- Gaslighting is a psychologically abusive form of manipulation that occurs in dating and relationships.
- When someone is gaslighting you, they exert power over you and make you think you’ve lost your ability to think, remember, and rationalize.
- There are several key signs to watch out for. Here’s how to spot it if your partner is gaslighting you.
There are so many dating terms these days, it’s hard to keep up. Some may be more popular than others, such as ghosting – disappearing on the person you’re seeing without a trace – while others may be more dangerous.
Gaslighting falls into the latter category, since it’s a manipulative tool some people use in their romantic relationships.
“Gaslighting is a psychological tactic used to make another person believe they are losing their mind,” Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show,” told Business Insider. “It is literally a manipulative attempt at making another person think they are losing their ability to think, remember, and be rational.”
According to Vox, the term “gaslighting” became popular with the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” which was based on the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. In the psychological thriller, a husband, Gregory (Charles Boyer) “gaslights” his wife, Paula (Ingrid Bergman).
Throughout the movie, she questions her sanity, and her husband convinces her she’s acting strange. For example, when Paula notices that the gaslights in the home have been dimmed, Gregory lies and tells her she’s imagining things, which makes her believe she’s going crazy.
Here are some signs of gaslighting to watch out for.
1. They deny things you’ve said or done.
Being forgetful sometimes happens to everybody, but gaslighters take “forgetfulness” to a whole other level.
“If your partner begins to call into question things you have said or done by saying they didn’t happen, it’s a sign they may be gaslighting you,” Klapow said. “Or they will make statements about things you have said or done that you know you didn’t do. You may temporarily ask yourself ‘Could this be true?’ or ‘Did I really not say or do that?'”
He said to pay attention to how you are feeling if something doesn’t seem right.
2. They use manipulative language.
- Damir Sagolj/Reuters
“It often occurs in abusive relationships, as it is a form of emotional abuse. For example, if you don’t do something they want you to do, they may say something like, ‘Mhmm, you know, if you really loved me, you would do this for me,'” she said.
3. They project what they’re doing onto their partner.
- Shutterstock/Ana Blazic Pavlovic
If the gaslighter is guilty of something, they may project it on to their partner instead.
“A common one is if they are cheating,” Cole said. “If so, they will continually accuse their partner of being unfaithful. Maybe the partner has to stay late at work and the gaslighter will say, in an aggressive tone, something like, ‘Sure, you had to stay late at work. Who were you with? Who is she/he?'”
4. They always need to be right.
In relationships, no one likes to be “wrong” during arguments and discussions, but gaslighters in particular cannot be wrong. Beatty Cohan, a nationally recognized psychotherapist and sex therapist and author of “For Better, for Worse, Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love,” weighed in. “Gaslighters always need to be right,” she told Business Insider. “There is no win-win resolution – they need to be the winner and you, the loser.”
5. They prey on your insecurities.
Everyone has insecurities, but gaslighters know how to use them against you, and for their benefit.
“Gaslighters have the power – if we allow them – to make us feel invalidated and to make us feel WRONG,” Cohan said. “They prey on our vulnerabilities and insecurities, like low self-esteem.”
6. They blame you and make you second-guess … everything.
Second-guessing decisions is a part of life, but doing so excessively can be a result of a gaslighter prompting you to do so.
“A perfect example is a patient of mine who’d been dating an alcoholic – he was charming, witty, and very handsome,” Cohan said. “When she discovered that her anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications were gone, she suspected that he took them. But he reminded her of how depressed she was and that she probably couldn’t remember where she put her pills. She ended up finding them at the bottom of his sock drawer.”
7. They question your mental health.
While it’s nice if your partner is concerned about your mental health, someone who’s gaslighting you will be concerned at an extreme level – even if you think you’re fine.
“They may tell you they are worried about you, that you don’t seem to be remembering things accurately, and that they find it strange how you could not see the ‘truth’ the way they do,” Dr. Klapow said. “Additionally, they may suggest you get help for your ‘problem.'”
8. If you try to leave, they won’t make it easy.
Ending a relationship with a gaslighter can be difficult, since they are such master manipulators.
“Listen to your intuition – if something feels off, it is,” Cole said. “In terms of leaving this relationship, you will probably be told things like, ‘No one is going to want to be with you,’ ‘You can’t make it without me,’ et cetera. But stay strong. Know that this is another gaslighting tactic, and that they are trying to make you feel bad so that you don’t leave.”
She added that the gaslighter probably treats you well in front of others, so it’s best to get support from a therapist for objective help, as well as to help you recover from the emotionally abusive relationship.