So what do people mean when they speak of “gaslighting?” Psychology Today defines it as “a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.”
Gaslighting is so complicated that you may be in a relationship where your partner does it to you without even knowing.
1. You Feel Like You’re Going Crazy
Your partner often doubts things that you have said or events that have happened.
If your partner always tells you that you’re “overly sensitive,” “crazy,” “dramatic,” or “too emotional,” you’re bound to believe them.
Their lies suddenly become your truths, or at the very least you start questioning reality. In a healthy relationship, both parties would accept that there are two sides to every story.
An unhealthy relationship causes one to fear repercussions from voicing their opinions or recounting events.
If your significant other is gaslighting you, they want to discredit you and instill self-doubt.
2. They Turn People Against You OR You Against People
Those who gaslight others are masters at manipulating and lying. They know just what to say to turn you against others or others against you.
I was once in a relationship with someone who didn’t like my best friend.
He would always say negative things about her. And one day when I had gotten into a fight with her, I told my partner out of anger that I never wanted to speak to her again.
Although my words were harsh, I only wanted to vent.
I can’t recall what my partner said to me about her, but our friendship ended because I chose to believe him over my best friend.
Months later he let it slip that he had escalated the situation by telling her what I had said. And whatever else he had initially told me suddenly changed.
I never imagined that my partner would betray me like that.
I confronted him about it, and somehow he managed to pinpoint the blame on me. And I not wanting to get into a fight that would end in me having to apologize, dropped the issue.
After leaving that relationship, I was able to see that I had been duped. I lost a once in lifetime friendship because I put all my trust into a manipulator.
Why do they do this?
Gaslighting can be accomplished in various ways.
By turning you against others or vice versa, they manage to isolate you, which allows them to maintain a position of advantage over you.
3. They Deny, Deny, Deny
You could record a conversation and play it back to them, and they will deny that they ever said such things.
When someone is consistently denying having said or done something, it’s impossible to get them to admit the truth.
It also becomes so difficult to hold onto your beliefs that you might even begin to believe their lies.
4. You’ve Lost Self-Confidence
Once you have become completely insecure, the gaslighter has full control of you.
Somewhere along your relationship, your partner has managed to make you adopt an identity that isn’t yours. You have been shaped and molded into something that they want you to be.
You’ve forgotten who you are.
Your partner might tell you at the beginning of your relationship that they love you because you’re an independent and strong individual who always voices their opinion.
The next thing you know, they’re telling you that they don’t understand why you never listen to them.
All of a sudden having a different opinion is wrong.
This conditions you to not wanting to voice your opinions as much.
You stop disagreeing with your partner because if you do, they get upset. They also won’t drop the topic until you completely change your viewpoint and agree with them.
Then one day, your partner will tell you that you’re spineless for never voicing your opinions and a weak person for always agreeing with them.
This confuses you because when you did express your views, your partner would berate you until you changed your answer.
Didn’t reading that hurt your head?!
This is a classic example of how complicated gaslighting can be.
In such a relationship it is easy to lose oneself and adopt an identity that your significant other has created for you.
5. Your Problems = Criticisms About You
You may come home stressed about work, and tell your partner about your troubles. Instead of consoling you or trying to make you feel better, your partner tells you to “stop complaining.”
They might also claim that you caused the problem, and offer no sympathy or compassion.
Their response to your feelings may also be to reposition themselves as the victim.
I was upset that I left my box of leftovers at a restaurant behind. That had never happened to me before, and as a huge lover of leftovers, I was bummed.
All my partner needed to have said was something along the lines of, “that sucks, I’m sorry,” and eventually I would’ve got over it.
But for some reason, I ended up having to apologize for what had happened.
In a normal relationship, your partner would try to get your mind off of it, or at least have some compassion.
When your partner is gaslighting you, you expressing sadness has somehow made them feel uncomfortable or even upset.
Now you feel selfish for even having said anything.
Not only do you feel worse than you did before, but now you have to comfort, apologize, and console your partner. They claim that you are a terrible person for making them feel this way.
It’s like your pain is such a huge inconvenience to them.
6. Is It Too Late Now To Say Sorry?
To a gaslighter, it isn’t. They’ll expect you to apologize for things and you won’t even know what you’re sorry for.
Do you feel like everything you do or say is always wrong?
Your arguments will go in circles until they manage to get you to apologize.
If you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells, it’s a huge red flag that you should get out of that relationship.
This is what a gaslighter does; they are experts at keeping you under their control.
7. You Forget What Happiness Felt Like
How To Protect Yourself
If a couple of these red flags resonate with you, your partner may be gaslighting you.
The first step to getting out of an unhealthy relationship is acknowledging that you are in one. The next step is to not engage with the gaslighter.
Try to avoid situations where they can alter the truth.
Others have also suggested keeping a record of events, such as your emotions, how your partner has made you feel, etc.
Personally, I believe that if your partner isn’t even aware of what they are doing, they can’t change.
The harsh reality is that you can’t fix your partner. They need to want to seek help on their own.
For your emotional health, it is best to remove this person from your life.
Everyone’s circumstances and relationships are different but know that in the end, you’re better off being single than staying with an abusive person.
Have you ever been gaslighted?
If you need help, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline. They are open 24/7.
1-800-799-7233. 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing)
Or you can chat with someone from 7 A.M. TO 2 A.M. central time. Click the “Chat Now” button on any page of this website to begin a chat.
If you need relationship advice, you can ask anonymously at Dear Nicole, my advice column. I will answer weekly!
Check out the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Free PDF.