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Gaslighting in relationships: signs to look out for

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that is used in relationships to assert power and gain control. A form of manipulation and psychological control, the gaslighter uses false information to isolate the victim and to cause them to doubt their memories, identity, self-worth and perception. Often gaslighting can be hard to detect as the abuse can be slow and insidious, causing a loss in confidence as it begins to affect their perception of reality. 

The effects of gaslighting are slow and gradual, with the victim often not realising they are being manipulated. Over time the victim can begin to suffer in many ways, such as developing anxiety and depression and some cases resulting in panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. While gaslighting is most commonly seen in romantic relationships as it is a tactic used to assert power, it can happen in all forms of relationships, including friends, family and co-workers. 

While initially, many of the signs of gaslighting may seem harmless or not intentional, as time goes by, the manipulation techniques can begin to chip away at the victim’s self-worth and distort their perception of reality. The key to protecting yourself against gaslighting is first to recognise its presence; once you have identified the signs of manipulation, you are in the position to break the cycle of abuse by regaining control and determining your own reality.

Gaslighting can take many forms of verbal and emotional abuse; however, here are four common signs of gaslighting to look out for: 

Telling persistent and blatant lies

A common form of gaslighting is lying and exaggeration; this is when the gaslighter uses words as a weapon, inventing stories and twisting words in order to manipulate the situation. While many people tell little white lies from time to time, the difference with a gaslighter is that they use these lies to hide their actions, confuse the victim and control the narrative.

Alienation and isolation

By separating the victim from those who love and care about them, the gaslighter is able to gain control. The gaslighter may do this by playing on the victim’s self-confidence, causing them to isolate themselves, or by spreading rumours and gossip, discrediting and alienating the victim from friends and family. Alienation causes the victim to become more dependent on the gaslighter, enabling them to have power in the relationship. 

Deflecting blame

Through denial and deflection, the gaslighter is able to shift blame and disrupt the victim’s perception of truth and cause them to doubt themselves. They can do this by pretending that the victim imagined it, deny it happened or simply change the conversation, causing the victim to question their memory and, in turn, their sanity.

Trivialising feelings and emotions

The gaslighter will choose to minimise the victim’s feelings and emotions, accusing them of being wrong or too intense. The gaslighter choosing not to acknowledge the victim’s feelings causes them to feel ashamed and feel like they have overreacted, resulting in self-doubt. Not only does this allow the gaslighter to dominate the conversation, but it will also discourage the victim from speaking up again.

As the levels of gaslighting can vary, if you think you might be a victim of gaslighting, it is important to recognise that you are not alone and seek help from someone you trust outside the relationship. Whether it is friends, family or a psychologist, speaking to an external party can help you to talk through your feelings, recognise unhealthy behaviours and regain control of your life.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by The Psych Practice, Neuro/Clinical Psychologists, Couple Therapists'

Dr Ndidi Boakye is the Clinical Director of The Psych Practice. She works part time as a Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist and Head of Psychology for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust and in independent practice. Dr Boakye has a special interest in working in cognitive rehabilitation, couples, long term conditions and work related issues.… Read more

Written by The Psych Practice, Neuro/Clinical Psychologists, Couple Therapists'

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