Gaslighting is one of the most psychologically painful experiences you can go through in a relationship, but there are many misconceptions about what gaslighting is and what it looks like. Because the term has become a popular buzzword, many people label any lie as “gaslighting.” In truth, though, gaslighting in relationships is a very specific manipulation tactic that toxic or abusive partners employ to mess with your mind.
Many people who have been the victims of gaslighting don’t realize that they’ve experienced such intense manipulation until long after their relationship has ended. Knowing what gaslighting is can help you recognize it in your own relationship, which will help you feel stronger, more secure, and more empowered.
What Is Gaslighting in a Relationship?
Gaslighting is an attempt to make someone question their own memories or experiences. In a romantic relationship, one partner might gaslight the other by insisting that they’re misremembering an event or by creating a false narrative. This is typically a repeated occurrence rather than a one-time disagreement, so the gaslighting partner may consistently call the other person’s perceptions or beliefs into question.
Gaslighting in relationships is done with the intention of making the victim doubt their reality. A gaslighter doesn’t simply lie to their partner because they’re trying to protect themselves or avoid getting in trouble. The goal of gaslighting is to make the other person feel so confused that they no longer trust themselves to understand what is real and what isn’t. Then, they become completely dependent on the gaslighter, and the gaslighter can exert total control over them.
Gaslighting is an incredibly insidious behavior. It always happens intentionally, and it’s always a sign that the person does not respect you. Gaslighting in relationships also usually escalates over time. At first, your partner might make you question small and insignificant ideas. Eventually, though, they can make you feel like you’ve gone crazy.
Examples of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can be hard to recognize when you’re currently living through it in your relationship. Each relationship is unique, so the specific examples of gaslighting can look very different.
Early on in a relationship, a gaslighter might make their partner question their reality by insisting that they never said something. For example, your partner might promise you that they’ll complete a chore. When they don’t, you may ask them about it, and they may tell you that they never told you they’d do it.
The opposite situation can also be a type of gaslighting. Your partner may insist that they told you something, but in reality, they never did. For example, they may snap at you for not picking up an item at the grocery store after they asked you to. However, you know that they never actually requested this. When you call them out on the lie, they accuse you of being forgetful or being a bad listener.
Over time, the lies can become more serious. For instance, your partner might yell at you or belittle you and then later deny their actions. They may tell you that you’re too sensitive or that you overreact to everything. You distinctly remember them yelling at you, and you remember how bad it felt. When they tell you that you’re being dramatic, you start to wonder whether they really did yell or whether you just misinterpreted the situation.
4 Signs of Gaslighting
Because the purpose of gaslighting is to convince you that you’re crazy, the signs of gaslighting may not be immediately obvious to you. Victims of gaslighting tend to develop low self-esteem and blame themselves for the conflicts in their relationship. Here are some signs that you might be experiencing gaslighting:
1. You often doubt your own memories.
Everyone forgets or misremembers things from time to time, but gaslighting can cause you to second-guess your entire reality. If you’ve been told that you’re wrong so many times by your partner that you no longer trust your own memory, they may be gaslighting you.
2. You find yourself collecting proof.
If you’re experiencing gaslighting, you might feel like you have to back up all of your claims with evidence. You could watch your partner do something with your own eyes, but they’ll still deny it. To combat the gaslighting, you might start taking pictures, recording videos, or collecting other forms of evidence to prove your point. This is not a normal or healthy relationship experience, though. You shouldn’t feel like you have to gather evidence just to prove to your partner that you’re not crazy.
3. Your feelings are always dismissed.
If your partner is gaslighting you, they might make you believe that your feelings are excessive or invalid. They may call you dramatic for expressing your concern or tell you that you’re overthinking when you disagree with them. Over time, you might start to dismiss your own feelings as a way of coping with the gaslighting. If your partner lies to you or upsets you, you may tell yourself that the situation isn’t too bad or that you should keep your opinions to yourself.
4. You feel isolated.
Abusive partners use gaslighting to make their victims completely dependent on them. When you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not, you rely on your partner for emotional support. Your partner may isolate you from your friends and family by telling you that they’re not good people or that they don’t care about you. A romantic relationship should be an additional source of social support in your life, but it shouldn’t become your entire world. If you’ve become distant from your loved ones as a result of your partner’s behavior, you could be a victim of gaslighting.
Gaslighting in relationships can lead to serious emotional and psychological damage. If you’ve experienced gaslighting in a relationship, you should reach out for support as you recover from the effects of the manipulation. The Beverly Hills Therapy Group offers counseling for people who are healing from a toxic, abusive, or manipulative relationship. You can contact us today to connect with a therapist in Los Angeles.