What is Gaslighting?
Have you heard of the term gaslighting? Gaslighting is a type of emotional manipulation where one person manipulates another person into questioning or doubting their own reality.
(Okay, but what does that mean?)
Have you ever been on the receiving end of any of these statements:
“Come on, that didn’t happen.”
“You’re turning this into a bigger deal than it is.”
All of these are examples of gaslighting statements. In each of these, the speaker is subtly undermining the confidence of the person they are speaking to, making them question if they are perceiving their own experiences correctly, or if the speaker is right and they are crazy.
This type of emotional manipulation makes confrontation extremely difficult for anyone on the receiving end of it, because in every conflict they leave feeling confused, embarrassed, or even like they are the ones who should be apologizing.
There are many ways gaslighting can show up.
Explicitly Lying to You
This can look like you, bringing up something serious to your partner and them dismissing it, saying “that didn’t happen.” And suddenly, even though you know it did happen, you hesitate and question yourself, even if just for a moment! People who are emotionally manipulative or abusive are expert liars, and when this tactic is used over and over again, you begin to distrust yourself, and overly rely on your partner.
Undermining or Discrediting You in Public
Does your partner often make a point to contradict something you’ve said when around others? Do they interrupt your stories saying things like “what are you talking about? It didn’t happen like that”? This is another way in which they are trying to manipulate you into questioning your reality. The added embarrassment of it happening in front of friends (or strangers!) makes you feel this tactic even more strongly.
Minimizing Your Feelings
“You’re overreacting.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” These statements aim to minimize what you’re feeling. When someone you love and trust is telling you that your feelings are wrong, you start to think they might be right. Then you question, dismiss or distrust your own feelings, leaving your partner the “only one” you can trust.
Pushing the Blame onto You
This is an extremely common tactic used by gaslighters. Every time you bring up something that upset you, your partner finds a way to twist it back onto you. The form of the conversation usually goes something like this:
- It’s your fault they did what they did to hurt you.
- By making them act that way you actually hurt them.
- You should be the one to apologize.
Retelling Events You Lived Incorrectly
This tactic often shows up in relationships where physical violence or violent outbursts are also present. For example: Your partner threw a glass out of anger. As you began to clean it up, they switched emotional gears and insisted on cleaning it up. Later as they retell the story, they may say you dropped a glass as you were cleaning up the kitchen and they insisted on cleaning it up in order to help out. When things like this happen often enough, even over small details, you may begin to lose confidence in yourself, your memory, your perception of events around you, etc.
If you need support in recognizing and removing yourself from toxic relationship dynamics, our Houston counselors can help.