Gaslighting in relationships. Noticing the emotional costs of confusion, insecurity, and self-doubt.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting in a form of psychological abuse whereby a person creates a situation which causes someone to doubt their perception of reality, their memory, or even their sanity. It is done so that a person can evade responsibility for their actions. This leaves the person who experienced gaslighting feeling confused, angry, unsure, or even guilty for trying to speak about their experience.
Noticing the presence of gaslighting in relationships
If you feel yourself feeling hurt because your emotions are not validated, angry that someone is always having the upper hand, or guilty for creating tension in the relationship and always apologising, or wonder if you are good enough for that person, it would be helpful to check for the presence of gaslighting in your relationship. Let me share a few examples.
1. “Stop trying to always make things personal/ about you”
When the opportunity to speak about things that matter to you is taken away, your experiences are invalidated. This means that you are made to feel that your personal experiences are not important. It also creates an obstacle of having to wonder if your opinions are important enough to be raised which helps to protect the gaslighter.
2. “The other people/ couples don’t seem to have a problem”
Off-the-cuff social observations about the opinions from most people may be raised by the gaslighter. In some cultures, traditional rules of roles in the relationship may also be brought up to silence someone. This makes you doubt the validity of your concerns, if your concerns are out of the norm. In addition, it is hard to determine how prevalent are the opinions of others as raised by the gaslighter, or how valid the statement is. This causes the argument to change into a debate on the validity of the statement, and distracts the conversation away from your initial concerns.
3. “Why are you always choosing to talk about unhappy things”
When you accused of rocking the boat, and a disrupter of peace, the gaslighter succeeds in placing themselves in the role of an innocent victim. By making you feel bad, or even the aggressor for bringing up a topic, it automatically puts you in a weaker position and helps to protect the gaslighter.
4. “Are you sure this even happened?”
In more extreme scenarios, a gaslighter may pretend that what you are talking about did not actually happen or does not make sense. It makes you feel that your memory of the event may not even be real. Grounding or the trust the validity of your identity and perceptions is important in helping you feel stable and secure. When you start to question your own perception, identity and reality, you begin to feel insecure and pessimistic, and more reliant on the gaslighter for approval, safety and security.
Why does someone practice gaslighting?
Unfortunately, gaslighting is practiced because it works. It is in a powerful tool to protect oneself and to control others. Due to its subtle nature and reliance on a state of confusion, it can be practiced on someone without them being aware of it. Gaslighting stems from a desire to control the relationship, to feel ‘in charge’, and a difficulty with accepting that someone has wronged another person.
A person who practices gaslighting may have themselves experienced being controlled in a similar fashion by someone in authority. Knowingly, the gaslighter may just be replicating the strategies that have been applied to them as they are so effective. Unknowingly, the gaslighter may be replicating this approach to problem solving, as they feel that it is normal, having not had the chance to experience other healthier approaches. Finally, they may not have the awareness or appreciation of the long-term emotional cost to their relationship, in exchange for the short- term gain of protecting themselves.
What should we do?
If you are experiencing gaslighting in your relationship, or notice that your practice of gaslighting is causing damage to your relationship, it would be good idea to speak to a clinical psychologist. This would help you notice your blind spots, why you are susceptible to being controlled by others, or why you find it difficult to stop using gaslighting as an approach to problems.
I wish that you all find happiness and balance in your relationship.