Gaslighting — Have you heard that term before?
It has been around for decades but has gained steam in the past handful of years.
‘Gaslighting’ describes a form of emotional abuse and psychological manipulation where the abuser confuses the victim to the point that they do not trust their own thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and sense of reality.
For me, ‘gaslighting’ doesn’t clearly imply it’s meaning, so to remember what it is, I have created a visual story to remind me:
Imagine a person is in a room filled with gas. Not only would the room be hazy and disorienting, but the gas would also start to have detrimental affects on your mind, causing an unstable perception and a sense of insanity. The victim of gaslighting techniques by a perpetrator is made to feel crazy.
The actual term “gaslight” refers to a play from 1938 of the same name. Gaslight (also known as Angel Street in the U.S.) by Patrick Hamilton, and the following film adaptations, are about a couple where the husband attempts to convince his wife that she is insane. He makes many small changes in their environment and when his wife notices, he belittles her, makes fun, tells her she’s imagining it or remembering wrong. He wants her to feel delusional.
So what does gaslighting look like? What are the red flags and warning signs to look out for?
A person who is gaslighting their partner may:
– falsely retell the facts and discount the victim’s perception
– deny any wrongdoing
– misdirect and tell lies
– withhold information
– express being misunderstood
– contradict themself
– act controlling under a guise of care
– trivialize the victim’s concerns
Experiencing gaslighting is bizarre. To understand, at least somewhat, you need to enter the haze.
If you’re ready:
You and your partner are disagreeing about something. You have a defined stance, you know exactly what happened, and you are sure that your partner is the one in the wrong.
That is until your partner turns your words around.
They lead the conversation away from the topic at hand, all while putting you on the defensive. They double talk. They use circular reasoning. They intimidate — sometimes threaten. And then quickly, they may take bits of their behavior back. They’re sorry you are emotional. They tell you it wasn’t a big deal and that you’re taking it all wrong. You need to learn to let things slide. It was just a joke. If you didn’t act like this, then you wouldn’t have to be having this argument in the first place. You need to chill out. You owe them an apology. You have them all wrong.
Somehow when you know you were in the right when the conversation began, you are left wondering what happened, and you feel guilty for something. You may not even realize perception undermining and gaslighting happened at all. This is just how arguments go with your partner. You’re used to this pattern.
This is a person you know and love, and trust, so if they think you’re at fault, then you probably did something wrong. They didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. You shouldn’t have spoken up over nothing. You should just do things how they like them.
…This is what you tell yourself.
Gaslighting is something that can be quite hard to recognize if it is happening to you. You have been conditioned in your relationship to mistrust yourself, your reality, your truth; acknowledging that your partner is mistreating you is not easy or clear or clean cut.
If you think your relationship is unhealthy or that your partner is making you feel crazy, talk to someone, anyone, that you do trust. Maybe even talk to that one friend who isn’t a big fan of your partner. They will hear you and, most likely will believe you.
Below is the Power and Control Wheel. In my work in a domestic violence center, and in my therapy work with families, we have used this model a lot.
The center or hub of the wheel is where one person is commanding power and control over the other without their consent. The spokes are the various ways this power imbalance presents itself. This sort of relationship may, but not always, have physical violence as well.
Note, just because there is not physical violence in a relationship does not mean it isn’t abusive.
Look the power and control wheel over. Honestly assess your relationship.
If your partner acts towards you in these ways, your relationship is not ideal. And it may be unhealthy.
What should a relationship look like then?
Check out the Equality Wheel. This shows a healthy balance of power and healthy interactions. This is what we should aim for.
Again, if you are concerned that your relationship is not healthy, please speak to a trusted friend or family member, or as always, you can reach out to me. I will do my best to help you find support in your area.
If you are still unsure what gaslighting can look like, I’d recommend to watch some of this season’s The Bachelorette on ABC. A particular gentleman, Luke, is portrayed in such a way that it appears he demonstrates characteristics consistent with an emotional abuser and gaslighter.