n a relationship, your partner should always make you feel heard. So what does it mean when they don’t?
Gaslighting is a term we’ve all likely heard by now. Due to the popularization of mental health discussions in modern times, more and more people recognize gaslighting as a form of emotional manipulation in relationships. But what does it actually mean to gaslight, or be gaslit?
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting refers to a type of manipulation in which the person manipulating is attempting to get another person to question their own memory and perception of reality. Gaslighting can happen in any type of relationship: friendship, familial, and romantic relationships. Typically, in relationships where gaslighting occurs, the person actively gaslighting is the more “powerful” person in the relationship.
This power dynamic can be more clearly seen in familial relationships – say, a parent gaslighting their child. The parent is in a position of control over the child, and emphasizes their control through gaslighting manipulation. This can be for something as seemingly small as insisting the child stayed out a little late past curfew: when, in fact, they came home on time. Though it has the potential to be rather low impact, gaslighting can escalate to far more serious situations: say, insisting their child is careless, doing something unlawful, or participating in bad activities.
While gaslighting may be more noticeable to the person being manipulated in relationships where the power dynamic is clear, this may not be the case for romantic relationships. However, even in these situations, gaslighting is typically practiced by the person with more power in the relationship – the person being manipulated is generally in a position where they fear losing the relationship, or fear doing something wrong to upset the other person.
Sometimes, gaslighting may not come from an inherently bad place: the person engaging in gaslighting may be used to situations where they need to defend their opinions to be seen as right, or have more formidable experiences from childhood where they were gaslighted themselves. Regardless of where it is coming from, though, gaslighting is a harmful manipulation tactic that can put relationships in very volatile states.
How to Recognize Gaslighting
Gaslighting may not be immediately recognizable, especially if you have never been through this experience before. If you suspect you may be getting gaslit in your current relationship, here are some common signs:
Feeling less confident in yourself
Most victims of gaslighting will begin to feel less confident in themselves and their beliefs. Being constantly told you are wrong or do not know what you’re talking about can start to chip away at your own self efficacy. This makes you easier to manipulate, and strengthens the effect gaslighting has altogether.
When we’ve done something wrong, it’s natural to feel the need to apologize. Individuals who are being gaslighted by their partners often feel an overwhelming sense of shame and wrongness, thus feeling the need to apologize for their actions. Because gaslighting blurs the lines between reality and fiction, those who have been gaslighted will be unable to recognize when they’ve truly done something wrong, and instead apologize for everything.
Constantly defending your partner
While gaslighting often has a profound effect on the person being gaslighted, the effect does not generally reach beyond them. Individuals close to the person being manipulated – friends and family – will often be able to recognize the control the manipulator has over their loved one, and see the gaslighting in action and point it out. This will lead to the person being gaslighted to constantly feel their partner and relationship are under scrutiny, and feel the need to defend them.
Feeling like a shell of yourself
Having a consistently distorted view of your reality does not only cause you to lose confidence – it can cause you to feel as though you’ve lost yourself altogether. Those who have been gaslighted by their partners often remember feeling out of touch with themselves after a period of time.
Though gaslighting is not always clear when it’s being done to you, if you’re constantly feeling this way in your relationship, you may be experiencing gaslighting from your partner.
How to Deal with Gaslighting
If you recognize or suspect gaslighting in your relationship, there are some tactics you can use to take charge and defend yourself.
Give yourself emotional space
If your partner is actively engaging in gaslighting tactics, try your best not to have an emotional reaction in the moment. Expressing feelings of sadness, anger or regret will leave you in a worse state where you become easier to break down. Instead, remove yourself from the situation when possible, and give yourself time to collect your thoughts and feelings. This will empower you to have a more confident response when it’s time to face the other person.
Prove yourself right
When being actively gaslighted by your partner, it is easy to feel as though they must be right, and you must have forgotten something or acted irrationally. In these situations where your reality is being questioned, try your best to collect evidence to review for yourself. Reviewing indisputable, factual evidence that supports your memory will help you to retain your confidence in your own experience.
Stand up for yourself
Once you’ve confirmed your partner is gaslighting you, you will want to start standing up for yourself in these situations. Be sure to stand your ground and reiterate your evidence as confidently as you can – over time, this will get easier, and you will have more confidence to rely on in these difficult situations.
Gaslighting in relationships is an unhealthy reality many couples are experiencing on a daily basis. Recognizing what gaslighting looks like and the common signs associated with this form of manipulation is the best way to tackle it. If you are experiencing gaslighting in your relationship, or suspect you are being gaslighted, be sure to keep these tactics in mind to help you stick up for yourself and combat the manipulation as it’s happening.