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My first boyfriend and I finally made the leap to move in together. It was great: pizza and cuddles, hanging out together all times of the day, and long talks about what we wanted in life.
Then, it began to change. I had never believed I would experience gaslighting in a relationship.
We argued, but unlike previous arguments, I always felt like I was to blame, that the unhappiness we felt was because I wasn’t good enough. There were things happening around me that made me feel as if I was losing my mind.
Having experienced manipulation before while growing up, I finally realized my boyfriend was trying to manipulate me, but more than that, he was gaslighting me. He was intentionally trying to make me feel foolish and uncertain, running me down, and making me question my own sanity.
I was in an abusive relationship with a real narcissist, and gaslighting was his favorite weapon.
Have you ever experienced the same abuse in a relationship? Here’s the ultimate guide on what to look for, examples, and what to do to stop it.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a clever form of manipulation where the person in your life establishes control over you with tactics that mess with your perception of time, place, events, and people. Slowly and systematically, they start to make you doubt your perceptions until you feel like you are going crazy.
The term gaslighting was first used in the famous play (turned-black-and-white-film) by playwright Patrick Hamilton by the same name.
The antagonist in the movie convinces his wife that she’s going mad by constantly turning on the gaslight of the stove behind her back, making her believe that she’s the one doing it.
In life, and in your relationships, a gaslighter may use tactics that make you doubt yourself as it places them in a position of dominance.
Gaslighters are often narcissists who enjoy running the show and making their partners less so they can be more. Anyone can be a gaslighter, as the term is gender neutral.
How Gaslighting Affects Your Psyche
Aside from the obvious negative effect of feeling like you’re going mad, being gaslighted also has several other serious effects on your mental state.
Anxiety is a natural side effect of being gaslighted. A relationship should be a safe space where you can trust and be yourself. When your partner uses gaslighting, anxiety becomes a state of mind that always hangs around.
Since you feel that you’re not good enough because of the gaslighting behavior, you slip into depression. Your inner dialog takes a downward spiral, and your thoughts grow more and more bleak.
Having someone exert the kind of pressure and power that comes with gaslighting can lead to feeling traumatized and mentally shocked. Traumatized and abused, you become more and more unsure of yourself and lose hope.
Each of us has our own value that we self-assign. When your partner gaslights you, self-esteem and any concept of value becomes complicated. Instead of seeing yourself as able and worthy, you start to self-doubt, and you feel worthless and insufficient.
The worst of the mental effects of gaslighting is that you start to think the gaslighter is a helpful person who is just trying to assist you. Doubting yourself, you start to believe the gaslighter is right and that you deserve the abusive behavior.
This is how a relationship becomes a place of abusive behavior and mental torture.
Why Does Your Partner Gaslight You?
Since gaslighting is so detrimental to your mental health, why would your partner (who should love you) gaslight you? What do they gain from it?
When my first boyfriend gaslighted me, I was devastated, and I couldn’t understand the “why” of the situation. As soon as I started looking at the gains he had from this behavior, I had a chilling reality check.
Firstly, someone who gaslights you doesn’t love you. They love what they can get from you.
Secondly, they may gaslight because they have been exposed to this kind of behavior from childhood by toxic parents, and so they perpetuate the cycle of abusive behavior due to a broken inner child.
Thirdly, the gaslighter always has an objective with their behavior—it’s never unintentional.
The “Why” of Gaslighting from Your Partner’s Perspective
When your partner gaslights you, they hope to gain something. Here are a few popular gains your partner may get by messing with your mind:
When a gaslighter is in trouble with their partner or caught out for doing something that is wrong, they use gaslighting to unbalance their partner and deflect the focus away from their crime and back at their partner’s supposed issues.
Any time you argue with your partner and they shut you up with a gaslighting tactic, they are deflecting and use it to stop the conflict. They can’t have mature discussions that are hard, so they’d rather make you feel insecure and responsible for the discord.
As with arguments, gaslighters use their nefarious tactics to keep the focus on you, so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions or lack of actions. Instead, you feel like you are the one who failed… when in reality, it’s the gaslighter who is running your relationship into trouble.
Gaslighters and narcissists love partners who are people-pleasers. These villains love having someone who works for them. If their partner shows any signs of no longer wanting to be the doer in the relationship, they will use gaslighting to smooth over bumps so their partner can continue serving them.
Gaslighting is a way to convince you that your partner is in control. They like the power of being able to make you rise or fall. The high of being able to pull your strings is what they get off on.
It may seem inconceivably evil, but gaslighters love messing with you just because. What hurts you satisfies them. Feeling like they can run your life, they feel as if they are the only person you rely on, and they will also isolate you from all others in your life. You are their toy.
Children who were exposed to gaslighting behavior may have learned that this is how you treat someone you “love.” Gaslighting becomes their default behavior to get what they want in all situations.
Examples of Relationship Gaslighting
So how does your partner gaslight you? Sadly, you’ve probably been gaslighted and didn’t even realize it. I’d wager many of us have.
They Deny It Happened
When your partner tells you that it never happened like that, they are effectively telling you that you remember something incorrectly. This is a strategy to deflect your feelings and make you question your right to feel and remember what you do.
Over time, you start to wonder whether you recall what happened correctly or not. If the abuser is skilled enough, you will start to believe their version of reality.
Pulling in Outside “Help”
They may claim you acted unseemingly, and to reinforce their accusation, a gaslighter may say that others also said you were acting badly. Soon, you only remember that others were unhappy with you, and you may even believe the gaslighter is trying to help you.
“I’m Sorry You Feel That Way”
It’s not an apology when a gaslighter says this. Instead, it’s an example of them deflecting your feelings and once again making you question your interpretation of things. Usually, such a statement is followed by an explanation of why your feelings are misplaced.
Worse, their “sincerity” makes you feel like you are the bad guy!
They Accuse You of Being Crazy
A boyfriend who says his girlfriend is crazy to believe he’d actually cheat on her is turning the focus to why the girlfriend thinks something and whether she’s being unfaithful with her thoughts by not believing in him.
Instead of answering her questions, he makes her doubt her own loyalty to him.
Asking If You Can’t See They Love You
Again, you may confront your partner about something they have done that upset you, and you are again derailed by the question of whether you can’t see they love you. Vilifying you, the abuser makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong.
7 Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship
Now you know what gaslighting is and what some examples of it may look like, you should look for these warning signs that can indicate you are in an abusive relationship where gaslighting is the weapon of choice.
1. You Wonder If It Happened Like That
Twisting your reality, the gaslighter will make you doubt your memory and interpretation of what happened. Look for phrases like:
“Aw, it didn’t happen like that.”
“That’s not what happened.”
“Are you sure that’s what was said?”
“But I’m sure it didn’t go down like that.”
“Why would I do that?”
Whenever you start to question what you remember or what you feel, you are being gaslighted.
Stop It: To stop this type of manipulation, keep a record of events as soon as they happened. Write down everything you can remember immediately after an event that upset you. Keep a record of what was said, looks, facts, and feelings.
Don’t share this record with the gaslighter as they will try to dissuade you from doing this. Instead, reference it in private to help you keep a grasp on YOUR reality.
2. Emotional Invalidation
“You’re being too sensitive, and it’s clouding your judgment.”
Words like this indicate the gaslighter doesn’t validate what you feel. Instead, they will use phrases like the one above to make you feel ashamed of what you feel.
The purpose of this shame is to make you believe you are in error and the weaker partner in the relationship.
Stop It: When your partner accuses you of being overly sensitive, take the time to evaluate your own feelings. Don’t take your partner’s view as the truth. Instead, think about what happened, listing events in logical steps.
Next, ask yourself whether the behavior of your partner is acceptable or if it’s not. Are your feelings appropriate in this situation, regardless of what your partner may say?
3. They Bulldoze
A gaslighter will run over their partner to get what they want. They have little consideration for their partner’s feelings, even if it seems like they care. Real feeling requires emotional investment, but a gaslighter has no investment beyond what they can take. Gaslighters don’t build a relationship with you—they bulldoze you (sometimes in a violent way).
Stop It: Evaluate whether your partner’s actions build your relationship or break it down. A successful relationship requires that both partners work at it, and if your partner’s not working on your relationship, they are not your partner.
Don’t be a doormat to your partner. If they can’t respect you and let you talk about how you feel, then it’s time to leave.
4. They Don’t Feel Your Pain
In a healthy relationship, both partners care deeply for each other and have empathy with each other. If your partner doesn’t really care or express sorrow that you are hurt, it indicates they lack feeling.
They can’t empathize with your pain or realize when they have caused you pain. When they are responsible for hurting you, they feel no remorse.
Stop It: Gaslighters who deny your pain and don't own up to their responsibility for your feelings are not worth sticking around for. Validate your own feelings by using your outside support network (if the gaslighter hasn’t already isolated you).
5. It’s Your Fault
If your partner constantly tells you that you are to blame for things that went wrong, even when you’re not involved or responsible for what happened, they are gaslighting you. The goal is to make you feel guilty, which will leave you vulnerable and easier to manipulate into doing stuff for them.
Stop It: Use logic to beat your gaslighting partner’s reasoning. Determine whose fault something is by looking at evidence. Use your journal for this. Don’t react to their accusations, instead act.
6. It’s Not Their Fault
When we do wrong, we should own up. If your partner can never accept blame or ask forgiveness, they are typical gaslighters.
Instead of owning up, they blame outside forces. They lost their job because others were victimizing them or they were distracted by what’s happening in your life (so it’s your fault, right?).
Stop It: Don’t believe their excuses when you know that they should carry at least some of the blame. Use clear language and ask them what they consider as their burden of blame in the situation.
If they keep saying they didn’t do anything wrong, they are trying to manipulate you. Walk away when they keep blaming or guilting you into carrying their blame.
7. You Can’t Share
A relationship is a space where being safe and comfortable sharing feelings without fear of accusation or judgment is a core value. A gaslighter partner will use your confessed feelings and thoughts against you, defiling your trust.
Stop It: Share in a safe space such as with a therapist or good friend. Get outside views on what you are going through and then decide the way forward.
Final Thoughts on Gaslighting in a Relationship
Gaslighting in a relationship is particularly insidious. It’s a violation of the deepest trust as your home is where you should be safe and protected. When your partner gaslights you, they are targeting you with merciless agendas that only benefit them, usually at your cost.
Watch for the signs, consider that your partner may not have your best interest at heart, and decide on the best way forward to live a happy and safe life. You deserve it.
Unfortunately, the home isn’t the only place where gaslighting happens. Read about gaslighting in the workplace and learn to avoid the trap of narcissistic colleagues.