What is Gaslighting?

gaslighting, manipulation, relationship abuse

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation, bordering on abuse, that can happen in relationships of all kinds. But it most often happens in romantic relationships.

“To gaslight” means to the undermine another person’s reality by denying their feelings or the facts around a situation.

The phrase comes from a 1938 play which became a  popular movie in 1944. In the movie, the husband manipulates his wife using gaslights. And he makes her believe she can no longer trust her own perception of reality. 

Gaslighting is used as a way to  exercise power and control in a relationship. It might even be a way for someone to deflect responsibility for their own actions and to tear down the other person, while still stringing them along.

Continually invalidating how a person feels effectively says that what they’re thinking and feeling is wrong, when actually, what that person is feeling or experiencing is real.

How Can You Recognize Gaslighting?

Listed below are some common phrases you might hear if you’re being gaslighted: 

  • You’re so sensitive.
  • You know that’s just because you are so insecure.
  • Stop acting crazy. Or: You sound crazy, you know that, don’t you?
  • You’re so paranoid.
  • You’re being hysterical.
  • You are making that up.
  • It’s no big deal.
  • You’re imagining things.
  • You’re overreacting.
  • You are always so dramatic.
  • That never happened.
  • You know you don’t remember things clearly.
  • There’s no pattern. Or: You are seeing a pattern that is not there.
  • There you go again. Or :Why do you always have to be like that?

What Can You Do If You Think Someone’s Gaslighting You?

  • The first step is to identify the problem. You need to acknowledge what’s going on between you and the other person and you need to accept that it’s toxic. 
  • The second step is to sort out truth from distortion. Write down your conversation in a journal so you can take an objective look at it. Look for signs of repeated denial of your experience.
  • Next you want to make sure you give yourself permission to feel all your feelings. Accept and acknowledge that what you feel is okay. 
  • The next thing you can do is to talk to your close friends or a therapist. Ideally, they should validate your feelings and give you a reality check on your partner’s behavior.
  • You then want to give yourself permission to get some space from that relationship. I know that this might be the most difficult step because the other person is someone you have deep commitment to. But you need to know that it’s okay to walk away from a person who’s not good for you, regardless of who they are.
  • The most important thing you can do throughout this process is to have compassion for yourself. It’s essential to give yourself the benefit of the doubt, to be kind to yourself, and above all to love yourself.

Boundaries Are Essential For Happy Relationships

We’ve all had people in our life who treat us badly.

They’re rude to us, they talk down to us, they can be really aggressive or manipulative. They might even be verbally or physically abusive.

And it can be really difficult to know how to tell them to stop. Because, like I mentioned in the video, most of us didn’t grow up knowing how to set boundaries.

But it’s essential, for our relationships and for our happiness, to be able to teach people how to treat us better.

We need to learn how to say no, how to set effective boundaries, so that we don’t reinforce their undesirable, manipulative  or abusive behavior.

The 5 steps below are something I’ve used again and again to help me set boundaries, to remind myself that I deserve love and respect, and to walk away when I’m not getting it from someone so that I might give it to myself.

These steps were put together by the psychologist Kati Morton. They may be of value to you if you struggle with setting healthy boundaries.

Step 1: Notice when we reinforce the bad behavior of others. This is an important  first step if, like me, you’ve grown up in a home without boundaries. So pay attention to when you say yes to someone when you really want to say no.

Step 2: Recognize that we have the right to walk away from others. You do not have to stay in a conversation or situation that makes you feel like crap. You might tell the other person you’d be willing to speak with them if they stop being disrespectful or manipulative.

Step 3: Understand that we have the right to say NO if something is not in our best interest. Saying no doesn’t make us rude or selfish or a bad person. It’s actually a sign of healthy self-respect because we’re honoring what we need for our happiness.

Step 4: Act upon our recognition that the relationship is unhealthy. We always have the ability to distance ourselves from toxic people. Even if we live with those people we can still limit the time we spend around them, we can still choose to be emotionally unavailable for toxic people.

Step 5: Stick with it. If you feel guilty for setting boundaries ask your self “is it more important that other people like me or that I like me?”  This is where heathy self-respect, healthy self-love, comes from. Reinforcing this and acting consistently will help to ensure we’re treated the way we want to be.