Take out your notebooks, cause today we’re learning a very important lesson about “gaslighting.” What is it? How do you identify the signs? How do you stop it? Keep reading for the answers!
I constantly hear people throw around the word “gaslight” without any clear definition. Gaslighting has been heavily discussed, especially in social media settings, and many users have chimed in with their hot take on this topic. The first time I heard this term, I was in high school. Beforehand, I was familiar with the effects of gaslighting, but I did not have a word for it. As a preteen, I normalized feeling discredited, undermined, and sometimes crazy. Far too many women experience this in relationships. After speaking to my therapist, my feelings were finally validated when I heard about gaslighting.
At first, I found the term to be very confusing, as the definition was very broad. Susan Mork and Suzanne Falck, both medical professionals, define gaslighting as “a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them.” While definitions can be helpful to hear, I want to dig in a little deeper by analyzing my own personal experience with gaslighting. I have curated a list of five signs of gaslighting (especially in relationships), so the next time you feel gaslit, you can call it like you see it!
1. You feel confused by your emotions.
This is probably the most obvious effect. You question the validity of your emotions, wondering if your feelings should be hurt by your partner’s actions. It is confusing, and you start to feel a little crazy, foolish, and possibly delusional. You doubt yourself and end up apologizing for how you feel. This directs blame right back to you. The partner who wronged you makes you question your integrity, which is so incredibly destructive. There is no acknowledgement of your feelings; you do not feel heard, and lastly, you feel crazy. Phrases that a gaslighter often uses include:
“You are just paranoid.”
“I do not know why you’re making such a big deal out of nothing.”
Phrases like these are a major red flag! This tactic is dismissive, as it minimizes the bigger issue at hand. The gaslighter wants you to question your own sanity. They take no accountability and place the blame back on you. You should never apologize when your feelings are hurt. These emotions are valid. There are productive, healthy ways to work out hurt feelings in a relationship, and genuine acknowledgement from your partner is the first step.
2. Deny, deny, deny!
Once again, this tactic aims to confuse you, as you question your own reality. Has there ever been a moment in your life where you clearly remembered a situation and how it made you feel? And when you gather up the courage to confront someone, they just completely deny anything ever happening? It’s confusing and frustrating, as your realities seem to clash.
This method is designed to discredit you. Your partner refuses to take any ownership for their actions, despite evidence pointing to the contrary. This leads you to question your truth. Phrases often correlated with deflecting blame include:
“You’re imagining things!”
“I NEVER did that.”
This discounts your conception of reality. If there are moments where you begin to question your sanity, this may be a result of gaslighting. Imagine having the audacity to call someone a liar for something that clearly took place! You know your truth.
3. They manipulate the conversation by choosing loving words.
Repeat after me: Love is not enough to sustain a healthy relationship. Your partner may choose compassionate words to excuse their actions. It is meant to disguise their image with deceivingly compassionate phrases. If you express feeling hurt by your partner, and their responses include:
“But you know I will always love you!”
“Do you think I would actually hurt someone I love on purpose?”
They are merely avoiding the issue at hand. Sometimes, they make jokes out of the situation that you do not initially find comical. This is a form of manipulation that attempts to make light of a very serious situation. The gaslighter also aims to sustain a positive and kind image of themselves. They may “love you,” but you need to understand that their actions are more important than their words. A simple “I love you” does not excuse their actions.
4. They minimize serious situations.
This is an attempt to reframe and twist the narrative of the conversation. It minimizes your feelings, because the gaslighter wants to hold power over you. Some phrases often said are:
“This is not a big deal.”
Sometimes, they simply laugh during a serious conversation. The gaslighter can try to make jokes as a way to make you feel like “you're never fun.” It paints this picture that you are the killjoy in the relationship. As such, you may analyze your relationship to understand if you are the problem.
5. You are worried if you are overly sensitive with your feelings.
This consistent deflecting and blaming may lead you to question your level of sensitivity. Being a sensitive person is looked down on in this society. If someone calls you sensitive, it makes you feel inferior, like you need to grow some tough skin. In relationships, you are allowed to establish boundaries with your partner. This clarifies to them what will hurt your feelings. However, if they minimize how you feel by calling you sensitive, that is gaslighting. Sometimes, your partner will say or act in a way that will hurt you, and their responses may include:
“I was just joking.”
“You take things too seriously.”
This implies that their actions were a joke, and leads you to feel like you are hypersensitive. Suddenly, a wall is placed between you and your partner, as you struggle to communicate your feelings. You feel unheard and you start to prioritize how they feel, not how you feel.
As a woman, I am all too familiar with gaslighting. But to be very honest, nobody is perfect, and my partner has also called me out when he feels gaslit. It is not easy to take ownership when you have wronged someone. And sometimes, gaslighting does not always come from a place of bad intentions, but it is still destructive. That is why familiarizing yourself with signs of gaslighting can help you call it out, in your partner, or in yourself. It also helps you understand how to communicate with your partner in an effective manner. Pay attention to how your partner receives your emotional input. Do you feel heard or do you feel dismissed? Observe their actions because ultimately, it will reflect who they really are.
Written by: Rita Colom