Do you often start questioning what’s really true – or even your own sanity – within your relationship? If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call “gaslighting.”
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out.
It is a very effective form of emotional abuse which causes you to question your own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power. Once an abusive partner has broken down your ability to trust your own perceptions, you are more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.
There are several different gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use:
The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made. For example: “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
The abusive partner questions your memory of events, even when you remember them accurately. For example: “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
The abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. For example: “I don’t want to hear this again.”
The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions your thoughts. For example: “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?”
The abusive partner makes your needs or feelings seem unimportant. For example: “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and you can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and even lose all sense of what is actually happening. You may even start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.
In order to overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognising the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:
- You constantly second-guess yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You’re always apologizing to your partner.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behaviour to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.