Gaslighting in relationships refers to a type of psychological manipulation used by the people to maintain power or control over the other people in the relationships. This typically happens in closed relationships, mainly romantic relationships, where one partner demands the constant need for admiration, love and attention from the other partner. People often use gaslighting in relationships to gain an upper hand and show their dominance over other people. The person who uses gaslighting in relationships tries to build the narrative that he/she is always right and his/her partner is wrong. Gaslighting can lead the victim to be solely dependent upon the partner who gaslights and slowly gets away from the other closed relations such as family or friends. Gaslighting can be intentional as well intentional too. Some people gaslight because they have been raised in such as environment, and they tend to use the gaslighting tactics on other people, while some do it because they find it a pleasure to dominate the other people. In the initial stages, the gaslighting may not seem much damaging or serious but over time, the partner on the receiving end of the gaslighting may feel like he/she is losing his/her perception and abilities to judge reality and start feeling worthless. Gaslighting in the relationships makes the gaslighting victim partner feel distorted and worthless. You might be amazed to know that gaslighting is one of the most common types of emotional abuse in a romantic relationship. According to the data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 43 million females and around 38 million men experience the gaslighting from their partners. Women are more likely to be the victim of the gaslighting in the relationships probably because they are raised in such a way that they tend to prioritize the beliefs and feelings of other people over their own.
Gaslighting Examples in Relationship
People often fail to recognise that they are the victim of the gaslighting in their relationships because they tend to believe so much in their partner that they barely question their perspective. The partner with gaslighting traits often uses verbal abuse to dominate the victim, they use the words like crazy, dramatic, irrational, and careless, which makes you question your own feelings, beliefs and perception. Here are examples of some of the phrases that the partner who gaslights often uses in a relationship,
1. “I Did This Because I Love You”
The people who gaslight the relationship often use the word ‘love’ as a defence. They assume that they can manipulate their partner because they love them and care about them. They have the assumption that they know their partner better than the partner knows about himself/herself. Let’s understand through an example, a woman applied for higher studies in a foreign university, which was her childhood dream, but she got no response from the university. When the woman shared this with her husband, he said that maybe she is not applicable to apply for that university or the university might have rejected her application due to a high cut-off that year. Eventually, the woman sent mail to the authorities of that university to check her application status. The reply that she received from the other end shocked her. She found that her husband called the authorities and withdraw her name from the applicants, he told the authorities that his wife is no longer interested to take admitted to that university. She asked her husband about the same, and in his defence, he said that the university is not good at providing quality education, and it is not good for her career to pursue higher education from that university, he did this because he knows what is good for her and he loves her. Now, the victim, which is obviously the wife in this example, may start thinking that maybe she is not good at making her career decisions, and she should allow her husband to make these decisions, which eventually will make her lose her ability to make her own life decisions, and her gaslighter husband to easily manipulate her.
2. “It’s All Your Fault/Maybe You are Paranoid”
Shifting the blame to his/her partner is one of the most commonly used tactics by the gaslighting partner in the relationship. The person who gaslights shifts any argument in a way that you seem to be the culprit. For example, a woman found that her husband is having an affair with another woman, when she asked her husband, then instead of apologizing for his mistake he started arguing that he is involved with the other woman because she never paid attention to him as she always gets busy with her work, and she is not good enough for him. This tactic allows the gaslighter to get rid of what bad he has committed by shifting all the blame to the victim. As in this example, the woman may start feeling that maybe it is her fault that she was not a good partner, which makes her partner have an affair with another woman. It is observed that gaslighters are in constant need of attention all the time, but even if the gaslighting victim gives him/her full attention to the gaslighter, they still will say you are not caring and good enough for them.
3. “Nobody Loves You”
The gaslighter tends to detach his/her partner away from the partner’s close relatives or friends because of his/her assumption that others may steal or manipulate his/her partner from him/her, and no one else can love their partner except him/her. Mainly, a gaslighter tries to separate the victim from his/her close people because of his/her belief that these people can guide the victim that he/she is being gaslighted by his/her partner. Let’s understand it with an example, a boyfriend used to prohibit his girlfriend from attending any parties and going out with her friends. He used to build the stories that her friends do not like her, and they all talk bad about her behind her back, and they do not care about her. He even used to delete the texts from her mobile that she used to get from her friends so that the girlfriend may start thinking that her friends does not care for her and does not text her. The gaslighter partner wants to be the only priority in his/her partner’s life.
4. “You are Overreacting/You are Very Sensitive or Emotional”
5. “I’m Not Responsible For It”
According to a mental health expert and author Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, the people who gaslight in the relationships often use anger or silent treatment as a punishment to the victim and to maintain their dominance over them. Let’s understand it with an incident, a husband and wife argued over a little thing where the man seemed to be more responsible for the argument, but on the contrary, the husband was not ready to take responsibility for the argument as he believed that the wife is responsible for that fight. To make his wife realise that she is responsible for the fight, the husband started using the silent treatment. He used to talk to the children but pretends like the wife does not even exist there. This makes his wife so desperate that she ended up apologizing. Even though it was not her fault but the silent treatment by her husband made her feel that she is responsible for the fight.
According to Sarkis,
“The silent treatment is the ultimate gaslighting because it denies the reality of you, of your humanity,”
6. “Something is Wrong With You”
This is one of the most damaging phrases used by the person who gaslights because it makes the victim question his/her mental health. The victim may start feeling like there is something wrong with him/her. It is a kind of psychological torture where one of the partners projects his/her issues or problems onto the victim.
7. “You are So Insecure “
The gaslighter partner will always try to enhance your insecurities instead of helping you out to deal with them. Whenever you try to question them about their behaviour, instead of accepting their shortcomings they may try to raise finger at you. They may say that you have this or that problem and you need to evaluate your own problems first before questioning them. They may call you insecure, which may eventually lead you to question yourself. Well, you might have heard this phrase from some other people too say your friend or your manager, who have tried to shift their mistakes onto yourself. For example, a person shared that one of his friends used to belittle him, he used to say that he is very sensitive and can not do anything properly. He used to say that the person looks ugly and does not know how to communicate well with others. This made the person feel low confidence and worthless. Much later he realised that his friend was jealous of him and used to gaslight him to make himself feel better.
8. “You Don’t Know Anything”
When you try to argue with the gaslighter about something they have said or did, the gaslighter may feel highly insulted by your opinions. Instead of considering what you have suggested the gaslighter will prove your argument wrong and may say you didn’t know anything and you need to learn about it before making any judgements. In this way, they dominate over you.
9.”You are Just Jealous”
By saying such phrases the gaslighter may try to control your perspective and justify what they have said or did. For example, a woman saw that her husband was clearly flirting with his colleague when the woman asked her husband about the same, he said that he was not flirting, maybe she is getting jealous. The women then tend to feel like that maybe she is overreacting and she is just getting jealous.
10. “It’s Only in Your Head/Stop Imagining”
This phrase makes you question your thoughts, feelings, or even reality. The gaslighter tends to deny that they have not said or done that you are arguing that that had said and done. They will convince you that it is only in your head and that nothing like what you said had ever happened. This phrase could be very dangerous as it can make the victim question his/her reality.
11. “You Always Take Everything Too Seriously/Stop Exaggerating Everything”
Gaslighter may say that what you are arguing over with them is not even worth considering. They may say that you take everything very seriously and could not handle even the small pranks or jokes. But, think for a while, if something is bothering your mental peace then why should not you consider that seriously. The phrase ‘stop taking everything seriously’ can make the gaslighter easily escape from being apologized for their wrongful behaviour. For example, they may make jokes about your dress, language, or behaviour in front of everyone, which makes you really upset. But when you try to explain how bad you feel due to their comment, they may try to lighten everything that it was just a joke and you are taking it seriously.
12. “You Have a Horrible Memory”
Almost everybody finds it difficult to recall certain things sometimes, but the gaslighter partner can make you believe that you have an extremely bad memory by using various tactics. For example, A woman shared that her ex-husband used to steal her keys to prevent her from leaving the home and then he used to emphasize that she does not remember anything as she always lost the keys. The gaslighter uses this phrase to make the victim question their judgements eventually giving a stronger hold to the gaslighter over the victim.
13. “You are Careless”
The partner who gaslights can make the other partner feel that he/she can not do anything alone. They often use this phrase to make them believe that they can not handle their daily chores, or other tasks effectively. This makes the victim dependent upon the gaslight partner. For example, a girl shared that her boyfriend used to steal her money, and manipulate her and that she is not good at managing her finances. Another girl shared that her boyfriend hide her mobile and told her that she is such a careless person. In reality, he hides her mobile for his dual purposes, i.e., from keeping her girlfriend away from her close relatives and friends and also from making her believe that she is a careless person.
How To Avoid Gaslighting?
After figuring out that your partner is gaslighting you, the next important step is to take important steps that can help you to get out of the toxic relationship. Here are some necessary steps or techniques that one can use to protect himself/herself from gaslighting in relationships.
1. Believe in Actions, Not in Words
Pay attention to what they do rather than just believing what they say. Whenever you question your gaslighter partner about their abusive behaviour they may use words that they care for you or they love you and they won’t do anything that hurt you. These words may comfort you for a while, but they tend to repeat their abusive behaviour. They say these comforting words so that they won’t lose control over you and you won’t end the relationship. Hence, you need to carefully examine whether their behaviour has been changed or are they still behaving in the same way that makes you feel inferior.
2. Arguing with Gaslighter is Worthless
If you try to argue with the gaslighter to treat you nicely and respectfully, forget that they are going to listen to you. You can not expect that a gaslighter will think logically and admit that he/she is not behaving properly with you. Leaving the relationship silently is better than arguing with the person who will never be going to admit his/her mistake. Once you come out of the toxic relationships focus on trusting yourself, because the gaslighter’s behaviour can make it difficult for you to trust your intuitions and decisions. You may feel confused and it may take some time to gain your lost confidence.
3. Believe in Yourself
The main goal of the person who uses gaslighting is to make you doubt your perception. They can easily control you when you start questioning your feelings or beliefs, even though you are sure about any event, you will still second-guess your opinions under the influence of the gaslighter. Hence, one should stand firm in his/her beliefs or truth. This makes it difficult for the gaslighter to control your feelings or emotions.
4. It’s Not Your Fault
Always remember that the gaslighter’s abusive behaviour is not because of you, and you should not blame yourself for their behaviour in a particular way. It’s their fault that they treat you in a certain way that makes you feel worthless, not because you are worthless.
5. Don’t Leave Activities that Make You Happy
The gaslighting in a relationship can make you devote lesser time doing the activities that you used to love doing and self-care. You should understand that the activities such as dancing, swimming, cooking or anything that makes you happy can help you to feel better and deal with the gaslighter partner.
6. Writing the Journal
Sometimes people get confused by experiencing different feelings and questions that arise in their minds. The gaslighting in relationships can make the victim overthink everything. Hence, one should try to write what they are experiencing in a diary. Although talking about your feelings to your loved ones is a better choice but if you don’t find anyone whom you can trust, writing it down on paper can make you feel relaxed. It also helps you to better analyse and evaluate your situation. When you develop a habit of writing a journal, you not only feel relaxed but also make a record of the past events that happened to you. By reviewing your journal you can get confident that it was not you who was responsible for the bad behaviour of the gaslighter, and it was solely due to the abusive character of your gaslighter partner.
7. Turn to Loved Ones
You should not allow your partner to separate you from your other closed relationships. A gaslighter will never validate your emotions or feelings, hence, you should talk about how you are feeling with your family, or close friends that understand you and can help you come out of the toxic relationships. If you isolate yourself from your loved ones it will become easier for the gaslighter to maintain control over you. Sometimes one only needs the external support or the validation that what they are feeling or believe is the truth, which gives them the strength and the confidence to strongly put their arguments in front of the gaslighter.
8. Have Compassion for Yourself
One should never forget that the most important person in your life is yourself. You need to have compassion for yourself. If you are not feeling good with your partner at the moment you need to reconsider your relationship. Don’t stay in the relationship just because your partner wants you to stay, stay if you are happy with it.
9. Set Boundaries
One should set certain boundaries in their relationships that no matter what you are not allowing anyone to cross these boundaries and makes you feel bad or inferior. For example, you are won’t allow your partner to abuse you either physically or mentally, you won’t allow your partner to insult you in public, or you will end up the relationship if it is affecting you mentally. One became less likely to become the victim of the gaslighting in the relationship if he/she sticks to such boundaries.
10. End the Relationship
If you ever feel like, you are losing your self-worth to the perpetual abusive behaviour of the person the best approach to deal with this is to take a step back and stop thinking about the situation for a while. It is always better to end the toxic relationship that is draining you every day rather than staying and feeling that insult again and again. This may be difficult but it is the best that you can do for yourself. Various exercises like deep breathing and meditation can help you cope with the situation.
11. Focus on Yourself
It is not easy to end a relationship, and you might get a feeling to get back into the toxic relationship as you may feel that maybe there is still hope to save this relationship. In reality, that relationship had served you nothing except the pain. Consider taking counselling sessions from the therapists or the psychologists as they will help you to regain your lost strength and worthiness and also protect you from getting back into that toxic relationship. Rather than living in the past and evaluating who might be right or wrong in your relationships, focus on yourself, and do activities like exercising, cycling, dancing, or any other activity that makes you happy.