Ever been in a relationship where the person made you feel like you were crazy for feeling the way you feel? That’s called gaslighting, and it’s commonly used to describe abusive manipulation.
The term, gaslighting, comes from the 1938 stage play, “Gaslight,” in which a man tries to convince his wife she’s insane by changing up her environment—by doing things like dimming the gas lighting—and questioning her perception of reality.
Gaslighting is an insidious act that makes the victim doubt and mistrust what they think, experience, or feel. In short, it’s a brilliantly brutal way of messing with someone’s mind. The more doubt the abuser can create in the victim’s head, the easier it is for them to manipulate the victim and every situation to their liking. Eventually, the victim loses their self-confidence and sense of self, and is easily swayed by the other person.
There are various degrees of gaslighting, but usually it starts off seemingly innocuous. For example, the perpetrator agreed to see you on Friday night, but when you remind them of it later, they say something like, “No, I didn’t say that. Remember I said I’m busy Friday night. I told you Saturday was better for me.” While it might seem rather innocent, the perpetrator would rather place blame on you for remembering the date wrong than take responsibility for a misunderstanding.
Typically, gaslighting in relationships starts off rather small, so that the victim doesn’t even know they’re being gaslighted. Soon, more seeds of doubt are planted, and eventually, the breadcrumbs are transformed into full-on fabrications that are designed to make you not only doubt your reality, but allows the abuser to assert control over your life.
Other examples of gaslighting include the abuser telling the victim that they’re “overreacting” to a situation, denying responsibility for something that was said or done, denying the victim’s experience of a certain situation (“It didn’t happen like that”), claiming the victim misunderstood them, brushing things off that are important to the victim (“It’s not a big deal”), or outright denying that they said something that they, indeed, said.
The extreme end of gaslighting involves the abuser isolating the victim from their friends and family, and even convincing the victim that their family and friends don’t care about them as much as they do.
If you think you’re a victim of gaslighting, here are some examples on how to get control back.
Stand By Your Decisions
When in doubt—and there’s a lot of that—trust your version of reality. Know what matters to you and don’t allow it to be altered or interfered with. Dig your heels in and remain confidant about what you know to be true. Listen to your inner voice that knows better than someone else’s disbelief. You don’t need to win an argument with the abuser—you simply need to stand by your decisions with absolute faith.
Keep a Record
If you suspect you’re being gaslighted, keeping track of everything that’s been said and done between you and the perpetrator is an excellent way of proving who’s really right. Written proof of any questionable exchange is a strong defense against anyone trying to pull the rug out from you, and will help you make sense of the truth when you’re being questioned.
Maintain Your Independence
The gaslighter ultimately wants control of your life, which is why it’s vital to keep your life as independent and self-sufficient as possible. Invest in your own interests, activities, and friends. Be as committed to your own life as you are with your relationship—even more so. Additionally, your continued sense of independence and self-reliance will make it easier for you to stand up to the gaslighter.
Confide in a Trusted Support System
If you suspect you’re being gaslighted, it’s important to confide in a trusted friend, loved one, or professional. Opening up to someone is not only an additional form of documentation, but it will help you make sense of what’s happening to you, and will help you gain the courage to walk away—if that’s an option you choose.
While there are certain situations where someone might stay in a relationship with a gaslighter, the best decision for most may be to walk away. You can’t change a person, and if the gaslighter refuses to change their destructive and abusive behavior, then leaving the relationship for the sake of your mental and emotional health is your best option. Don’t let the gaslighter attempt to convince you that things will be different or that you’re overreacting. Again, these are all common signs of gaslighting. If your partner genuinely wants to change, then they’ll acknowledge their part, apologize for any wrongdoing, and want to work on the relationship, which will be evident to you.
Don’t Blame Yourself
The gaslighter often suffers from their own trauma, which they’re not willing to address or fix on their own, so in turn, they become toxic and abusive to those closest to them. It’s important to remember that how they treat you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. The sad truth is that your abuser may never realize or admit what they were doing—mostly because they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. All you can do is remember that there’s nothing you could’ve done differently. Logic and reasoning don’t work with a gaslighter. While things might never make sense to you, that doesn’t mean you should shoulder the blame. Understand that their twisted ways aren’t your fault.
While the purpose of gaslighting is to wear you down, it’s important to stay defiant and vigilant as possible. By understanding what gaslighting is, and knowing your options, you’re closer to illuminating the truth of your situation so you can decide what’s best for you.