When you’re in a relationship with someone you love, the last thing you’d expect is for them to gaslight you. Here are a few signs you can look out for to determine if you’re a victim of gaslighting in your relationship, plus tips to help you navigate it.
What is gaslighting in relationships?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation used in relationships in order to maintain control over another person. The origin of the term can be traced to a British play in which an abusive husband manipulates the surroundings and events with the goal of making his wife question her reality. Gaslighting can happen in families, friendships, and even in workplaces, and it’s often a sign of an abusive relationship.
People use gaslighting to “gain an upper hand and avoid accountability,” according to Andrea Papin, RTC, and Jess Jackson, LMT, therapists at Trauma Aware Care. It involves the covert use of mind games that make it difficult to know if you are experiencing gaslighting, and that is the point.
“Gaslighting at its core is always about self-preservation and the maintenance of power/control—namely, the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the ‘right’ and their partner in the ‘wrong,'” therapist Aki Rosenberg, LMFT, tells mbg.
1. Seek support to affirm your experience.
The therapists agreed that seeking support from trusted people outside of your relationship is crucial to helping you feel validated and affirmed in your experience. “Because gaslighting is so invalidating and manipulative, reminders and empathy can feel deeply supportive,” Papin and Jackson explain. “You might turn to a trusted friend, or a therapist, if you have access to one.”
2. You can choose to confront your partner about their gaslighting.
There is a chance that your partner does not realize they are gaslighting you. In this case, Buquè suggests it may be worthwhile to help them understand what gaslighting is, how they are enacting it, and how it makes you feel. “It, unfortunately, places the burden of proof and teaching on the person that’s being hurt by gaslighting, but it can actually make a difference in them deciding to shift their ways in the service of removing toxic patterns from the relationship,” she explains.
3. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, confronting them is futile.
It’s unlikely that a toxic person will admit to manipulating the relationship in order to have a sense of control. If you are experiencing gaslighting in the moment, Dr. Sutton recommends removing yourself from the situation: “Don’t engage. If possible, end the conversation. Gaslighters aren’t interested in your perspective or feelings,” and it would take you more energy and suffering to try to convince them otherwise.
4. Leave the relationship if gaslighting persists.
If that gaslighting is pervasive and confronting your partner is not an option, do consider leaving the relationship. Sutton urges that if your partner becomes enraged while they are gaslighting you or puts you in danger, it is even more imperative that you consider ending the relationship altogether. This may not be easy, but it may be a necessary step toward feeling safe.
5. Notice the patterns.
“Regardless of if you choose to stay or go, develop an understanding of your own attachment patterns,” Rosenberg recommends. “Sometimes we legitimately can’t see this behavior coming, but often, when we look back on a bad relationship, we recognize all the red flags and gut instincts we overrode in the hopes of receiving love and connection.”
6. Recognize it is not up to you to stop the gaslighting.
The experts all shared this sentiment: Gaslighting is never your fault. Even though your partner may have convinced you that the toxic pattern is because of you, it is never your responsibility to stop the gaslighting from happening. In a healthy relationship, both partners are accountable to their own behaviors, and when it comes to gaslighting, the person doing it must have a willingness to change.