What is Gaslighting?

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.

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