So, Your Partner is Gaslighting You…What now?

Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Couples Counseling For One | Comments Off on So, Your Partner is Gaslighting You…What now?

It takes a lot of effort to deal with a gaslighting relationship. You’ll likely need quite a bit of help and support.

People who are gaslit often feel very isolated and helpless to change their situation. Certainly, each person’s experience is different. Your experience may vary greatly from someone else’s. However, you should know that it is possible to lead a full, healthy life with better relationships.

Basically, there are three key steps to take to empower yourself in a gaslighting relationship:

Step 1: Get a Reality Check

To change a gaslighting dynamic, the first thing on the agenda is to recognize when and how gaslighting occurs.

Gaining this awareness is something of a challenge. Over time, gaslighting trains you to not trust your own judgment, perceptions, and experiences. So, gaslightees need help in two areas:

  • Awareness of the gaslighting behavior
  • Recognition of the consequences attached to the gaslighting

Awareness of Gaslighting

One of the best ways to get a sound reality check is to disclose information about what’s going on in the relationship. Try to talk to a third party and ask for their perspective.

In a previous blog, “Is Your Partner Gaslighting You? ” we discussed the tendency for gaslightees to hide or lie about what’s happening between them and their partner. Clearly, this a barrier to a reality check. To work around that, it’s important to choose someone supportive: a family member or a close friend is ideal. Talk to someone trusted, non-threatening, and likely to give you the feedback you are needing.

If no one in your life meets those qualifications, definitely consider working with a psychologist or therapist. This has some of the following advantages:

  • Neutrality. Therapists aren’t as invested or reactionary as a loved one might be.
  • Confidentiality. Therapists aren’t allowed to disclose unless you or others are in danger.
  • Expertise. Therapist’s skill sets are geared toward helping people manage unhealthy relationships and their consequences.

Recognizing Consequences of Gaslighting

Keep a log of gaslighting behavior and your reaction to it. How did you feel? What thoughts occurred? Was there a physical reaction? What kinds of behaviors did you engage?

Once you recognize the impact, you may be motivated to take stronger action against gaslighting.

Step 2: Begin Taking Back Your Power

Now it’s time to explore your own role in maintaining this kind of dynamic. This in no way means that you’re to blame for your partner’s behavior. Nor does it mean that you deserve to be gaslit.

Acknowledging your role in the gaslighting simply means that you have some power to control the situation. If you can’t see your own role, you won’t see the power you have to make changes.

Most people enter a gaslighting relationship unknowingly. Perhaps your value system or socialization landed you there. Truthfully, you probably didn’t recognize what was happening at first. As with someone in similar circumstances, you likely reacted in ways that reinforced it.

If you’re in a relationship where you’re being called crazy or too sensitive, your natural tendency is to defend yourself. It’s normal to try and convince your partner that your feelings are valid. Unfortunately, when you’re in a gaslighting relationship, it sends the message that it’s OK to challenge someone else’s reality or force another person to stop feeling something.

Basically, when you engage a gaslighter, it only fuels the fire. So, how do you change this dynamic?

1. Define, in your own mind, the objective of important conversations. When it’s necessary to have conversations likely to trigger gaslighting, take a moment to determine your intentions for the conversation. What do you want to accomplish?

When you’re trying to have a conversation with a gaslighter, the discussion often shifts away from productive goals to manipulation. Often, what starts out being joint conversations or attempts to deal with issues become indictments of your sensitivity, problem areas, or reactions. Maintaining your own focus or objective keeps you from being sucked into that type of gaslighting dialogue.

2. Disengage the gaslighting. As you continue to reassert the objective, also label what’s happening for your partner and indicate that the gaslighting is a distraction. State clearly that your perceptions and responses are not up for debate and you won’t continue the discussion if it continues.

Be aware that your assertive position may trigger a gaslighter to work even harder at gaslighting. Although the behavior initially gets worse, it will likely get better if you continue to avoid engagement.

Step 3: Get Out (if necessary)

It may seem like the ideal move would be to discontinue a gaslighting relationship. But the reality is, not all of these relationships need to end.

There are many gaslighters who aren’t even aware of what they are doing. Thus, if it’s brought to their attention, they may be motivated to change those behaviors. Depending on the person and the circumstances, it may be worth seeing if he or she is open to change.

If your situation is severe, or they are not responsive to your efforts to change the gaslighting dynamic, it may be time to consider ending the relationship. Not everyone is willing to change, are you willing to live with that reality?

You should be aware that, if you make the decision to leave, it will likely be difficult for the following reasons:

  • Individuals in gaslighting relationships often suffer from low confidence and low self-esteem. You may feel as though you can’t make it on your own.
  • Gaslightees often find it takes multiple attempts to leave for good. This is a normal part of breaking away.
  • Things may be difficult at first as you adjust. It is tempting to get sucked into powerless thinking (“I’ll never have another relationship”, “I can’t live on my own”, “I never should have left”). Remember, you don’t have to buy into negative or unproductive thoughts. Most of all, Don’t gaslight yourself or let fear dictate your actions!