Have you ever felt that in every relationship you get into, you ruin it? That whenever you fight with someone, it is always your fault? Do you have a memory of an incident that another person remembers differently? Have people told you that “it’s all in your head” more often than usual? If you feel this way, chances are, you’ve been gaslighted.
Gaslighting is a situation where an individual manipulates the other person in the relationship, either by changing the order of events or lying to them. They could make the other person feel stressed, anxious, and confused, therefore leading them to question if their judgment is true. Typically, they try to gain emotional control over the person.
For example: If person ‘A’ tells their partner that they are uncomfortable with something, their partner will term A’s reaction as irrational and unnecessary. It can occur in relationships (domestic or romantic), at your workplace, or even with your doctor.
The person who makes you doubt yourself is called a gaslighter. Here are some signs to identify gaslighting behavior :
Refuse to listen to what you have to say. They will not let you finish your sentence or explain yourself. He/she will claim that they do not understand your perspective and accuse you of confusing the situation.
Lie to you. In the beginning, it is clearly visible that they are lying. But the more times they do it, the more you will be convinced that you are wrong. For example, A person might lie to their partner about working at the office when they were actually attending a party. In the beginning, the partner may know that they are lying and confront them about it. But over time, when they keep giving the same excuse, he/she may be convinced that the person is telling the truth. Also, affection for the person will prevent him/her from doubting them.
Play with your memory. They will try to establish a correct order of events and add a few details to make it sound real. This will make you think that what you believe is wrong. Especially when the individuals are involved in an argument, the gaslighter will accuse the other person of beginning it, saying the first word, or accusing them of something they didn’t do. When they do it convincingly, giving them real/fake examples, they begin to believe that the gaslighter is right.
Denial. They will say ‘No’ to every sentence about something they said or did. And they will do this repeatedly. Sometimes, they may also shift the blame on you and accuse you of doing or saying the thing you wanted to talk about. (Ex: If you accuse them of cheating, they will say “You have been so stressed lately maybe you are cheating”).
Changing the subject. Every time you want to talk about a conflict or a particular topic, they will try to divert you and change the issue. They will avoid talking about it as much as possible.
Calling you sensitive. All of your reactions are termed irrational and unnecessary, making your feelings invalid. Every time you talk about something that troubles you, they will dismiss it saying that it is not something to be worried about. When this happens over a long period of time, you question your own judgment and also dismiss your feelings and emotions.
You constantly apologize to your gaslighter. Whenever you have a disagreement between you and the other person, you are the only one who seems to be affected. The other person is always laid back and undisturbed. Even though you started the conversation with something that’s bothering you and the both of you disagree, you always end up saying “sorry”. Sometimes you may also feel like you are the only one putting in effort and keeping the relationship together.
Use compassionate words to make you feel guilty. If you address or accuse them of something, they will always emphasize how much you mean to them and how they would not hurt you on purpose. This happens every time you talk about something that’s bothering you about the relationship and again, in the end, you feel guilty for accusing them.
Make you feel uncomfortable around them. You will feel like you’re walking on eggshells whenever you interact with this individual. You are always careful and try your best to avoid them without being too direct about it. You measure every word you say and flinch at a little mistake you made that might upset them. Because they make it so hard to please them and you want this relationship, you put all your energy into being in their good books even if it is harming your mental health.
This is a problem because over long periods of time, you begin to distrust your own memories and conclusions. Either you completely depend on that person for decision making or you make no decisions at all. If the relationship is abusive (physically or verbally) you slowly begin to accept it as the reality instead of fighting back or helping yourself. Gaslighting can also lead to mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma, and low-self esteem.
Here is a list of possible strategies to deal with gaslighting:
Viewing the situation from the point of view of an outsider. Choose sides without being biased so you can fully understand whether you are being gaslighted. If you find it difficult to do so, ask a friend or someone who is not involved to help you.
Thinking about how a healthy relationship should be and if your relationship is similar to that. A healthy relationship should be respectful, supportive, and understanding. You should be able to have more conversations and fewer arguments. Even if you do have disagreements, equal efforts should be put in from both sides to make things right.
Talking to those who are not involved and whom you trust. Tell them to be honest and unbiased when they give you advice on how to deal with this situation. If you know someone who has been in such a situation, ask them about the methods they used to help themselves.
Keeping track of these instances. If you feel like you are remembering events in an incorrect order, record them as soon as they occur. Write notes or journals of these events so that you always have proof of your memory.
Setting boundaries when they gaslight you. If they begin shouting or accusing you, you can try to say - If you shout, I will leave the room. If you call me ‘crazy’ I will leave. Let's move on and talk about this later when you’re less angry.
Trying to engage in more self-care techniques and pursue your hobbies so you don’t lose contact with being yourself. Make time to exercise, watch T. V or cook. Give some time to spend with other people who are not involved in this situation.
Trying to pull yourself out of the situation or relationship. If it’s a co-worker, address this to a higher authority. If you feel like your doctor is disregarding your symptoms, try to change your doctor.
If you wish to save the relationship, consider talking to a professional therapist or someone else in authority. But remember, talk to the person first. Explain to them that you are feeling this way and ask them if they can help you. Sometimes, the gaslighter may not even be aware of the effects of their words or actions.
If you have been feeling gaslighted for a long time now and it is seriously affecting the way you look at yourself, consider seeking professional help. Remember: Take all the time and support you need, and know that it will get better. It’s better late than never!
-By Anusri Yadavalli