Officially added to the Oxford dictionary in 2018, the term “gaslighting” is relatively new to our lexicon. And at the time it was added, it was sadly labeled one of the most popular words of the year. While the term may be new, the practice has no doubt been around, probably forever. But what does gaslighting in relationships actually look like? Learning to recognize the signs of gaslighting and false guilt can help you stay in control and quickly and safely exit a toxic relationship.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse where the abuser twists things around and turns everything on its head to distort the reality of their victim. Their manipulation causes their victim to question their sanity, memory, and judgment.
Gaslighting in relationships is a devious power play where one person uses lies and deceit to undermine the other and shift the power dynamic. The unfortunate truth about gaslighting is that it can happen to anyone, at any age, in any type of relationship.
Gaslighters often rely on a handful of tactics to manipulate their victims. Here are a few of the usual suspects that you should familiarize yourself with.
One huge red flag of gaslighting is when your partner causes you to question your experiences and your reality, by blatantly denying things that are right in front of you. Very often, this looks like denying that they said something you just heard them say or denying that they did something you clearly saw them do. The danger of this tactic lies in the fact that over time, it chips away at your confidence until you finally stop trusting your own perception of reality altogether.
Gaslighters use lies to manipulate and control their partners. These lies often cause you to question further your recollection of events and things that were said. The scary thing about gaslighters is that even if you presented them with proof of their lies, they could boldly deny them (and stick to their story) to make you feel like you’re the one who’s wrong.
Gaslighters further undermine their victim’s reality by minimizing their feelings. In an attempt to trivialize your feelings and make you feel like you’re wrong, gaslighters will try to convince you that you are “overreacting” or “being too sensitive.” They will downplay your feelings to the point where you feel foolish and call your own feelings into question.
Very often, gaslighters will try (and succeed) to alienate their partners from friends and family. By removing any type of support system, the abuser takes away your strength and resources to ever walk away. Gaslighters will also make every effort to discredit you to others. Rumors and gossip help them further drive a wedge into your other relationships and potential sources of help. Gaslighters (and their victims) believe that with no one else around, they are your only source of companionship and affection, and this drives you further into their clutches.
Without fail, gaslighters will absolve themselves of any culpability for fights and arguments. When you react to your partner’s behavior or lies, they will immediately flip the script, shifting the blame to you. Before you know it, it was all your fault, and you’re the one apologizing. Gaslighters will often take this one step further and make themselves look like the victim.
One day your abuser is telling you that that you’re wrong and quite possibly crazy, and the next day your abuser showers you with kind words and praise. This leads you to believe (again) that maybe you were wrong and they are not so bad after all. A mixed bag of praise and blame is just another ploy to keep you off-kilter and under their control. This tactic is particularly dangerous. It causes victims to see a glimmer of hope in those kind words, and it’s essentially what causes them to stay in an abusive relationship longer than they should. Kind words often fuel false hope that their abuser could change, and things will get better.
Gaslighting in relationships actually looks a lot like emotional abuse. It’s where one person seeks to keep the other in a perpetual state of imbalance and self-doubt. While the tactics are somewhat different, the desired result is the same. Gaslighters want you to doubt yourself, doubt your perception of reality, and your judgment all in an effort to keep you under their thumb.
The important to know is that gaslighting can escalate to physical violence. So, recognizing the signs early on is crucial to your own health and safety. If you feel like you may be in a potentially dangerous situation, please reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline for help.
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