I once lived with a world-class gaslighter. If they gave out trophies for mental manipulation, there wouldn’t have been an empty flat surface in our entire apartment building. No matter what we argued about, it would inevitably “really” be my fault. When I pointed out their bad behavior, they would deny it so steadfastly, I would start to question my own memory. But worst of all were the long-term effects that months (and, sigh, years) of these mind games caused. What I didn’t realize then was that I was seeing major red flags your partner is gaslighting you.
The thing about gaslighting is that it is innately tricky to spot. It can be really brazen or really subtle, but either way, it’s emotional abuse, and the sooner your recognize it, the better. First things first, though. For those who aren’t aware, let’s break down what gaslighting is exactly and why people do it?
Relationship expert Susan Winter explains that gaslighting is a systematic form of emotional and mental manipulation that “makes you doubt yourself, your intuition, and your reality.” And the reason a partner might employ this form of manipulation is that “it’s the perfect foundation for anyone who wants control over your thoughts, and actions.” In other words, Winter notes that, with gaslighting, you eventually may begin not to trust yourself, giving your partner full control. “Slowly and insidiously, they become your master. They have you where they want you,” says Winter. “Throwing you off your ‘center’ is a necessity in order to have complete control. Were you able to think clearly, you would question and defy their version of reality.”
Well, that’s certainly bone-chilling. It’s also all the more reason why you need to be able to spot a gaslighter before they get in your head. Here is what to look out for.
1. They Deny Doing Things You Know They’ve Done
Given what’s been happening in the bookish community and all the conversations around it, @kyriemccauley and I worked on some graphics about identifying abuse (with the help of the amazing members of Kidlit Alliance).
— Diana Sousa (@DianaSousaArt) February 13, 2018
One of a gaslighter’s most common (and infuriating) tricks is to deny the truth, no matter how obvious it is, to the point where don’t even know what is true anymore. This can even happen when you personally witness their bad behavior. Even if you just saw it with your own eyes, Winter says they will “claim they didn’t.” “You just heard them say what they claim they never said,” she says. “This is how gaslighting feels to the victim who begins to doubt their assessment of reality.”
2. They Constantly Criticize And Undermine You
✨Gaslighting 101 ✨
Parent treats you like shit.
Parent sees that you’re hurt and emotionally manipulates u by doing something nice for without apologizing
— Nandipha (@NandiJkj) February 11, 2018
Another way a gaslighting partner throws you off balance is by constantly chipping away at your self-esteem and confidence by criticizing everything you do. “No matter what you do, you didn’t do it properly. No matter what choice you made, it was faulty,” says Winter. “No matter what situation has occurred, you’re to blame. Every comment from your partner goes back to your being ‘less than,’ faulty, ineffective, and wrong.” This all lays the groundwork for them to be able to play with your perception of reality.