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How to stop gaslighting in your relationship

Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Apr 30, 2024

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where one person manipulates another into questioning their own thoughts, memories, or the events occurring around them. This behavior is often deliberate and is used by abusers to gain more control and power in a relationship.

Examples of gaslighting

Blatant denial
Even with clear evidence, the gaslighter will deny having said or done something. This can make the victim doubt their own memory.

Trivializing feelings
The gaslighter may tell the victim that their feelings are irrational or worthless, which undermines their emotional well-being.

Withholding information
The gaslighter acts confused or pretends not to understand questions or concerns, which makes the victim doubt their own clarity and sanity.

Countering
The gaslighter will question the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them clearly, creating doubt and confusion.

Diverting
When challenged, the gaslighter changes the subject or questions the victim’s thoughts, which avoids the issue and keeps the victim off balance.

Psychological impacts

Gaslighting can lead to anxiety, depression, and significant emotional distress. Victims often feel isolated and have low self-esteem, affecting all aspects of their lives.

Significance and immediate mental health side effects

Gaslighting can destroy trust in relationships and create a harmful environment where one partner feels powerless and confused. This not only threatens the stability of the relationship but also significantly impacts the mental health of the person being gaslighted. Immediate effects include stress, constant self-doubt, and emotional withdrawal.

Signs you’re being gaslighted

If you suspect that you might be a victim of gaslighting in your relationship, look for these common signs:

  • Frequent doubting: You often doubt your own memory, perceptions, and sanity.
  • Confusion becomes common: You feel confused more often than not, especially in discussions with your partner.
  • Apologizing often: You find yourself apologizing all the time, even when you believe you did nothing wrong.
  • Lying to avoid criticism: You start lying to avoid explanations or justifications that you know will be dismissed or turned against you.
  • Decaying self-esteem: Your self-esteem has significantly diminished since the relationship began.
  • Feeling hopeless: You often feel hopeless or depressed in the situation without a clear reason why.
  • Withholding information from friends/family: You withhold information from friends or family because explaining your relationship is too complicated or unbelievable.
  • Sensitivity to criticism: You have become extremely sensitive to any form of criticism.
  • Feeling like something is wrong, but can’t identify what: You feel that something is fundamentally wrong with you or that you’re “crazy”.
  • Always wrong in arguments: No matter how you present your side, you always come out feeling wrong in arguments with your partner.

 

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How is gaslighting different from a normal disagreement?

Normal disagreements and conflicts are part of any relationship and usually revolve around specific issues that can be resolved or compromised upon. Gaslighting, however, is characterized by a pattern of behavior aimed at gaining control by making someone doubt their reality and sanity. Here’s how to tell the difference:

Normal disagreements usually happen occasionally and are focused on specific issues. Gaslighting is a consistent pattern of behavior that happens basically all of the time, no matter what issue is being discussed.

Resolution vs. degradation: In healthy conflicts, both partners work toward a resolution—agreeing to disagree is a resolution too. in gaslighting, conflicts revolve around undermining one’s perspective consistently, without moving towards a resolution.

Self-doubt vs. dispute: Normal disagreements might upset you but don’t generally make you question your sanity or reality. Gaslighting induces chronic self-doubt and mental disorientation.

Tips for documenting interactions and reflecting on patterns:

Documenting interactions and reflecting on behavioral patterns are critical steps in confirming gaslighting. Here’s how you can effectively do this:

  1. Keep a journal: Start recording dates, times, details of conversations, and specific incidents when you felt undermined or gaslighted. Note your feelings and any witnesses.
  2. Look for patterns: Review your journal entries periodically to identify patterns. Gaslighting often involves repetitive behaviors and tactics like lying, denying, and dismissing your feelings.
  3. Confide in trusted friends or family: Sometimes, it’s hard to see patterns by ourselves. Share your experiences with a trusted person who can provide an outside perspective and validate your reality.
  4. Reflect on your feelings: Pay attention to how you feel regularly—do you often feel confused, anxious, or crazy after interactions with your partner? These emotional responses might be signs of gaslighting.
  5. Professional validation: If your documentation and reflections suggest a pattern of gaslighting, consider seeking help from a therapist who can provide professional insights and confirm if what you’re experiencing is gaslighting.

Emotional and psychological consequences of being gaslighted:

Being subjected to gaslighting by a partner can lead to a variety of serious emotional and psychological issues, including:

Anxiety and depression

Victims often experience increased anxiety, depression, and in some severe cases, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) due to the constant stress and confusion caused by gaslighting.

Chronic self-doubt

The persistent doubt sown by a gaslighting partner can make the victim question their own judgment and perceptions, which often leads to indecisiveness and a lack of confidence in their own abilities.

Diminished self-worth

Gaslighting can erode a person’s self-esteem by continually invalidating their feelings, thoughts, and experiences, making them feel worthless and unimportant.

Emotional exhaustion

The mental strain of trying to reconcile conflicting realities can leave the victim feeling drained, hopeless, and emotionally spent.

Isolation

Victims may isolate themselves from friends and family due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, or because they believe others will not understand or validate their experiences.

Long-term impact on self-esteem and mental health:

The long-term effects of being gaslighted go beyond temporary emotional discomfort and can profoundly affect a person’s overall mental health:

  • Lasting trust issues: Continuous manipulation can make it difficult for the victim to trust others—even those with whom they have close relationships. This can impede future personal and professional relationships.
  • Persistent mental health problems: The stress and anxiety caused by chronic gaslighting can lead to long-term psychological problems that may require professional treatment, such as major depressive disorder or anxiety disorders.
  • Identity crisis: Victims of gaslighting often struggle with a sense of lost identity. They may feel detached from themselves and their values, interests, and beliefs, which were undermined by the gaslighter.
  • Vulnerability to further abuse: Lowered self-esteem and increased dependency on the abuser can make the victim more susceptible to further emotional or even physical abuse.

Gaslighting as emotional abuse in romantic relationships

Emotional abuse in relationships involves undermining a person’s sense of self-worth through criticism, control, isolation, and manipulation. Gaslighting is a particularly insidious form of emotional abuse that manipulates the victim’s perception of reality, which can:

  • Cause the victim to constantly second-guess themselves.
  • Make the victim question the validity of their memories and perceptions.
  • Isolate the victim from friends and family as they feel unable to relay their experiences without sounding irrational.

Psychological perspectives on emotional abuse:

Psychologically, emotional abuse like gaslighting can deeply impact mental health, leading to:

  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Decreased ability to make decisions.
  • Lower self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Increased dependence on the abuser, reinforcing the abuser’s control and the cycle of abuse.

Psychologists view gaslighting as a clear attempt to destabilize and delegitimize the victim’s understanding of the world, which not only maintains the power imbalance in favor of the abuser but also makes the victim more dependent on the abuser for their version of reality.

Addressing gaslighting

Recognizing gaslighting as emotional abuse is the first step in addressing and overcoming its impacts. Victims are encouraged to:

  • Seek support from trusted individuals or support groups.
  • Consult with legal professionals if they feel their safety is compromised.
  • Engage with a therapist who specializes in abuse and trauma for strategies to reclaim their reality and strengthen their mental resilience.

Awareness of gaslighting actions:

Gaslighters’ awareness of their actions can vary:

  • Deliberate gaslighting: Some gaslighters are fully aware and intentionally manipulate others to gain control or advantages. This calculated behavior is typically part of broader abusive tactics.
  • Unintentional gaslighting: Others may gaslight without realizing it, often replicating behaviors they’ve seen or experienced previously. They might not recognize the psychological impact of their actions on others.

Distinction between deliberate and unintentional gaslighting

Motivation:

  • Deliberate gaslighters: Often exhibit traits of narcissistic personality disorder, manipulating to dominate and control, indicative of deep-seated power struggles. Red flags are important to be aware of, and to proceed in a healthy way for yourself.
  • Unintentional gaslighters: Their actions stem from ingrained habits or insecurities, not a conscious desire to manipulate.

Reaction to confrontation:

  • Deliberate gaslighters: Typically deny and intensify abusive behavior when challenged, characteristic of manipulative personalities.
  • Unintentional gaslighters: Likely to show surprise and willingness to change, reflecting a lack of self-awareness.

Addressing gaslighting in relationships

Effective intervention depends on the gaslighter’s awareness and intent.

Recognizing gaslighting:

  • Determine whether the behavior is intentional, linked to power struggles and abusive behavior, or unintentional, stemming from unhealthy habits.

Unintentional gaslighting:

  • Therapy: Helpful for those who replicate learned abusive behaviors unintentionally. Focuses on developing self-awareness and learning healthier communication methods.

Deliberate gaslighting:

  • Firm boundaries: Essential when dealing with intentional abuse, particularly with those showing signs of narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Legal and therapeutic advice: Seek professional help to navigate the power struggle and cease abusive behavior effectively.

Practical steps:

  1. Documentation: Maintain records of gaslighting incidents for use in therapy or legal settings.
  2. Support systems: Lean on supportive friends, family, or groups familiar with emotional abuse.
  3. Professional help: Therapists provide support and can advise on effective strategies and legal protections.

How to stop gaslighting in your relationship

Stopping gaslighting involves direct actions and changes in the relationship’s communication patterns:

Effective communication techniques:

  1. Use ‘I’ statements: Instead of accusatory or confrontational language (“you always…”), use ‘I’ statements (“I feel… when…”) to express your feelings and thoughts without provoking defensive responses.
  2. Clarify meanings: If you suspect twisting of your words, ask the other person to repeat what you said to ensure your message is understood as intended.
  3. Stay focused: Keep discussions on topic, avoid getting sidetracked by details that can be used to gaslight you.

Setting and enforcing clear boundaries:

  1. Define acceptable behavior: Clearly state what behaviors are unacceptable to you and what the consequences will be if they are not respected.
  2. Consistency is key: Enforce these boundaries consistently. Gaslighters often test boundaries, and inconsistency can encourage further manipulation.
  3. Seek external support: If it’s difficult to maintain boundaries alone, consider enlisting the help of a counselor or trusted friend to hold you accountable and support your decisions.

Resetting relationship dynamics:

  1. Counseling: Engage in couples therapy to address and change unhealthy interaction patterns. A therapist can help both partners see how their behaviors affect each other and guide them in creating a more balanced relationship.
  2. Education: Sometimes, educating your partner about gaslighting, without accusations, can be eye-opening. Use resources like books, articles, and workshops to help them understand the impact of their behavior and the importance of change.
  3. Reevaluate the relationship: Continually assess the relationship dynamics. If despite your efforts, gaslighting continues, it may be necessary to consider more drastic options such as separation, to protect your mental health.

Turn the gas off

Gaslighting is a serious issue that undermines the mental health and stability of relationships. If you recognize signs of this manipulative behavior, prompt action is crucial. We encourage you to explore individual or couples counseling offered by Anchor Light Therapy Collective to address these challenges effectively. For further assistance and resources, or to book a consultation, please visit our website. Taking this step is vital for restoring trust and health in your relationships, ensuring a supportive and understanding environment.

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