Gaslighting is a form of manipulation meant to leave you feeling insecure and questioning your sanity. Here's how to spot it.

Nov 11, 2020 @ 12:03 pm
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Credit: Sadie Culberson/Stocksy

DEAR DR. JENN, 

Generally speaking, my partner is really caring and we have a lot of fun together, but lately I've been feeling worn down. Whenever I reference things that have happened in our relationship, he tells me I'm imagining things and am wrong. He also accuses me repeatedly of things I know I haven’t done. It's making me question my own memories and I often feel like I'm losing my mind. Am I too blinded by love to see that I'm being manipulated? —In a Fog

DEAR IN A FOG,

When someone is gaslighting you, it creates a fog of uncertainty and self-doubt. What you have described that your partner is doing is classic gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that undermines the recipient's reality and is meant to leave them insecure, unsure of themself, and questioning their sanity. Over time, gaslighting will wear you down and erode your self-confidence.

The phrase 'gaslighting' comes from the 1944 movie Gas Light in which Gregory, played by Charles Boyer, attempts to drive his wife Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman, insane by making her doubt her reality in order to have her institutionalized and gain access to expensive jewelry he believes is hidden in the house. In a key scene, he makes the gas lights in the house flicker and when Paula asks why the light is flickering, he tells her it is not really happening and that it is all in her mind. This is part of his master plan of lies, deceptions, and misdirects.

When you are in a relationship with someone who was gaslighting you, much like Paula, you can feel like you are starting to lose your mind. It can be helpful to know what gaslighting looks like and what the techniques are.

Here are some of the red flags that you are being gaslit:

• He denies facts (“That never happened”)

• He tells blatant lies (“I did not give that woman my phone number.”)

• He undermines your emotions as a way to invalidate your reality (“You are being paranoid and jealous, there is nothing going on between me and her.”)

• He accuses you of imagining or making things up when you are telling the truth (“Stop lying, you know that is not true.”)

• He criticizes you and uses put-downs that are subtle or overt (“Of course you can’t find your keys, you're the most disorganized person I've ever met.”)

• He accuses you of being “too sensitive,” “hysterical,” or “overly emotional” (“You are hysterical. Stop acting so crazy.”)

• He accuses you of being paranoia, imagining things, or being told things did not happen that did (“You always have some crazy theory. I am sure you never put that cash in your wallet.”)

• He attacks the people, things, and values that are most dear to you (“Your daughter wouldn’t be such a brat if you were a better mother.”)

• His actions are inconsistent with his words and self-reporting (“I help with the housework all the time, I do more than you do!”)

• He accuses you of the things he is actually doing (“Maybe you are cheating on me. That must be why you are so paranoid.”)

• He tries to use other people against you by reporting things people said about you they did not say (“You sister told me she thinks you are really irresponsible.”)

• He insists you were not someplace you were (“You never went to that restaurant with me.”)

• He tries to turn people against you or harm your credibility with others (“I am really worried about Jane. She has gotten so emotional and is making such bad decisions. You may want to think twice about involving her in the family business.”)

• He convinces you that other people are lying to you (“Your bother is such a liar, how can you even believe him for a minute?”)

• He hides objects from you and then acts like he doesn’t know anything about it. (“You lost your keys again? You really have a problem with your memory.”)

Many people see gaslighting as a form of emotional abuse. If you find yourself feeling crazy, questioning your reality, feeling a heightened level of anxiety, and always apologizing you just may be getting gas lit. This can lead you to question your worth and have trouble making decisions.

Trust your gut if something feels wrong. Get some support from a neutral person, like a therapist. If you feel like you are losing your grip with reality, you should always run things by a professional. They can help you figure out if you are with someone who is manipulating you and performing this type of abuse.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.