Is Your Partner Gaslighting You? Here’s How You Can Tell
The term “gaslighting” has become a fairly recognized term ever since the Oxford Dictionary named it one of the most popular words of 2018, courtesy of a viral article that speculated President Donald Trump rose to power by gaslighting the nation.
The behavior’s origin comes from 1938 play “Gas Light,” where British playwright Patrick Hamilton tells the story of Gregory, a husband who manipulates his wife into believing she can no longer trust her perceptions of reality. He does this in various ways throughout the film, but the titular scene occurs when Gregory secretly flickers the gas lights on and off in their home from the attic. When Paula comments on the flickering, Gregory tells her it’s not happening, causing her to doubt what she perceives to be true.
The theme has continued to stay a prominent one in popular culture, playing a large part in the newest iteration of “The Invisible Man”, starring Elizabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
These days, gaslighting is frequently employed to describe a specific, yet common, type of toxic relationship. AskMen spoke with experts to better understand what gaslighting is, how to spot the signs in a relationship and how to recover from it.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting in a relationship occurs when one partner uses manipulation tactics to undermine the self-perception of the other by regularly dismissing their feelings as untrue, crazy, ridiculous or unworthy. Eventually, when repeated enough, the victim accepts these false realities as the truth, which can have a long-term impact on one’s emotional, psychological and even physical well-being.
Gaslighting is a common behavior among narcissists, or those with narcissistic personality disorder. According to Healthline, these people tend to believe they are more important than others, lack empathy and don’t have the time (or interest) in helping others unless it benefits them. In other cases, the person who is gaslighting doesn’t even know it. It could merely be a bad habit picked up from relationships they were raised around.
Warning Signs Of Gaslighting
The main goal of gaslighting is to belittle the victim to the point where there is an uneven power dynamic within the relationship. If the behavior defined above seems familiar of your partner, be on the lookout for these warning signs:
1. They never take responsibility
Couples counselor Kari Rusnak warns that if your partner cannot take responsibility for any wrongdoing, and never responds to or validates your concerns, they may be gaslighting.
2. Their conversations confuse you
“Another warning sign is often feeling confused in conversation with this person,” says Rusnak. “If you often leave an argument unsure of how the topic changed or what happened, you may be a victim.”
3. You doubt your own thoughts
According to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, if you regularly trust their words and diminish your own, their gaslighting tactics have started to take effect.
4. You become more quiet and timid
During confrontation, do you find yourself either apologizing or silencing yourself? Consider it a sign. The same goes for if you always think it’s your fault when things go wrong.
5. You’re told you’re being crazy
Your partner tells you that you’re crazy or have some sort of problem in a way that feels contemptuous.
6. You’ve lost your sense of self
You no longer feel like the person you used to be, or often question whether you’re being too sensitive when feeling hurt by your partner.
7. They project their issues onto you
“Projection is a very common sign of gaslighting,” notes Rusnak. “When someone takes their own problems and accuses you of having that problem, they may be using it as a gaslighting tactic.”
8. You suddenly lack self-esteem
Your partner should always build you up, but gaslighters will do the opposite. “Gaslighting’s goal is to make you seem like you’re the one with the problem and if you didn’t feel bad about yourself before the relationship it’s a sign that you may be experiencing gaslighting,” says Rusnak.
9. You feel isolated from friends and family
You’ve distanced yourself from friends and family, regularly making excuses for your partner’s behavior.
How to Recover From Gaslighting
Repairing the damage caused by gaslighting is far from easy. Before either of you begin to recover, you have to recognize that as gaslighting is affecting the entire relationship, both people must be willing to change the dynamic.
“The victim should write down what they want to discuss with their partner, reread it and focus on their reality and feelings,” recommends Saltz. “The emphasis for both parties should be on feelings and not right or wrong facts.”
Ultimately, the partner who is gaslighting needs to recognize what their behavior is doing, accept the victim’s feelings and hopefully learn to stop criticizing their partner. In order for this to happen, both Saltz and Rusnak recommend couples therapy to learn effective communication and listening skills.
“In Gottman Method couples therapy, the therapist will aim to seek out negative behaviors like contempt and defensiveness and work on using their antidotes of communicating your own feelings and needs, as well as accepting responsibility which would help someone who uses gaslighting in their relationship,” says Rusnak.
If things don’t pan out, use that time to move on, rediscovering who you are. There’s a good chance you’re going to be hard on yourself (since you’ve been trained to), so practice self-care and be a little selfish for once. You should also block all contact from this person.
From there, learn to reconnect with yourself. You’ve been living somebody else’s reality for too long. If you surround yourself with people who make you feel good, eventually, their vibes will rub off on you, erasing all of your past partner’s lies.
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