‘Gaslighting‘ is a phrase I had never heard of before, but it took my counsellor to mention it to me to make me realise that at one point in my life I was in a gaslighting relationship.
Gaslighting to me sounded such a funny term when I first heard it, but as I did more research into it and discovered what it really meant, it made a lot of sense to me that it had been named this. Gaslighting originally comes from the 1938 stage play called Gas Light. The story is about a husbands attempt to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas lights within their home. When questioned by his wife as to whether he has changed the lighting he denies it. What this play is pointing out is the emotional abuse a person can have upon someone, where they start questioning their own instincts, sanity and feelings, giving the partner who is inflicting this abuse a lot of power and control. Gaslighting relationships are very scary and what is more terrifying is how many of us are trapped in these types of relationships feeling unable to break free. I was once a victim to this.
Admitting that I was in a gaslighting relationship is a tough one for me, as from a young age, having watched my parents get divorced I always promised myself that I would be in control of my feelings and thoughts and never let anyone manipulate me. Unfortunately, I broke that promise to myself without even realising I had done so until it was too late. A year ago I, unfortunately, met someone who manipulated me, made me feel utterly worthless, and who made me question my own sanity and reality. He destroyed my confidence, made me hate who I was and at the time broke me as a person. I delved into a world where I kept my thoughts to myself and with that pushed my friends and family away. I became utterly unreachable and closed off, almost as if I were in my own little bubble that I could not escape from and no one could pierce. Admittedly I still struggle to come to terms with it today, even though he is no longer in my life.
The problem with gaslighting is that you are not being physically hurt, it is emotional abuse. For me once being a victim of this, I can understand that you may not feel like it is worth telling anyone about it, as you feel stupid and ashamed because no one can really understand the effect it is having upon you emotionally as they cannot see it. You almost feel like you are going crazy and question whether you are overreacting, but the reality is, you are not and you need to speak up! Dr Robert Stren who is the associate director at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect describes this well, explaining that “usually when people are abused there are signs that you can point to that are much more obvious. Someone who has been hit or threatened for instance – it’s easy to see and understand how they have been hurt. But when someone is manipulating you, you end up second-guessing yourself and turning your attention to yourself as the person to blame”.
So what is my reason for writing this rather intense post you may ask? This is the first time I have ever admitted to myself that I was the victim of a gaslighting relationship and is something that embarrasses me and to this day still shakes my confidence, but I feel it is crucial that I speak up because I want to warn those of you reading this just how common this type of relationship can be, and beg you that if you are noticing any of the signs and patterns that are listed below to get out of this relationship immediately! It will do you far more harm than good to stick it out and hope for the best. The best will never happen, believe me.
So how can you recognise that you are in a gaslighting relationship? What are the signs? As stated previously, I have raised a few points below that may help you determine if you are in this type of relationship.
1. You are constantly reminded of your flaws
One of the most common signs of gaslighting is when the gaslighter is constantly pointing out your weaknesses and flaws. Whether this is someone in the workplace or a personal relationship, they will always find a hole in what you do and who you are as a person. You constantly feel you have to prove them wrong and work to the best of your ability, but the reality is, to the gaslighter even what you deem as your utmost best will never be satisfactory.
The reason the gaslighter chooses to do this is to gain power over the relationship. By attacking you on a personal level they are able to make you feel vulnerable, which can be exploited to their advantage as they will start gaining more and more power over you.
2. You feel you can never criticize the gaslighter
Gaslighters are the ones frequently on the attack ready to point out your flaws, but if the tables are ever reversed they will use blame or find excuses and victimhood to cover up their own inadequacies, whilst also creating misdirection by launching a new round of accusations and false claims.
3. You feel alone
Most people who are victims of gaslighting feel very alone and trapped. They don’t know who to talk to as they feel no one can understand the complicated and manipulative situation they find themselves in. Therefore they isolate themselves, pushing away their loved ones, resulting in them feeling helpless, whilst at the same time knowing they deserve so much better and should not to be treated in this way.
4. You look for approval and validation
On some occasions, the person gaslighting you may manipulate you with frequent negative hostility which they combine with occasional positive bribery. This bribery can come in forms of approval, respect and security and tends to lure you to become more compliant so that tension can be avoided and also to make you second guess them and believe they are not so bad after all. The gaslighter also has the power to take these things away and therefore this tactic helps them retain even more power over you.
5. Recognizing that responsibility will never be taken
The person who is gaslighting you will never be able to see your point of view or take responsibility for their actions. They will never understand and will never tell you that you are right. Logic and reason simply do not exist in their minds, so it is crucial that you recognise these can, in fact, be applied.
6. You excuse the gaslighter’s behaviour
Typically you will feel ashamed of what is happening to you, and in the presence of the person gaslighting you, you will feel completely powerless. You will go into denial about the way you are being treated and if anyone mentions the destructive nature of this relationship, you will begin blaming yourself for this happening and further deny that anything negative is actually taking place. You end up protecting the gaslighter, afraid that if they find out about your negative words against them, they will criticize and belittle you further, which is the last thing you want because you feel negative enough anyway.
7. You belittle yourself
The gaslighter’s main aim is to completely distort your perception and identity and after some time of this taking place, you may begin to believe the gaslighter’s negative comments and accusations are true. You ultimately will start to feel very negatively about yourself, and what’s worse, if you are someone who already deems themselves as not good enough or unworthy, these feelings will be heightened. Finally, the victim will feel worn down and completely drained and experience emotions of discouragement, pessimism, fearfulness and constantly doubt themselves.