What is gaslighting?
TW: This article includes references to psychological and physical abuse.
‘Gaslighting’ is a term we hear quite often these days and its meaning isn’t always fully understood. We spoke with Hannah, a Training Officer at Hafan, who has written this expert guide on what gaslighting is, what the effects of it are and what to do if you think your partner is gaslighting you.
What does gaslighting mean?
Gaslighting in a relationship is when an abusive person tries to control their partner by twisting their sense of reality. It is a form of psychological abuse that the abuser uses to gain power and control over their partner.
What are the effects of gaslighting?
The abusive person creates a false reality which makes their partner question their own judgement and their sanity. The victim will start to feel unsure of their world, they may start second guessing themselves, their memories, their self-worth. It leaves the victim confused and feeling like they’re losing their sense of reality, and this in turn makes them even more dependent on their abusive partner. All of this combined makes it very difficult for the victim to leave the relationship.
Things a gaslighter might say to you.
- “That never happened / You have a terrible memory”; Someone may do or say something abusive and then deny it ever happened, or twist the facts of what happened. For example, if your partner pushes you over, and you’re talking about it later, they may twist the story and say you stumbled and they tried to steady you, and that’s what caused you to fall.
- “Your too sensitive / Calm down / You’re overreacting”; When the victim tries to explain how hurt or upset they feel, the abuser will tell them that they’re making a big deal out of nothing. It minimises and dismisses the victim’s feelings and makes them feel stupid.
- “You’re crazy – and other people think so too”; The abuser may lie to you and tell you that other people also think this about you. These people may have never said a bad thing about you, but the person who is gaslighting you will make every attempt to get you to believe they do. The abuser may also tell other people that you’re crazy or emotionally unstable in order to discredit you if you do try and seek help.
- “I’m sorry you think that I hurt you”; Abusers will more often than not deny (or not see at all) that they are doing anything wrong. This fake apology is a way for the abuser to deny wrongdoing and it leaves the victim wondering if they have been overreacting. In the end the victim relies on the abuser’s interpretation of events and accepts that interpretation as the reality.
- “You should have known how I’d react / If you hadn’t done *this*, then I wouldn’t have treated you in that way”; By shifting the blame on to the victim, the victim feels guilty about a situation where they really didn’t do anything wrong.
What can I do if I think my partner is gaslighting me?
If you believe that you’re being psychologically abused in this way, it’s amazing that you’ve recognised the abuse! There is hope, you do not have to stay in an unhealthy and abusive relationship. There are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Save the evidence: Because gaslighting can make you question yourself, try to keep track of events in a diary that includes date, time and details of what happened. Save text conversations. You can look back on them later and remind yourself that you shouldn’t doubt or question yourself.
- Talk to a trusted family member or friend. It will help to get someone else’s perspective to help make the situation clearer to you.
- Set clear boundaries. Establishing boundaries make it clear what you are prepared to accept in a relationship. If it happens again you could calmly say something like, “If you call me ‘crazy’, I’m going to leave the room”, or “It seems we remember things differently, so let’s move on.” Read more about how to set boundaries in a relationship.
- End the relationship. This may be the only way to end the abuse. If you are thinking about ending an abusive relationship, seek help and support from someone who understand the nature of domestic abuse. You can head to the Your Best Friend website for resources and information on how to seek support for an abusive/toxic relationship.
You are not to blame
You are not to blame for what you are experiencing. The person gaslighting you is making a choice to behave this way. They are responsible for their actions. Nothing you did caused them to make this choice and you do not deserve to be treated like this.
Do you feel unsafe?
There are many reasons why you might feel unsafe, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone. If you are worried about your safety or concerned that you or a friend may be in danger, you can speak to someone on Solace’s Advice Line. Call 0808 802 5565 or follow this link to get support.
Women’s Aid offer a live chat service for those experiencing abuse.
You can also head to Safe Lives for resources and information.
Are you worried about your partner’s behaviour?
It can sometimes be difficult to spot signs of abuse in your relationship, and know what to do about it.
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Updated on 06-Apr-2022
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