Are You Being Gaslighted In Your Relationship?

By Azriel ReShel on Friday November 25th, 2016

What it Means to be Gaslighted and How to Avoid it

You believe you’re strong in your self-belief and solid in who you are…right? Well, it’s amazing how easily we can take on another person’s view of the world and perceptions of who we are.  If you’re not richly grounded in the soil of your own truth and innate goodness, it is terribly easy to lose your roots and be toppled.

I’ve only recently worked out that I’ve spent a decade being gaslighted. It sounds dumb, but you’d better believe it, I didn’t see any of it! My reality and my view of myself was constantly undermined by little and big insinuations and comments such as ‘oh you couldn’t do that, you’re not organised enough’, and ‘you’re far too emotional and sensitive’.

Words from a partner can seem harmless, but gaslighting is more insidious than that. It is designed to disempower you so the other person can control you and even make themselves feel better by having power over you.

disempoweredIt is designed to disempower you.

What is Gaslighting?

To gaslight is to manipulate someone psychologically so that they doubt their sanity. It is emotional abuse where the victim is manipulated to doubt their own memory and perceptions. It happens when one person tries to overwrite another’s reality.

The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play, Gaslight, where the main character uses systematic psychological manipulation on his wife, to convince her, and others, that she is insane so he can have her committed and claim her inheritance. He does this by manipulating small things in their environment and then telling her she is mistaken when she notices the changes. Ultimately, he says she is delusional when she spots things that are different. The term comes from the dimming of the gas lights in the house, noticed by the wife and denied by the husband, who insists that she is imagining it.

Gaslighting has become known as an attempt to destroy someone else’s reality. It seems to be most common in intimate relationships.

Gaslighting is an attempt to destroy someone else’s reality.Gaslighting is an attempt to destroy someone else’s reality. Image: 1944 film adaptation.

Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person. Gaslighting takes two – one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self, and the other, who needs the relationship to maintain her sense of self and is willing to acquiesce. The Gaslight Effect happens when you find yourself second guessing your own reality, confused and uncertain of what you think, because you have allowed another to define reality and tell you what you think — and who you are. Gaslighting can be maddening in the early stages and soul destroying when it fully takes hold. – Dr Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect.

I know several professional, beautiful, and intelligent women who have shared experiences of being gaslighted by their intimate partners, as well as men who have experienced it too.

The truly destructive thing about gaslighting is that it nibbles away at your self-worth, your belief in yourself, your talents, your beauty, and then pretty quickly, you’re minimising the problematic things in your life. Then the descent into shame begins. When you feel shame about either being gaslighted, or being “weak” or controlled, or you begin to believe the put downs another person tells you, then you are in the dangerous position of not being able to ask for help or to change your situation. You question your truth and deny your perceptions. You don’t share what is happening with others because either you don’t realize the truth of what is happening, or you feel ashamed that you have descended into such a pit. I believe this is one of the major tactics in domestic violence and the first signpost on the road to serious emotional abuse in a relationship.

The truly destructive thing about gaslighting is that it nibbles away at your self-worth.The truly destructive thing about gaslighting is that it nibbles away at your self-worth.

Signs You May be Falling Prey to Gaslighting

These are some red flags to look out for:

  • Your partner is making you feel like you are crazy. If you feel like you’re going crazy, more often than not, you’re probably not and they are gaslighting you.  If you feel confused, constantly question yourself, and are mired in self-doubt, you could be a victim of gaslighting.
  • You feel insecure, wonder if you’re too sensitive/emotional and keep apologising. Or you find yourself walking on eggshells and gearing your actions, and words, to your partner’s moods.
  • You feel like you are losing yourself, don’t know who you are anymore, and feel you are becoming someone else entirely. When you’re being gaslighted you can take on your partner’s version of who you are. Your life can also become very narrow and you may be feeling deep shame about who you are as a person, and begin to isolate yourself from others.

Gaslighting can be a very subtle form of abuse which is why it is so dangerous.  It’s a lot about power, so chances are, if there’s a power imbalance in your relationship and you’re the one in the one down position, someone’s keeping you there through mental manipulation. It can also kick in particularly with a partner with addictions, or one who is having an affair. We all know the old, ‘don’t be ridiculous, how could you accuse me of having an affair! I was just working late,’ routine. You are blamed for being insecure and irrational, causing you to question your accurate perception of the situation.

My partner always told me, ever so kindly, that I was messy, disorganised, aggressive, and abusive. I heard these stories as if on repeat and something happened in my mind.  I started to take them on board, to believe them, and live out this alien version of myself. I absolutely gave away my own power to determine my own reality and handed it over to him.  I was blind to the projections and subtle putdowns. I allowed my own feelings of self-worth to be influenced by another’s world view and criticism. And what is worse, I didn’t see it!

depressed-woman‘ started to live out this alien version of myself

For years, I was told I betrayed him and over time I thought I had, until one day I woke up and very clearly saw that he had betrayed me right from the beginning and I just hadn’t noticed, or didn’t want to see it. Sometimes our deep need and desire to be loved will wipe clean any sensibility, deactivating our bullshit radars. A gaslighter senses this desperate need to be loved and accepted, which is often packaged with a long history of being empathic and a people pleaser, and uses it to his or her advantage. I feel quite stupid sharing these words. You’d think I’d know better and be able to see through such ridiculousness, but I didn’t.  This is the issue with gaslighting, it can be subtle, yet treacherous, and before long you’re colluding with the gaslighter. It can even be masked as caring.

Spiritual Gaslighting

For me, the worst kind of gaslighting is “spiritual” gaslighting, where in my case, the admonishments to my personality were couched in personal growth speak:

‘I’m telling you this because I care about you and if you become aware of how you’re acting and what you’re really like, you’ll be able to transform yourself and truly grow.’

‘I’m doing you a kindness and helping you with your level of consciousness, by keeping it real, and helping you to be authentic by pointing this out.’

'I'm doing you a kindness...'‘I’m doing you a kindness…’

While gaslighting happens to both men and women, I feel with the still large scale inequality in the world, where women are less valued than men, that many more women are gaslighted than men. I believe many men feel and sense the growing wildness, power, and incredible wisdom of women, and are quite frankly, afraid. If you’re insecure and competitive, and your partner begins to grow in stature, you will feel threatened and want to find a way to keep her under wraps. We need men who can celebrate the feminine and support the awakening of the feminine power that is bubbling under the surface.

Gaslighting is terribly insidious and eats away at the very foundation of your own relationship with yourself, of your integrity, and connection to who you are. This is what is so destructive about it. If you begin to doubt yourself, question your own mental or emotional capacity, you are undone. There is no certainty in your life anymore when you have lost your steady connection with your inner truth.

empoweredCreate your own life and live from what is real for you.

How to Avoid This Mental Manipulation

Gaslighting is calling on us to develop an indestructible sense of self, based in deep value and love. When you become your own best friend, always cheering yourself on, and believing in your innate goodness, you will be far less easily manipulated and knocked off your course. It is also asking you to step-up to greater self-responsibility and power. While the person gaslighting you is not to be admired, being a victim and blaming them for their behaviour, without examining what needs to be changed in you, will only perpetuate the problem. Here are 8 things you can do:

  1. Develop a strong sense of yourself.
  2. Be immovable in your self-love and self-connection.
  3. Spend time alone and get to know yourself.
  4. Don’t put others on a pedestal and believe what they say above your own intuition.
  5. Always listen to your heart wisdom and your intuitive nudges. Trust yourself no matter what.
  6. Have a strong connection with something higher than yourself.
  7. Develop a mindful internal barometer – stop and check-in before taking on board someone else’s opinion of you or of life.
  8. Create your own life and live from what is real for you.

Remember, there is good news about identifying the Gaslight Effect. The good news is that knowledge is power. Once you can name this all too insidious dynamic, you can work towards changing the dynamic, or getting out—take back your reality, and get more enjoyment from your life and your relationship. – Dr Robin Stern.

Azriel ReShel

Writer, Editor, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator



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11 Comments on "Are You Being Gaslighted In Your Relationship?"

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Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
I’ve only come across the term “Gaslighting” really recently, but straightaway recognise it as something that happens in my life. When my husband is angry he can do things like turn on the light in the bedroom and then ask me why I have turned it on and when I’m going to turn it off. It’s scarey. This has only happened in this extreme form a couple of times, thank goodness – but I am now so glad I’m able to put a name to it. I recognise what the author means when she talks about gaslighters using those who… Read more »

Ive never heard of this term, but its definitely what I spent nearly 2 decades in and didnt even realize it until it was over. Everything I thought about me came from him. Needless to say, I was extremely surprised when someone called me ” brilliant”. I still struggle to like anything about me. Its sick how deeply ingrained the words and actions of someone else can leave you. And you can leave them like that, too, if you arent careful. Im no saint.

Housecat 999
Housecat 999
My older sister once told me I had no power. Some of my family members will attempt to derail me whenever I exhibit confidence or leadership. I constantly have had to work to feel secure enough within myself to continue fighting for what I believe in or even say what’s honestly on my mind. I recently commented that the family “tradition” of spanking a turkey (one for each pound) was a little sick and twisted. You would think I’d said something that was untrue and hurtful directed at them personally, when I made it clear that what I was saying… Read more »
Tracey Dawson
Tracey Dawson
I’ve read a lot of articles on emotional abuse but none have ever rung so true as this one has for me. It’s been four years since I left and I’ve chosen to remain single ever since. No dates, no companionship, just me learning to be me again; learning to trust myself, learning to listen to myself. I’m still working on it. I had no idea when I left the relationship just how many people I would have to cut loose. One thing the article doesn’t cover is that not only will YOU believe all the nonsense your partner says… Read more »
Thank you for sharing your story Tracy. I’m sorry you went through that, but I hope it has made you a stronger person. I agree that one of the terrible effects of gaslighting is on your other relationships. I’ve recently experienced this from a colleague and the subsequent outfall has damaged alot of work relationships. It’s difficult trying to put together what is true, and how the truth and lies have directed how other people relate to you. It’s caused alot of stress, anxiety, and loss of production. I didn’t recognise it soon enough, and by then the damage was… Read more »
Jeremy Ball
Jeremy Ball
I am Jeremy Ball, the partner referred to by Azriel in this article. The information is so far from the truth to be incredulous, the Chinese rewriting of Tibetan History has more factual basis. Whilst I would like to honour Azriel’s experience it is so far from the truth of actual events that I can give it no credence. And was in the end why I ended the relationship with Azriel despite my deep love for her as a soul and splitting up our family, Her behaviour towards me throughout the years became so toxic, due to my gentleness and… Read more »
And if you have been gaslighted, or are vulnerable to gaslighting, that advice at the end may scare the daylights out of you. How do I make sure I don’t just become a self-absorbed, selfish jerk? It’s simple: You’re doing what you need, making use of what you need, but you’re also giving them the leeway to do the same. You’re claiming your freedom and also giving them theirs. You’re making your decisions, consulting your loved ones when you see fit, but never letting them feel entitled to have their preferences override your needs – and you’re letting them do… Read more »

I think the simple past term is gaslit. Jesus.