Gaslighting 101: How to Spot it and How to Stop it

Gaslighting is a term that describes a specific pattern of emotional and psychological abuse.  This form of abuse can result in serve psychological damage if gone uninterrupted. The term has often been over-used, however, there are also many spouses and partners who are victims of gaslighting and don’t even know it.  Below is a brief overview of gaslighting, as well as tips to stop it.

Where Did the Term “Gaslighting” Come From?

The term ‘gaslighting’ originally came from a play (later turned into a movie) called Gas Light, in which a wife was victimized and psychologically manipulated by her husband.  The husband in the play attempted to convince his wife that she was insane, delusional, and remembering this incorrectly, when in fact, she was completely sane.  His goal was to have his wife doubt her own perceptions in order to benefit his own selfish endeavors.

What is Gaslighting

Gaslighting can be a conscious or unconscious act, done by a ‘abuser’ to a ‘victim’ to distort the victim’s reality and thinking, through causing them to question their own thought process.  The abuser undermines the reality the victim is experiencing by denying facts and dismissing their feelings.  The goal of gaslighting is to manipulate the victim and cause them to turn against their cognition, emotions, and who they are as people.

Signs of Gaslighting by an Abuser

  1. The abuser will withhold information from the victim.
  2. The abuser will discount information by the victim or counter the information to push the abuser’s objective.
  3. The abuser will minimize the victim’s worth and undermine them by weakening their thought process.
  4. The abuser tells blatant lies.
  5. The abuser denies they ever said or did something, even when you have proof.
  6. The abuser uses sentimental elements against you.
  7. Their actions do not match their words.
  8. They will project their own bad acts onto you, often accusing you of things they have done.
  9. They will try to align people to turn on you and will tell others you are a liar and are crazy.

Common Phrases that Abusers Use While Gaslighting Include:You’re just paranoid,” “You are making that up,” “Don’t get so worked up,” “You are always so dramatic” “You just love to throw me off track,” or “You don’t remember things clearly.”

How Do You Know If You Are a Victim of Gaslighting?

Do you find yourself always being the one to apologize in the relationship, even when you didn’t originally feel like you did anything wrong? Perhaps you often feel confused or crazy when you are in a disagreement with your spouse. You may be questioning why you aren’t happier, if you are good enough, or maybe even why you struggle making simple decisions. Do you find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behavior, or questioning if you are ‘too sensitive’? If any of these questions are ringing a bell, there is a good chance that you have experienced gaslighting at some point in your relationship.

What Causes People to Gaslight

Every situation is unique, but typically the motivation or cause behind a person gaslighting is to gain control in a relationship.  It is a way to deflect responsibility and accountability and to ensure that the partner in the relationship still stays hooked by tearing them down. This is usually a tactic that is picked up over time, and it is a habit that can be broken if the abuser is willing to change.

How to Stop It

First and foremost, if you are a victim of gaslighting, it is important to seek counseling, even if the gaslighting does stop. However, below are tips on how to stop an abuser from continuing to gaslight or at least minimize the impact it can have on you.

  1. Remember that their actions and words are not a reflection of you; it is about their need for control.
  2. Do not get caught up in being right or wrong. In the abuser’s eyes, you will always be wrong if you do not agree with them.
  3. Be clear and be rational when you are speaking to a ‘gaslighter.’ They operate off of irrational behavior, do not give into it.
  4. Recognize the patterns of behavior. Look out for the language and patterns listed above. This will help prepare you on how to handle the conversation better.
  5. Take time to rebuild your self-esteem. This is very important for victims of gaslighting, because they are often left with feeling confused. Rebuild your self-esteem, and do not be afraid to stick up for what you know is true.
  6. Keep in mind some phrases of your own to use, to shut the abuse down: “We remember things differently,” “I am walking away from this conversation,” “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will not engage in a conversation with you,” “We can speak about ___ and ____, but we are not going to speak about _____.”

Some Final Words About Gaslighting

Gaslighting is more than just feeling like your partner is questioning your actions, or the occasional tit-for-tat argument.  Gaslighting is a very serious form of psychological abuse that is rooted in a need for control and is done to break down a victim and make them feel incapable of making any decisions.  Gaslighting can lead to self-esteem issues, psychosis, anxiety, and depression when not treated.  Serious cases of abuse that contain gaslighting will need to be addressed with a mental health counselor.  However, absence willingness from an abuser to change, there is little hope for recovery amongst couples. If you are a victim of gaslighting, we encourage you to reach out to a professional for help and find a way to end the abusive cycle.