what is gaslighting

What is gaslighting and how it can ruin your mental stability?


Imagine that you’re returning home in the evening, with the hope to have a nice warm bath, chatting with your loved one, and maybe, having a wonderful dinner together. 

You’re almost home, in the elevator, searching for the keys in your bag. 

Suddenly you realize there are no keys in your bag. At first, you’re perfectly calm: maybe they’ve fallen through some of your stuff. Or squeezed through some small hole in fabrics. 

You’re searching more intensively, but your fingers cannot find anything cold & metal among your stuff. 

The door lock is clicking. It’s your husband: he’s leaning from behind the door and smiling. 

He lets you in and gives you a warm hug. While you’re rambling on about the lost keys, he’s hustling in the bedroom. 

You’re going to the kitchen to grab a bite. When you’re back in the hall, he’s standing there with your keys gleaming in his hands. 

Honey, these keys? Where do your thoughts fly? They were in your bag, next to your purse. Oh, dear, you’ve been so absent-minded lately…

What is gaslighting in relationships

“Ok, something is obviously misleading,” you think, because, surely, you’ve searched carefully, running through every corner of your bag, and nothing was there. YOUR KEYS WERE NOT IN THE BAG. 

However, your husband wouldn’t lie to you, right? What’s the point?

But there is a point if your partner is a gaslighter.

what is gaslighting

The purpose behind gaslighting is to make you question your own memories and perception of reality. The technique is widely used among abusers as it lets them gain control over their victims.

Now imagine that this unhealthy situation repeats time after time? First keys, then you’re convinced that a particular conversation never happened. What’s next? You’ll start doubting your perception, won’t you?

The term gaslighting derives from a popular 1944 movie “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman, adapted from a play by Patrick Hamilton. In the film, the main character purposefully flickers gaslights in the house’s attics, so his trusting wife can see them. He then denies the fact of this happening, convincing his wife that the lights she sees are only her delusions, pushing her slightly to the verge of madness.

Aside from creating noise in the house and causing gas lights flickering, the husband, who is the main character, repeatedly tells his wife that she’s forgetful, careless, and even kleptomaniac. He also isolates her from society so she cannot find support, which makes the victim more vulnerable to coercive control. 

At its core, gaslighting is psychological abuse that exists in the form of sophisticated technique, which is carried out gradually. To burn their victims’ mental sanity, abusers repeat their manipulations time after time until an individual starts doubting his/her own judgments.

Why Do Partners Become Gaslighters?

gaslighting

Gaslighters are typically people with different psychological disorders. They’re usually compulsive liars, sociopaths, chemical abuse, or individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder. 

One thing that unites all these types is their tendency to turn blame on to others. The severity of other symptoms may vary: they can be prone to exaggerating their achievements, believe they’re superior to others, insisting on having the best of everything, be arrogant, possessive, etc. 

The bottom line is gaslighters are trying to convince you that you’re crazy. They’ll go to the greatest extent to arrange things in a way that leaves no doubt you’re losing your mind. Of course, people who are able to make such things happen to others are not just mentally unstable; they’re ill. Such disorders require treatments, and the longer you stay in such relationships, the more your ruin not only your own sanity but his (or her) mental health as well. 

7 signs of gaslighting in relationships

Human nature is a wondrous thing. It can play a sick joke, but only if you agree to this. Low self-reliance, poor sense of identity, unhealthy boundaries, the need to please others —are characteristics that make you vulnerable to manipulations. 

If you’re not sure whether your partner is gaslighting you or not, here are some alarming behaviors.

#1 Sign Of Gaslighting: Blatant lies

Gaslighters are pathological liars. But do they create their lies intentionally?

Not always. Being psychologically vulnerable, they usually have problems coping with reality themselves. The world contradicts what they want to be true and causes much pain. That’s why they can indeed see things the way they tell. Other times it’s just a story they come up with. 

When you confront them with facts, they’re batted away. They never back down and change stories, even if you present evidence.

#2 Sign Of Gaslighting: Ongoing mood swings

Living with a gaslighter gradually turns into walking on eggshells: a victim is afraid of unexpected outbursts, thus, adjusting behavior. As time passes, they learn some patterns that allow them to avoid fights, threatening, or whatever scares them.

#3 Sign Of Gaslighting: Minimising your thoughts

When victims think they’re going crazy, gaslighters imply that it’s nothing: “you’re over-dramatic,” “too sensitive,” “inattentive,” and so forth. They imply that the experience is not important, or wrong, marginalizing the victim’s pain.

#4 Sign Of Gaslighting: Scapegoating

The best defense is a good offense — that’s the principle. Gaslighters want their victims to confuse the cause with the effect. To achieve that, they methodically manufacture anxiety about possible infidelity or any other unfaithful actions. They torture their victims with constant suspicion, accusations, stalking, and sparks of jealousy.

The point is, many gaslighters are actually cheaters themselves. By accusing partners for being unfaithful, they take the light off themselves, sometimes playing too harsh, so the victims end up in psychosis or, at best, neurosis.

Projection of own actions onto other people is common among gaslighters and abusers; they believe others are just the same: liars, manipulators, and cheaters. Forming a supposed truth out of events is also a part of their delusions, which helps them to continue behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner as a part of their controlling behavior.

#5 Sign Of Gaslighting: Isolation and numbness

Eventually, a victim becomes an observer of own life rather than someone who acts. By limiting interactions with friends, family and wider community, gaslighters become victim’s life guardians. The only opinion that exists belongs to gaslighters. 

This technique makes it much easier to further imply that the victim’s life is in the hands of a gaslighter. With no assistance from whosoever, a victim starts feeling lonely, powerless, intimidated. When gaslighting starts, they double-guess their memories and perception because no one else can confirm their words.

#6 Sign Of Gaslighting: Own skeletons in the closet 

Another purpose behind this technique is to hide one’s own extracurricular sexual behaviors. Gaslighters may play the “husband role” very well, putting the net around their families, so it seems like everyone is happy there. 

In reality, while a partner (women in most cases) is sitting home, with friends and family groomed, concentrating on her husband’s needs, he might be out there having an affair. 

Why? Because, going back to the definition of the term, gaslighters are people with mental health issues. Those living with addiction use gaslighting to force their victims to keep quiet about their problem (which is not a problem for them, of course). 

Those with narcissistic personality disorder gain some sense of control by making others depend on them. And that is what they desperately crave. 

For people with mental health issues controlling impulsive emotions is quite hard, if not impossible. Cheating is usually another way to find worth in life. It is the same thing as addiction: once you feel unsatisfied, you go searching for anything capable of giving your deeper emotions. 

Of course, cheating is not fulfilling. But for gaslighters it’s a short-term rescue. It has nothing to do with you; it’s a disease that can be treated. 

#7 Sign Of Gaslighting: Flipping the roles

When the victim is saturated with self-doubt, gaslighters easily change the script as convenient to them: loving and caring today, suspicious and furious the next day. They manipulate as much as they want, turning the life of a victim into hell, where nothing is clear: the black becomes white and the white can be black (why not). 

Gaslighters have no respect for other people’s feelings. It might SEEM like they care about you, but frankly, they don’t. If they did, they would have never caused emotional pain or act in a way as you belong to them.

Again, gaslighting is a disease, and there is no point in placing blame. For those who recognize their story here, we would suggest leaving such a relationship for your own sake and for your partner’s safety as well. 

The longer you indulge this sick behavior, the worse effect it has on both of you. It’s your imperative as the sane person to take action and leave this marriage/relationship, thereby, giving your partner a chance to realize he’s acting wrong.

How to deal with gaslighting

Supposed you’ve identified your partner as a gaslighter. The question is, what’s next?

  1. The first thing you need to realize is that he won’t change until you’re staying in this relationship. No more “maybe he’s sorry, he’s just confused.” He’s not. He will make you accept blame for what happened, he’ll make you suffer, and he definitely won’t feel sorry about it.
  2. Second: gaslighters have a bottomless void; they always look for someone/something to fill it up. Just memorize this. Until the problem is professionally treated, they’ll cheat, lie, abuse substances, and try many other things that, possibly, can ease their emotional state for a while. It’s not your responsibility to save your relationship, neither it’s you who must save them from falling downhill. If you allowed yourself to enter such a relationship, it means you also need professional aid, and now it’s imperative to focus on you, not your partner.
  3. Prepare for the reaction. Yes, it’s difficult to leave an abuser, but staying in a relationship where you’re an empty place can never end in something good. Choose growth. Find yourself support, find literature to read, because it will be hard for you to bear all by yourself. 

Confront safely 

To get proof of cheating, there is no need to travel distant lands. A simple spy app and one week of spying on your spouse’s phone is enough to reveal hidden conversations or suspicious phone calls. Some apps even allow you to access the photo gallery and social media accounts.

Data recovery report from his cell phone can easily reveal if he’s cheating/having an affair. 

Once you’re armed with bullet-proof evidence, you’re defeated against the gaslighter. Anyone who is betrayed by adultery is free to end the marriage with divorce. Choose the method to confront him safely, for example, by involving other people, or getting professional help. 

It may be hard to deny the words you’re saying, but one cannot turn down visual evidence.

FAQ

– What is a gaslighter personality?

The signs of borderline disorder, narcissism, addictiveness, and gaslighting are very similar. These conditions are associated with extreme mood swings, self-destructiveness, manipulative behaviors, delusions, an inflated sense of self-importance, toxic relationships that include constant lying and blame-shifting. Gaslighting is usually a sign of a much bigger problem, as emotionally or physically abusive relationships.

– What are examples of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting refers to any behavior that makes you doubt your own perception of reality. It can be denial of events, countering, trivializing your feelings. As a result, you feel like you’re losing your mind. 

For example, your partner may accuse you of something you’re not responsible for. No matter how hard you’ll try to prove your innocence, he or she will keep presenting facts that prove the reverse. In the end, you’ll think that something is probably wrong with you. 

– Do gaslighters know they are Gaslighting?

No always. A gaslighter can actually believe what he says. It is a complex mental illness that is often misunderstood. 

– Is Gaslighting passive-aggressive?

Yes, gaslighting refers to passive-aggressive behavior.

– Can Gaslighting be unintentional?

Yes, gaslighting is a mental illness that causes many dysfunctions. A person may not realize the condition he’s in.

– Why do men gaslight?

There are many reasons that build up such a personality. As we mentioned, gaslighting is usually an indicator of a much bigger problem. Individuals who use this method may suffer from BPD (borderline personality disorder), substance addiction, narcissistic personality disorder, and others. A history of childhood trauma, social & psychological factors may be the root of the problem.

Norman Linkous is a senior writer for the askdougandchris. He worked as a writer for relationship websites. My career as a dating coach began about 3 years ago when I had a dating problem of my own and sought out help from mentors who helped me. My Medium blog is https://normanlinkous.medium.com/

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