Gaslighting is the term that has taken over social media and search engines by storm. In fact, gaslighting has recently been named Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Year” for 2022. The term originated from the 1944 film, Gaslight. For those of you who may not have seen it, the moviedetailed a husband’s attempt to drive his wife crazy by turning gas lights on and off in their home.
Nowadays, we see gaslighting referred to as the destructive behavior that causes a victim to question their sanity and cling more tightly to a perpetrator. Gaslighting has become a very popular term to use within close relationships, such as intimate relationships or work relationships. For this blog, we’ll focus on gaslighting within an intimate relationship, such as with a partner. Please keep in mind that only a mental health professional can diagnose. If you suspect your partner might be gaslighting you, I encourage you to talk to me or one of our other mental health professionals at SEVN Therapy Co. so that we can focus on your mental health and get you help.
Gaslighting and Your Mental Health
Gaslighting is primarily used as a tool for domination. According to Merriam-Webster, gaslighting is, the “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, the uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a leading clinical psychologist in narcissistic behavior. She explains that gaslighting someone requires a specific type of power imbalance within the relationship. For example, one person might be considered “unstable,” while the other partner is considered “stable.”
According to Dr. Ramani, Gaslighting involves three characteristics:
- Denial of a person’s reality, which leads to…
- Negative self-reflection and negative self-image and…
- Repeated behavior.
Let’s deep dive into these three characteristics.
Denial of a person’s reality.
If you’ve been in an intimate relationship with someone, you have probably heard the phrase: “I didn’t say that!” or maybe, “That’s not what I meant!” When recalling conversations or even decisions, our memories are not perfect. However, when an intimate partner causes their spouse to second-guess their behavior, we may, emphasis on MAY, have the beginning acts of gaslighting.
Gaslighting typically occurs with those we’re close to. Think of it like this: If a stranger told you that you didn’t say or do something, you would probably question the stranger. But if someone you love does the same thing, you’re more likely to second-guess yourself. Reading this, you may feel like your actions or ideas are constantly being questioned by your partner. In that case, you may want to talk with a mental health professional to determine if this behavior is considered gaslighting.
Negative self-reflection and self-image.
The purpose of gaslighting is to attack one’s character.If your partner second-guesses you occasionally, they may not have malicious intentions. If they’re attacking you for your thoughts, opinions, behaviors, or choices, that might mean something more sinister is happening.
Those who are being gaslighted may start to question their own thoughts, behaviors, and intentions.The tragedy with this is that the victim rarely questions the person doing the gaslighting. Instead, they tend to only question themself. When this happens, all the attention falls on the inadequacy of the victim, which can further push them to distrust themself and rely more heavily on someone else, such as the perpetrator, to feel a sense of security.
Before we start labeling all our partner’s actions as gaslighting, we must be sure that the behavior is repeated. There are genuine moments where your partner, or you for that matter, may have forgotten, misquoted, or misunderstood the other. Especially in intimate relationships, we want to create a safe environment where a trusted loved one can kindly correct us or ask for clarification with grace. However, when someone is repeatedly questioning you, your motives, and your understanding *in a vicious manner* that behavior is something to note. Again, the best move for a victim of gaslighting is to invest in the help of a mental health professional who is specifically trained to help identify this behavior. However, it’s imperative that you remember that your therapist’s job isn’t to diagnose your partner, it’s to help YOU cope with the treatment and support you while you decide how to proceed with the relationship.
What do I do if I suspect I’m being gaslighted?
If you suspect you are being gaslighted, just being aware of the behavior can help. Dr. Ramani offers a helpful tip for those who may think they are being gaslighted. She suggests that you do not go “D-E-E-P”, which means:
- D: don’t defend
- E: don’t engage
- E: don’t explain
- P: don’t personalize
So, what does this mean?
Engaging with someone who’s gaslighting you is like throwing grease on a fire. The more you engage and defend yourself, the more the person will push to prove something is wrong with you, not them.
Some other helpful tips to deal with gaslighting are to:
- Journal about your experience. Our memories are impressionable. Writing down what is going on can help you build self-confidence in yourself. It can also help you keep track of what’s going on with your perpetrator. (Such as, is this a repeated behavior?)
- Discuss experiences with trusted others. Grounding with others outside of the relationship can be extremely helpful in re-establishing trust within yourself. Pay attention to how those who love you treat you and how your suspected loved one treats you.
- Think long-term. How has gaslighting affected your emotional or mental health? Consider speaking with a licensed professional, like me, to help process your feelings in a safe and helpful environment.
Let’s Focus on Your Mental Health
While gaslighting is a popular term, its implications are crushing for those who are living under these conditions. While we continue to engage in relationships with others, we must also keep our emotional and mental health in mind. If you have questions about some tangible next steps in your relationships, SEVN Therapy Co. is here to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me to get an initial intake scheduled. You can also give us a call or schedule a session online here.
*If you or someone you know is being abused, including emotional, physical, or verbal abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.*
Alicia Williams, LPC-Associate
Supervised by Erin James, LPC-S