Is Your Partner Gaslighting You?

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Couples Counseling For One | Comments Off on Is Your Partner Gaslighting You?

The term gaslighting comes from Gaslight, an American 1944 thriller about a husband who slowly manipulates his wife into believing she is insane. He continually dims the gas-fueled lights in their home, then pretends it isn’t happening when she questions it.

Essentially, gaslighting occurs when one person systematically manipulates another person into doubting his or her own sanity or reality. Gaslighting is usually based on blatant lies or on an exaggeration of the truth. While some gaslighters are definitely attempting to manipulate or do harm, it’s worth noting that not all gaslighters are intentionally setting out to be controlling or malicious. They may not even be conscious of their behavior. They are simply adamant that they are right and cannot be convinced that there’s any other way of looking at things.

As with most behavior, gaslighting occurs on a continuum. On the milder end (and the best case scenario), it creates a subtle, inequitable power difference in the relationship. In effect, the gaslightee is subjected to the gaslighter’s scrutiny that is neither reasonable or fact-based. On the more severe end, gaslighting is intentional and pathological. The practice is used as mind control and definitely qualifies as psychological abuse.

To be clear, most gaslightees don’t feel they are literally going crazy. Instead, they gradually come to doubt themselves, their judgement, and their perception of reality. Consequently, gaslighting often results in a loss of identity and self-worth. Clear examples of gaslighting include the following:

  • Denying things that were said in an argument
  • Challenging another person’s feelings
  • Telling another person how to think or feel
  • Twisting information to favor themselves

Note that most people do some or all of these things on occasion. However, the difference for a gaslighter is that they refuse to back down or admit wrongdoing. They chronically and persistently maintain their view as the correct or superior perspective. Moreover, they continually twist things to keep themselves in the most favorable light.

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “Your feelings are wrong.”

Again, many of us say these things at times, but gaslighters make these comments a consistent and pervasive part of their relationship. They twist words and situations in a concerted effort to override their partner’s argument and reality. Gaslighters need to undermine and disorient the gaslightee to the point where they start to question their own credibility.

Here are some additional warning signs of gaslighting:

1. You are constantly reminded of your flaws.

Your shortcomings, weaknesses and undesirable qualities always come up. You feel like there is always something wrong with you or what you do. You are never good enough. Gaslighters often dole out criticism, negative stereotypes, and personal attacks.

2. You often feel insecure, uncertain, and confused.

You feel compelled to walk on eggshells. Moreover, you have difficulty expressing yourself. You are uncertain of what to expect from your partner or what will cause them to go off. Yet, you feel self-confident and comfortable away from the gaslighter, having little trouble in your other relationships.

3. You constantly blame yourself for things that go wrong in the relationship.

You are always on the defensive and responsible for any problems. The gaslighter remains on the attack and refuses to accept responsibility for relationship issues. In addition, the gaslighter is extremely sensitive to criticism. Even small amounts can lead to gaslighter attacks, excuses, or self-victimization. They do not like to be scrutinized. Gaslighters will do all they can to keep the negative focus on you.

4. You make lots of self-disparaging remarks.

Again, the gaslighter’s goal is to distort your self-perception. After a while, you may find you are questioning whether your partner’s criticisms are true. As a result, what you say about yourself may reflect that.

Along the same lines, you may find you frequently say, “I’m sorry.” Sadly, you’re the one under attack, yet you fall into a habit of apologizing to them and effectively gaslight yourself!

5. Despite poor treatment, you look to the gaslighter for acceptance, approval, and validation.

People who are being gaslighted put a lot of stock in what the gaslighter thinks of them. Therefore, you may work very hard to get attention and better treatment. You may have become even more compliant to obtain your partner’s approval. Thus, the relationship can become very codependent.

The gaslighter, in turn, may alternately distort interactions with negative and positive manipulation. Consequently, you hang on, hoping for more positivity.

6. You find yourself hiding and excusing the gaslighter’s behavior.

Gaslightees often feel ashamed and embarrassed by their partner’s behavior. They also feel powerless to do anything about it. Your friends and family may not know what’s happening in your relationship and you will take measures to hide or excuse it.

7. You feel stuck and alone.

Gaslighting is isolating. You may have withdrawn from others to avoid having to excuse what’s going on.

If you find you need help, reach out to a professional who can help you identify gaslighting in your relationship and address your needs.