What is Gaslighting?

Katie Wenger
Founder & Clinical Director 

“Now you’re just making things up.”

“I never said that.”

“It’s all in your head.” 

Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Do you find yourself questioning your judgment, your own memories, and even your reality? You could be a victim of gaslighting. Here are some steps to understanding the situation and getting the support you need. 

How gaslighting works 

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse. Gaslighters gain a position of power and control by forcing their victims into questioning their feelings and intuition. It’s often used in conjunction with other types of abuse. 

Gaslighting typically occurs gradually. Like most cases of abusive situations, the behavior doesn’t start immediately. There’s often a “honeymoon period” where everything seems great, with no red flags in sight. Then, small things start to pop up. The gaslighter might suggest the other person is forgetful. They continue to point things out with the deliberate intent of making you question yourself. And over time, it causes the individual to become confused about their own reality. They rely more on the abuser, unable to trust themselves with their memory or feelings. This gives the gaslighter even more power and influence. And the cycle continues. 

Though gaslighting is often used in the context of romantic relationships, it can also occur within families, workplaces, and institutions. Some of the most prominent examples include medical gaslighting, racial gaslighting, and gaslighting in child-parent relationships. However, today we’ll be focusing on gaslighting in our relationships. 

Gaslighting Techniques

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are several techniques an abuser might use to gaslight their partner: 

1. Withholding

They refuse to listen to their partner, or pretends not to understand

“I’m tired of hearing this” or “You’re just trying to confuse me” 

2. Countering

They question their partners memory and recollection of events

“That’s not true, I never said that” or “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly” 

3. Blocking/Diverting 

They change the subject and/or question their partner’s thoughts

“You’re imagining things.” or “Did [friend] tell you that? You know that’s crazy, right?”

4. Trivializing 

They make their partner’s needs and/or feelings seem unimportant

“You’re too sensitive” or “I can’t believe you’re angry of a little thing like that”

5. Forgetting/Denial

They deny or pretend to have forgotten actual events or promises made to the victim. 

They often lie or deny things, refusing to admit the lie even when shown proof. 

“Now you’re just making things up” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about” 

If these are phrases you hear repeatedly from a partner or close relationship, that may be a sign you’re being gaslit. 

Common signs of gaslighting victims

Do you believe you or a loved one are a victim of gaslighting? Just as there are common behaviors of abusers, there are also signs of being a victim. Here are a few potential signs that you could be experiencing gaslighting: 

  • Having trouble making simple decisions.
  • Constantly second-guessing yourself.
  • Feeling confused or fuzzy about your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs
  • Always apologizing to your partner.
  • Frequently defending your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • Withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain
  • Feeling that you used to be a very different, happier person
  • Feeling as though you can’t do anything right.
  • Not feeling “good enough” as a partner.

More common signs of gaslighting can be found on Forbes Health. Gaslighting has a lasting effect on the victim. Constantly questioning your reality can have devastating impacts on your mental health. As a result of being isolated from other, healthy relationships with friends and family and struggling to function in society & social situations, it’s common for gaslighting victims to struggle with anxiety, depression, codependency, and PTSD as a result of the manipulation. 

Seeking help 

If you are a victim of gaslighting or another form of abuse within your relationship, make sure you’re looking after your safety and mental health. Here are several other ways to protect yourself from this of psychological manipulation

  • Maintain your social network – Isolation makes you more susceptible to self-doubt. A gaslighter will try to make you feel that they’re the only one who truly cares about you. Keeping in touch with friends, family, and others in your social network can help prevent this. Confide in a few close friends. They can help you gain perspective and recognize abusive behavior.
  • Keep a journal – Keeping a journal can help you regain control of your thoughts and memories. Having something to look back to help reaffirm events will help you combat that confusion and distrust of reality. Record dates, times, and details of what happened as soon as possible so you can refer back to it later. Photos, videos, and voice memos are even better
  • Practice self compassion What do you do once you recognize you’re being gaslit? Give yourself permission to recognize your feelings, thoughts, and memories. Take it one step at a time. Be honest with yourself and how this treatment is making you feel. Consider whether this relationship is worth questioning your reality. 
  • Safety planning – Depending on the severity of your situation, you may want to make a plan to safely leave the relationship. This could include escape routes, emergency contact details, self-care plans, and safe places to stay. 

If you believe you are experiencing abuse, please seek support. Emotional abuse can escalate into physical abuse. Even if it does not, gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse severely impact a person’s mental health. 

You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 and the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673. Both are available 24 hours a day and offer online chat functions as well.

A word from Higher Fulfillment 

Regaining your sense of self can be difficult when it’s been lost to gaslighting. Visit our website to learn more about our services, and our approach to rediscovering the parts of ourselves that have been lost within relationships. 

frustrated individual

About Higher Fulfillment

I believe in allowing the emotional space to secure a healthy mindset and choose how you handle life’s obstacles. More peaceful days can be in your future. You can make positive change with the right exploration and guidance. Higher Fulfillment can help you get there…to your best self and best life.

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