Signs of gaslighting in a relationship - and ways to deal with it
Gaslighting is where one person shifts the power dynamic in a relationship to exert control over the other. They do this deliberately, creating a false narrative to deceive and mislead the other person. It’s a hurtful and deliberate effort to exert power and gain control over someone. At its core, it is emotional abuse. It is a form of coercive control and the impact can be devastating.
When someone is gaslighting you, they will undermine your emotions and feelings and make you question your reality.
Gaslighting can happen in any relationship where there is an unequal power dynamic. It can be in a romantic relationship, between boss and worker, friends or family members.
Gaslighting can have a long term and distressing effect on our emotional, psychological and even physical well-being.
Signs you are being gaslighted (gaslit)
Gaslighting can be hard to recognise when you're in the middle of it, due to the insidious nature of the manipulation and abuse.
- You question your thoughts and experiences – you wonder if you didn't really see what you just saw; that you didn't really feel what you felt. This leaves you feeling confused and wondering if you’re being too sensitive.
- Your emotions and opinions are always being questioned so you give up expressing them as it only leaves you feeling worse.
- They constantly and blatantly lie even about things you know to be true. They make you doubt your own reality, questioning your memory of something that happened, denying it ever happened or claiming that you have forgotten what actually happened.
- You're left wondering if you really are all the things they say you are; stupid, inadequate or unstable.
- You struggle to make decisions because you don’t trust yourself to make the right one. You’re constantly questioning your choices, feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
- They say things to make you feel bad, exaggerating your insecurities.
- You feel on edge like you’re walking on eggshells and you’re constantly apologising for yourself.
- They will isolate and alienate you from the people that care about you – the classic ‘divide and conquer’ move.
What can you do if this is happening to you?
1. Seek help from someone outside the relationship
It could be a friend, family member or work colleague. Ask them for a reality check and ask them to be brutally honest about this. Getting an objective perspective can help make the situation clearer for you.
This is often difficult because a side effect of gaslighting is feeling isolated. You have been manipulated to believe that no one else will understand you. This isn’t the case! Finding someone you feel safe to confide in can help you assess what’s happening, verify your memories and confirm that something is not right.
2. Start keeping evidence of your experiences
Make notes, keep text conversations and emails so you can look back at them objectively.
3. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings
Your emotions, memories and feelings are not up for dispute. This is not how a healthy relationship looks. And as ever, trust your gut instincts – because they are almost always right!
4. Bring the focus back onto how you are
Look to the relationships that may have fallen by the wayside and give your attention to the people around you who make you feel good.
5. Show yourself some compassion
Remember that you are not the one who is at fault for what you are experiencing. The person who is doing the gaslighting is the one who is responsible for their actions. They have chosen to behave in this way - you haven't made them behave like this towards you.
6. Consider seeing a professional
A counsellor or therapist can help you see past the smokescreen and deception that’s been created. With individual counselling, you can start to break free or at least distance yourself from the relationship. Counselling will help you set boundaries and learn how to make healthy choices for yourself and your future relationships.