Hindsight can only be 20/20 if you are viewing it through a filter of reality and honesty. But what if your sense of reality was taken away from you? What if you no longer knew what to believe or who to trust? I first experienced gaslighting in relationships with friends and family members when I was a child; I just didn’t know there was a term for it. And as long as you don’t know what gaslighting is, you’ll not only think that *you* are the problem, but you’ll be dependent on whoever is gaslighting you, to be your eyes, ears, and mental health assessor.
Gaslighting is something that I have experienced in romantic relationships, friendships, familial relationships, and in business. I’ve coached thousands of people all over the world who are victims of gaslighting. And even when they are able to take a step back and see the manipulation for what it is, it’s still incredibly hard to accept.
What is Gaslighting and where does the term come from?
Gaslighting is when someone manipulates you into questioning your mental health and reality.
The term originated from the 1938 play, Gas Light (which has two film adaptions). It centers around a husband who attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights in their home (the lights were powered by gas at the time). When the wife notices and points out the dimmed lights, her husband denies that the lights have changed.
The most horrific example of gaslighting that I have ever seen depicted on-screen was in the movie, Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary is gaslight from the conception of her child (where she was drugged and raped but led to believe that she got drunk and sexually aggressive with her husband) to the birth… by an entire community (including her husband and neighbors; even her doctor). This doesn’t just happen in the movies. Gaslighting happens everywhere, every day. How does this happen?
Unfortunately, very easily.
I speak from personal experience when I say that once you’ve been gaslight, you start to allow the cynical audience in your own head to gaslight you. This starts an internal war with your intuition, which leaves you feeling completely helpless (and even more of a sitting duck for anyone whose egoic meal ticket is total control over your emotional weather). This is something that I still struggle with every day. I have to remind myself that the proverbial light has actually been dimmed and that I’m not just imagining things – as heartbreaking as it is to remind myself of.
What is Gaslighting in a relationship?
Not all toxic and abusive relationships involve gaslighting, but ALL relationships that involve gaslighting are abusive and toxic relationships.
Gaslighting is the number one manipulative tactic that narcissists and sociopaths use to get you to believe that you are crazy or that you lack common sense.
Gaslighters do anything they can to get you to question your thought patterns so much, you start to question your reality. You then have to over-rely on them to think for you, make decisions for you, tell you how you are feeling, and diagnose you. They will act like they know what/who is best for you.
Nothing makes you more susceptible to gaslighting than low self-esteem, people pleasing, and loneliness rooted in un-dealt with trauma and self-blame.
Gaslighting in relationships is all about gaining power. It’s a form of manipulation in which the perpetrator, very slowly, methodically, and passively, breaks down their victim to the point that the victim starts to question their reality and sanity.
Gaslighting can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate against age, race, wisdom, orientation, or gender. It is obviously, more prevalent and easier to detect in cults, some religions, and dictatorships but it occurs in relationships every day… and can be very hard to detect.
Don’t ever think that the person who gaslighted you thought you were “stupid enough” to be gaslight. That’s not how gaslighters think. They only think about themselves. And if they had the ability to gauge stupidity, they’d be able to address their own.
Gaslighting in relationships is always gradual and s l o w.
It can’t survive in any environment other than slow, steady, and subtle.
And because it’s so gradual, the person being gaslight not only can’t access the bigger picture of what’s really going on (because they are always in the thick of it), but they also can’t realize that they’ve been brainwashed.
It’s the equivalent of finding yourself all alone in an empty room on top of the cold, hard marble floor. You’re so cold and uncomfortable, but no one ever notices. Then one day, someone comes along and seems to understand and empathize with your situation on a level that no one has ever before.
And, as if this person could sense with crystal-ball-ability, exactly what you needed at that exact moment… they place the most perfect warm and fluffy rug right underneath you.
You didn’t realize just how cold and uncomfortable you were until you had the warmth, comfort, and security that this rug provides.
You’re so grateful for the warmth, you don’t realize that every day, inch by inch, the rug is being pulled out from under you until one day…
You’re all alone. Shivering on the cold floor.
You ask your partner, “Where’s the rug that was here? I’m freezing!”
You’re answered with…
“What rug? You’re crazy!… Are you sure?… You don’t have the best memory. There was never a rug! You’re sitting on MARBLE and marble is obviously COLD. You don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re cold, you should go find a rug instead of being crazy and accusing ME of stealing one that was NEVER there! This is all in your head.”
You start to question whether there even was a rug (but you know that there was; you’re sure of it) and you feel awful for upsetting your partner. So, you defeatedly return to apologize for something that your gut knows isn’t so.
Why do we do this?
Because we would rather be in the presence of our gaslighter than have to be alone and investigate something beyond our perceived defectiveness. The number one symptom of standard-setting (after recognizing manipulation) is loneliness. This is what keeps most people mediocre. The loneliness is too much; their new normal is too painful.
Many people give up after starting a master cleanse for this very reason. The flu-like symptoms are so extreme, they are unable to see them as a symptom of healing and instead, revert back to a bullsh*t diet. Gaslighters are empty relational calories. They make you feel more loved and understood than anyone ever has, but you’re never getting any substantial value (intimacy, honesty, meaning, and connection) because everything they do is based on the selfish tactician that they are.
Before I go into the 7 signs of gaslighting in relationships, I want to first touch on how to know if you’re a victim of gaslighting abuse.
If you think you’re being gaslighted, here are some signs to look for:
- You are always trying to be “good enough” for your partner because you never know if you are.
- You think (and are told) that you are too sensitive.
- It’s hard to pinpoint why you are so unhappy but you aren’t happy like you used to be.
- You always feel like you or your relationship is “in trouble.”
- You have a codependent relationship with your fears, insecurities, and your partner.
- You’ve lost the ability to trust yourself and need others to affirm what your gut already knows.
- You feel confused and crazy, which brings up a great deal of shame. The shame puts you in a state of fear-based, “must-apologize-for-having-a-human-reaction/observation,” paralysis. Before you know it, you’re apologizing to your partner for identifying something that your eyes, ears, and gut have consistently seen, heard, and identified in real-time.
- You’re always making excuses for your partner’s behavior to family and friends.
- You find yourself apologizing to your partner more than ever being heard and empathized with.
- Decision making becomes increasingly difficult for you.
- You experience depression, anxiety, and can’t trust happiness.
- Avoidance has now become a way of life.
- You mourn the death of the person you used to be – the one who had a backbone. The person who was confident, resilient, strong, and able to speak up. You feel like a walking corpse; a shell of your former self.
- You have an inability to implement boundaries because your self-esteem is nonexistent.
- You feel confused and hopeless.
- Emotional dependency is at an all-time high.
7 signs of gaslighting in relationships:
No matter what – even if you have proof (!) – your partner lies and denies.
When a gaslighter lies, the lies are obvious and blatant.
Your partner is bankrupt when it comes to character and integrity. They can’t match their words with their actions (and subsequent patterns). Ever.
Because of this, it’s imperative that you judge them solely on what they DO. Always listen to their actions and patterns. It’s their words that they rely so heavily on to manipulate and wear you down over time.
Gaslighters project everything onto you. Everything that they accuse you (and others) of, they embody. The level of hypocrisy and contradiction is through the roof.
They do this because they know that you’ll get so defensive and involved in “proving them wrong,” they will have a much easier time propelling their agenda. They want you to be distracted and preoccupied with “trying to be better” at all times.
Gaslighters live for an “us against them” mentality. And that mentality is gold for people with low self-esteem. They will convince you that they are all you need; that you don’t need your friends or loved ones. They will also align people against you that can come in at any time and act as “expert/key witnesses,” to your insanity/incorrectness if need be. They LOVE having “witnesses”/yes people in their back pocket.
This is done to isolate you so that no one who is not emotionally bias can tell you what they’re seeing. And if for some reason they do, you’ll get defensive and recoil even more.
The gaslighter tells you that you are crazy and a liar (and everyone else that you are close with/agrees with you is a crazy liar as well).
Everyone else has to be crazy. The gaslighter is the ambassador of sanity along with anyone else he/she “appoints.” Gaslighters will study what and who matter the most to you and then use the love that you have for these people to attack your integrity, sanity, and make you question your value in their lives.
You are constantly accused of lying and “talking out of your ass.” You may have even been told to “go get checked,” or “get on pills.”
This is nothing more than projection and deflection. Replace “you” with “I” and there’s the truth.
They’ll selectively connect with you, praise you, and “empathize” just to yank your chain and keep you weak.
One day out of the blue, they’ll start (pretend) to connect with you, praise you, and empathize with you over the very things that they broke you down for and accused you of. This is done to give you just enough hope to remain invested (and controllable).
How to Deal with Gaslighting in a Relationship
Don’t ever deal with it. Heal from it by getting OUT.
If someone has the ability to gaslight, there’s a one-hundred percent chance that they’re a narcissist. They may also be a sociopath.
Narcissism and gaslighting in relationships go hand in hand.
Having the kind of relationship that you know you deserve is impossible with a narcissist. Narcissists have an all-about-me agenda and the emotional span of Peter Pan.
The key to putting an end to gaslighting abuse is realizing that at the root of happy/fleeting moments (and the crumbs you’ve become so grateful for), lies abusive and painful MANIPULATION. It is manipulation and abuse that you will be saying goodbye to – not the soulmate that you’re convinced you can’t live without.
How do you stop gaslighting and say goodbye?
By doing the one thing that a gaslighter will NEVER be able to do: speak with your actions and ride off into the sunset on your own white horse.
You are so much more than someone else’s agenda.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with gaslighting in your relationship, please look into working with me here.