Gaslighting in relationships is an abusive form of psychological manipulation one partner uses to gain control over the other by presenting them with false information over an extended period to confuse them, get them to doubt the validity of their memory and perceptions, question their sanity, and become dependent on the person gaslighting them to define reality for them. Gaslighting can also happen in family relationships, not only in partner relationships.
One of the most insidious things about gaslighting is the denial of reality. Being denied what you have seen with your own eyes and know to be true. Being denied an experience that you have had, and you know is real. – Ariel S. Leve
Gaslighting got its name from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 suspense film, “Gas Light,” in which a manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she’s losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment.
As she starts noticing strange things like a picture disappearing, a broach gone missing, the gas light dimming without being touched, and strange noises coming from the attic, he convinces her that it’s her imagination, or that she caused it, and then uses her supposed “mental issues” to justify his efforts to restrict her contact with others and keep her sequestered in the house.
The wife begins second-guessing herself, her feelings, her perceptions, and her memories. She becomes increasingly unsure of what is real and begins to think she is going crazy.
How do I know if I’ve experienced gaslighting?
Ask yourself these questions. The more of them you can identify with, the more likely it is that you either are or have been a victim of gaslighting.
- Do you question your judgment and perceptions, and try to convince yourself that you’re not being treated that badly?
- Do you wonder if you’re being oversensitive?
- Do you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells when you’re around your partner?
- Do you wonder what’s wrong with you?
- Do you struggle to make decisions because you don’t trust yourself?
- Do you tend to doubt your feelings and reality?
- Do you spend a lot of time apologizing to your partner?
- Do you feel vulnerable or insecure?
- Do you feel powerless and alone?
- Do you feel confused, and question whether you’re remembering the details of past events accurately?
- Do you feel trapped and isolated?
- Do you feel unseen and unheard?
- Do you ever wonder if what your partner says about you is true?
- Do you find yourself thinking you might be crazy, or that you can’t trust yourself or your perceptions?
- Do you feel everything is always your fault?
- Do you frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family?
Signs of gaslighting in relationships.
Lying or distortion. Your partner/family member/friend persistently and blatantly lies to you. He or she will deny saying or doing something even when you have proof that they did it, and either discount or twist the evidence, harping on your insecurities and treating you as if you are crazy.
Undermining your perception of reality. Your partner constantly challenges your perception of situations, declaring that you didn’t see what you saw, or that what you experienced didn’t happen. They’ll trivialize your feelings, telling you you’re overreacting or being oversensitive, and wear you down until you accept what they say, even if in your heart of hearts, you don’t believe it.
Discrediting you. Your partner may spread untrue rumors and gossip about you to others under the pretext of being worried about you, and insinuate that you seem emotionally unstable or crazy. He or she may then lie to you and tell you that other people agree.
Criticizing you and putting you down. Your partner wants to make you believe that you’re unlovable and that you’re useless without them. They will accuse you of being paranoid, overly dramatic, hysterical, and ungrateful, and make belittling comments such as, “You know you can’t manage money. That’s why I have to control the finances.”
Your partner will do his or her best to separate you from friends, family members, or anyone else that cares about you and supports you. They may sabotage job or friendship opportunities that come your way and justify their actions by saying they did it because they were concerned about you, or that they wanted to protect you.
Confusing, conflicting behavior. Your partner’s behavior and tone may alternate between sounding concerned, kind, and encouraging, and being angry, abusive, and manipulative. For instance, they may do something abusive, and then use loving words as a defense, such as “You know how much I love you. I would never hurt you on purpose.” Those may be soothing words to your ears, but they are not authentic.
Twisting facts and shifting blame. If you confront your partner, he or she will deny they did anything wrong and twist the conversation to make it seem like you are the one to blame. Or he or she may do something abusive like shoving you against the wall, and then convince you that you have it all wrong, twisting and retelling the story to make it sound like what happened was that you stumbled and fell against it when he or she tried to steady you.
What should I do?
- Your thoughts, feelings, and memories should never be subject to debate. Don’t let anybody re-narrate them for you. Keep a journal so you can remind yourself of the facts, and save texts, e-mails, and other evidence that you can look back on later to verify your perceptions.
- Don’t isolate yourself from the people who care about you.
- Get an outside perspective. Seek help from someone outside the relationship – a trusted friend, family member, or counselor – who can validate your feelings, corroborate your memories, and help you assess the situation.
- Pray, and seek God’s guidance (Psalm 25:5). Ask Him to reveal the truth and help you discern what is and isn’t true in your relationship. He is always trustworthy (Numbers 23:19), even though you may find it difficult to trust anyone at first. Hebrews 6:17-19 offers hope by reminding you that no matter what your partner may have told you, God cannot lie, and His promises are always true.
- Find a good therapist. A trained mental health professional can help you gain perspective, develop new coping strategies, and equip you with the tools you need to break free or distance yourself from the toxic relationship They can guide you out of the maze of deception and help ensure you don’t step back into the gaslighting cycle.
- Acknowledge that you are, or have been gaslit, and call it what it is – manipulation and abuse. You can’t heal from something unless you are first willing to identify it.
- Don’t align with the lies. You are not dumb, naïve, or making a big deal over nothing. You’ve been done wrong, and it’s valid to feel hurt, frustrated, and/or angered.
Christian counseling for victims of gaslighting in relationships.
Christian counseling involves a combination of Biblical principles and clinical intervention. If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment, please contact me or one of the other faith-based counselors in our online counselor directory today. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss practical techniques for dealing with gaslighting, as well as help you navigate your way through the challenges you face.
Megan Beauchamp (January 3, 2022). “What is Gaslighting in a Relationship?” Brides, www.Brides.com/gaslighting-in-relationships-5112026.
Sarah Mae (June 30, 2020). “What Is Gaslighting? Understanding the Warning Signs and Way of Escape,” Christianity.com, christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/what-is-gaslighting.html.
Sherri Gordon (January 5, 2022). “What is Gaslighting?” Verywellmind.com/is-someone-gaslighting-you-4147470.
“Comfort”, Courtesy of Liza Summer, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Looking Through the Fence”, Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Vlada Karpovich, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Stressed”. Courtesy of Alex Green, Pexels.com, CC0 License
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