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




How to Hold Space for Yourself


The Psychology of Narcissism


Reviving the Ancient Sisterhood

Subscribe to UPLIFT

UPLIFT is dedicated to telling the new story of inspired co-creation.

Get free updates and news about UPLIFT events and films.

How will my data be used?



12 Responses to Are You Being Gaslighted In Your Relationship?

  1. 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 are basically trying to be nice to everyone. Bullies can do the same. And it can hurt so much because you just don’t expect this kind of behaviour from the one you have chosen to be your partner in life. Thanks for this article!

  2. 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.

  3. 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 was that I thought the tradition was nuts. Then I let my brother who has cancer know I was going to shave my head in support when he lost his once the election was over. Then I did it and he acted surprised and shocked and told the rest of the family not to do it. That was another Charlie Brown/Lucy football moment.

  4. 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 to you, so will a load of others believe the things he/she says about you and this includes family, friends (yours together and yours separately) business associates, your kid’s teachers, clergy, etc. People who gaslight are master manipulators and expert liars and most other people not only believe them and their lies but think they are nice guys/gals so when you inform your friends differently, when you begin to open up about your experiences, they look at you sideways and often don’t believe you. Salt in the wound.
    It is a viscous situation to escape from and the road to recovery is rough. If you are able to muster the strength and courage to leave, you will be able to muster the courage to let go of the people that don’t support you which can be very sad each time it happens but you will be better without them. Even if you feel that you’re letting go of everyone and there will be no one left for you, being alone is not a death sentence but an opportunity to learn to be happy all by yourself, on your terms, in your way in your own time. Besides, the Universe won’t let you stay alone if it’s not what you truly want. People who are good for you, who nourish your spirit, will come into your life unexpectedly.
    I believe the truth will always come to the surface eventually and I’m a strong believer in karma. Work on yourself and let the rest go.

    • 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 done and I had no one to turn too.

      Now I’ve left that situation but the memories are pervasive. I think about what I should had done, or what will happen from here in out.

  5. 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 the same thing. You’re declaring your vast human worth and also validating theirs. When they need or want something of you, they can ask. They have to be willing to accept a no, but they can still ask, and if you want (and there are many different kinds of want!) to, you can still say yes. And the same goes for you, if you want or need something from them. Ask, but don’t feel entitled to their saying yes.

    You aren’t being selfish. You’re being yourself, which is the only thing you can be, so you might as well do it whole-heartedly. That way you are able to do the most good in the world without experiencing burnout or backlash.

  6. Great article, but I’ve seen more men manipulated by woman in my life so it doesn’t cone down to sexist behaviour, simply part of narcissist behaviour.

  7. The danger of rule #6 “Have a strong connection with something higher than yourself” is that people get gaslighted by the church or religions, which is the worst because it is a mass phenomenon and so difficult to get out. Taking over religious beliefs is dangerous and at the same time done every day. I think people should develop a strong relationship with themselves, and with their higher consciousness. Forget about guilt and the wrath of “god”.

  8. I wonder if there is a “reverse gaslighting” effect… because I honestly seem to remember things differently than my partner. One of us must have a screw loose…

  9. I have a niece who is being gaslighted by her partner it is so sad he is turning her Against her family. They are trying to be patient and supporting of her but he twists there support and love of her around that they want to control her then sends them abusive texts saying they are ruining her life and don’t care about her happiness. It is so sad because she was a very confident and intelligent girl now she is an emotional wreck with very low self esteem and lacking confidence and has distanced her from all her friends by saying they don’t care for her as much as he does . He makes her feel guilty if she contacts family or friends saying she should be there for him all the time . I hope and pray she will see the light one day and realise what he is doing and that her family will always be there to support and love her. We love you Elise.xxx

  10. I stumbled upon this article while I was browsing the Internet about how to get out of an abusive relationship. I have been struggling to keep a relationship which I hold dear for almost two decades. I’m what one can call a successful professional with an unshakable principles and personality in the career department.But I couldn’t replicate that in the relationship sector. As I’m always the leader in the work I’ve always been not only the follower but also the type eager to apologize in the relationship. Looking back at those years I clearly remember that I’ve never been praised for anything despite my relentless efforts to please. I always have been harassed by strong criticisms calling me names and so on. In the relationship only what she wants happen or hell is raised. Often times I was accused of seeing things and making them up for an occurrence which has happened beyond any reasonable doubt. One thing that didn’t happen is I didn’t lose my self in my professional sphere. But I almost have destroyed my self in my personal life. Very long story before I start to wonder why I am soo different in office and at home.
    My story is astonishing and different from the others I read so far in that I’m well educated and experienced person who is exposed to diverse cultures, people and way of thinking while my partner in question didn’t go beyond high school and very little exposure to the things I mentioned.
    The other odd thing is that life for her or our dependents is not simply possible without me. I’m living in Africa. In most instances the husband is the bread maker and that’s the case here.
    In summary after reading this article I’m pretty convinced that I have been undergoing a brutal gaslighting. I think the solution has already started to role because I have been in constant search to understand what is happening to me and what to do about it for the last couple of months. I’m sure I’ll figure out the answers I’m looking for and reconstruct my self without harming any one in the process.

Leave a reply