _____ [fill in the blank]. As a result of these gaslighting signs, you may end up feeling like you’re walking on eggshells as you try to avoid triggering another blowup.
However, it’s done, gaslighting involves undermining a partner’s feelings and perceptions as a means of instilling self-doubt or of challenging their perception of reality.
Gaslighting is insidious—it plays on our worst fears, our most anxious thoughts, our deepest wishes to be understood, appreciated, and loved. And when we idealize the gaslighter—when we want to see him/her as the love of our life—then we have even more difficulty sticking to our own sense of reality.
Although every relationship is unique, there are some common telltale signs that can be revealed by asking yourself the questions below:
- Blocking and Diverting: Because gaslighting is about control, perpetrators find ways to block their victim’s access to outside sources that might contradict the gaslighter’s distorted narratives.
Ask yourself: Is my partner always putting boundaries or rules around what I am allowed to think, say, or do? Am I forbidden to seek counseling or advice that might contradict their perspective?
- Verbal Abuse: Those who gaslight their partners regularly put down, demean, and harshly criticize their victims.
Ask yourself: Are my partner’s comments about me consistently negative and harsh? Am I blamed for every conflict or problem?
- Lies: Gaslighting involves building a web of lies to create a false reality for the victim so that they remain helpless. This is often done by withholding information and/or countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective.
Ask yourself: Is my partner withholding important information and contradicting themselves? Does their perspective always run contrary to mine, even when facts contradict their narrative?
- Minimizing/Discounting/Trivializing: Those who gaslight will consistently downplay any concerns.
Ask yourself: Does my partner always say I am exaggerating things or being overly emotional? Are my concerns or feelings often trivialized or dismissed?
If your relationship is a one-way street in which your opinions are invalid, your feelings are characterized as incorrect, and your beliefs are constantly called into question, these are strong indicators you are being gaslighted.
Other examples of gaslighting:
- Trivializing. They minimize your feelings, suggest your emotions don’t matter, or accuse you of overreacting.
- Countering. They question your memory, make up new details, or deny that something happened. They might blame you for the situation instead.
- Withholding. They brush off your attempts to have a discussion or accuse you of trying to confuse them.
- Diversion. When you bring up a concern about their behavior, they change the subject or turn it back on you by suggesting you’re making it up.
- Forgetting or denying. When you mention a specific event or something they said, they might say they can’t remember or tell you it never happened at all.
- Discrediting. They suggest to other people that you can’t remember things correctly, get confused easily, or make things up. This can threaten your career when it happens at work.
As I metnioned in How To Protect Yourself From a Gaslighter, staying in a relationship where there is emotional abuse like gaslighting makes it more likely you will also be the victim of life-threatening or deadly physical abuse, and that’s one big reason why it’s so important to establish distance. Gaslighters do not respect boundaries, and they tend to lash out when you try to enforce them.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. Seeking out a mental health professional is so important. You do not have to go through this alone.
If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit. Together, we will navigate the deep waters of gaslighting.
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