What Is Gaslighting, and What Do I Do if I’m Experiencing It?
A lot of people wonder “how to deal with gaslighting by their spouse,” but before we address this issue, we believe it’s imperative to do a deep dive into exactly what gaslighting is and what gaslighting isn’t. Then, we’ll provide a few suggestions for what you can do if you believe gaslighting is happening in your marriage relationship or another relationship.
To get started, we conducted an informal survey where we asked people, “When you hear the term gaslighting in a relationship, what do you think that means is actually happening?” We received nearly 100 responses featuring a variety of definitions and opinions of what the term gaslighting means. Here are just a few.
- “Clueless. Never heard of it.”
- “Manipulation by trying to convince someone that what they know is true is not true at all.”
- “Making the other person question themselves and sabotaging their confidence.”
- “When someone presents everything as if it is your fault and sets you up as the bad guy.”
- “You are in a controlling relationship.”
- “Doing things you know are going to upset your spouse. Could be pushing a boundary, not respecting one another on purpose, doubting their abilities. Purposely doing things you like that the other doesn’t like.”
Drumroll please…the term gaslighting originated from the 1944 movie, “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Berman. After the death of her aunt, a famous opera singer, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) moves to Italy, where she studies to become an opera singer as well. In Italy, she falls in love with a charming man, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). Upon returning to London with Gregory, Paula notices strange happenings—there are picture frames that go missing, she hears footsteps during the night, and there are gaslights that dim without any touch. Her husband, however, leads her to believe she is imagining it all and slowly manipulates her into thinking she has gone insane.
While the term gaslighting has been around for a long time, using it to define behavior in a relationship has definitely gained popularity in the last several years. However, people’s definition of what it actually means varies widely, which can be dangerous.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gaslighting as:
“Psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Not only can gaslighting occur in marriage relationships, it can also occur in other romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships, and workplace relationships.
So, how do you know if you’re experiencing gaslighting? Great question. Here are some specific signs to pay attention to.
- This behavior happens consistently, over a period of time, versus occasionally.
- Your thoughts and feelings are consistently invalidated. You’re told you are too sensitive, irrational, or not thinking straight.
- You’re told you are imagining things, that what you perceive as reality is not. “That’s not what happened.” “You do not know what you’re talking about.”
- The person gaslighting you denies doing something or saying something even when you have proof.
- The person gaslighting you intentionally creates confusion around a situation to make you second guess yourself.
- The person gets defensive when confronted about their behavior.
- You’re made out to be the bad guy. The person gaslighting you takes accusations made and directs them back at you, making you out to be the one who is being unfair or manipulative or making them behave a certain way. In other words, it is all your fault.
While this is not an all-inclusive list of signs, these are certainly some of the most common ones.
The obvious next question is, “What do I do if I believe I’m in a relationship of any type where gaslighting is happening?”
- First, reread the definition of gaslighting and review the specific signs to make sure gaslighting is happening.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Are you constantly questioning your own judgement and feelings, experiencing confusion when trying to make a decision, or frequently apologizing? Are you anxious all the time?
- Keep a journal. Write down events that occur, conversations with the person, and behavior you witness, so you have something to refer back to when you second guess yourself.
- Set boundaries. Depending on the situation, you might choose to not have conversations with the person without someone else present. It might be necessary to put some distance between you and the person you believe is gaslighting you. Distance can help you discern reality.
- Seek help. Find a qualified counselor to help you process what is happening and create a plan to move forward in a healthy direction.
- Establish a strong support system to encourage you, provide a safe space, and speak truth to you.
There are many types of unhealthy behaviors that can occur in marriage relationships, other romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships, and workplace relationships. However, unhealthy behavior is not automatically gaslighting. Understanding the definition of gaslighting and being able to identify the telltale signs of gaslighting is the first, and most important, step. Then, you can determine the next best steps for dealing with gaslighting and moving towards improved emotional, spiritual, and mental health.
If you are experiencing abuse in your marriage, or someone you know is, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. If someone is monitoring your device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. Learn more about what defines an abusive relationship.