“You’re crazy, that never happened.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“You’re making things up”
Are these phrases that you constantly hear from your partner that cause you to question yourself? If so, your partner might be using something called “gaslighting” — a form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity, giving the abusive partner power and control.
WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Back in 1938, there was a play called “Gas Light” that was later adapted into a movie in 1944. In the story, a husband works diligently to convince his wife and their acquaintances that she is insane by making very small and subtle changes to their environment. When the wife would point out the changes, the husband convinced her that she was wrong about the changes and that she was crazy. Slowly but surely, the wife starts to give in to the self-doubt created by those subtle changes, namely a gas lamp that the husband keeps dimming, hence the term “gaslighting“.
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HOW TO KNOW WHETHER SOMEONE IS GASLIGHTING YOU
Gaslighting is so harmful because it promotes anxiety, depression, and with enough frequency in our lives, can sometimes trigger nervous breakdowns. So the question now it: are you being gaslighted? Check the signs bellow:
1. You start to question if you are too sensitive.
2. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
3. You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
4. You find yourself constantly apologizing.
5. You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
6. You often make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
7. You feel like you can’t do anything right.
8. You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
9. You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person.
10. You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things.
TACTICS USED BY THE GASLIGHTER
Gaslighters use a variety of subtle techniques to undermine your reality and portray you as the disturbed and messed up one. These include, for example:
Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually, you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things—that never happened!” “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.” “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (family member/friend)?”
Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you, e.g. “Why are you being so sensitive?” “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!” “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”
Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more. For example, “I don’t remember that, you must have dreamt it!” “You’re lying, I never said that.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re changing the subject.”
Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favor, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth. For example, “I didn’t say that, I said _____” “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head—that’s what all good fathers do.” “If you remember correctly, I was actually trying to help you.”
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HEALING THE WOUNDS IGNITED BY GASLIGHTING
Gaslighting causes us to doubt our own memories, perceptions, and judgments, throwing us emotionally and psychologically off balance.
If you feel as though your self-esteem, confidence, and independence has withered under the flame of gaslighting you are not alone … and there certainly is hope!
Almost all of us, including myself, have experienced one form of Gaslighting or another throughout life. The problems arise when Gaslighting is a frequent shadow that trails behind our relationships and partnerships. The good news is that knowledge and awareness is the first step to healing your life and rebuilding the strong, perceptive person you are… and you have already taken it!
While it is true that in some situations we genuinely might be overreacting, or might genuinely be exhibiting irrational behavior, it is also important for you to listen to your instinct or intuition. Do you have a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach? Do you feel weighed down and oppressed? Do you feel depressed? These are signs that you have unconsciously picked up on deception and “foul play.” While we can consciously be fooled, unconsciously we can’t, and often we will have a lingering feeling that “something just isn’t right.” Make sure that you listen to this feeling and seek help, either professionally or socially (i.e. a trusted group of friends or a support network).