The term gaslighting originated from the 1944 Ingrid Berman movie Gaslight, where a husband slowly manipulates his wife into thinking shes gone insane. The term resurged in popularity in 2016 thanks to a viral op-ed in Teen Vogue ; it was a runner-up for Oxford dictionarys 2018 word of the year.
Gaslighting is a real phenomenonand it has real consequences for its victims. So what, exactly, is gaslighting? And what are the signs youre in a relationship with someone whos gaslighting you?
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is lying and otherwise psychologically manipulating a person until they question their sanity and begin to accept another persons version of reality. Its an abuse of power to dominate another person, says Patricia Pitta, Ph.D. , a relationship therapist in practice in Manhattan, New York and author of Solving Modern Family Dilemmas .
Done well, you might not even realize gaslighting is happening. It undermines a persons confidence in who they are and what they believe, and it can lead them to do things they dont want to do, says Certified Gottman Relationship Therapist and Master Trainer Mike McNulty, Ph. D.
Sometimes otherwise mentally stable people gaslight in a certain situationsay, to cover up an affair. But people who persistently gaslight tend to be narcissistic (theyre extremely self-centered) and sociopathic (they ignore others peoples perspectives and disregard their rights). They seek to control another person to meet their own needs or desires in a way thats manipulative or dishonest, says McNulty.
Here are seven signs of gaslighting in a relationship, and what to do if you think youre being gaslighted.
Signs of gaslighting in a relationship
Some of these signs (lying, making false promises) tend to be more strongly associated with gaslighting than others. But several signs taken together is evidence enough to suspect gaslighting. Some of these, the victim just doesnt see them at first, says McNulty. The person needs to get evidence that its gradually occurring over time and put the pieces together to see the symptoms for what they really are.
1) They lieand keep lying when you catch them
Is your friend or partner never wronglike, ever? He or she is definitely lying, because were all wrong from time to time. And lying is a key sign of gaslighting.
People, of course, lie for many reasons. But gaslighters lie to change another persons reality. Whatever it is they want from that person, theyll lie to get it, says Pitta.
Gaslighters typically start with small lies, then build up to bigger ones. When theyre caught, even with proof like text messages, they refuse to admit the truth. Theyll keep denying and lying until you question your memory and ultimately believe their version of events.
If the person whos lying is so confident and unwavering, it becomes a real mind trip, says McNulty.
2) They play on your insecurities
Everyone knows that.
You look goodfor your age.
A gaslighter gets to know your vulnerabilities, including your insecurities, successes, and beliefs. Theyll consistently critique these things, making snide comments to hurt and control you. Theyll then tell you to "get over it," so you begin to believe your perspective isnt valid or important.
These remarks cut down your sense of self-esteem, says McNulty. It gives them the upper hand over time. The person whos being attacked will question their worthiness and identify with the gaslighters perspective, says McNulty.
If the person throws in the occasional compliment, dont be fooled. Thats to get you off your game, says Pitta.
3) Their actions dont match their words
Although a gaslighter says they care about you, they ultimately flake on plans time and again, then swear that the plans never existed in the first place. Theyre telling you what you want to hear, then doing whatever it is they wanted to do in the first place.
When someone says theyre going to do something, you should be able to trust theyll do it, says McNulty. You should question your trust in a person who gives you lip serviceparticularly if its a pattern, he adds.
4) They manipulate your relationships
Gaslighters manipulate how you see key people in your life, telling you that your father doesnt love you, your friend is talking behind your back, or your sister is lying to you. Theyll also develop relationships with some of these people, then convince them that youre crazy in order to manipulate them into supporting the gaslighting process.
By convincing everyone around you that theyre the only person who can be trusted, a gasligher becomes the master puppeteer. When youre cut off from people you trust, you dont have access to other perspectives that might help you to question whats happening, says McNulty.
5) They question your sanity
After deploying these other tactics, a gaslighter will question your version of events, telling you youre paranoid or imagining things to make you feel like youre going insane, says McNulty.
Constantly questioning your reality is a way to make you feel like theres something really wrong with you. In the end, youll believe you actually need the other persons perspective to get by, says Pitta.
6) They accuse you of the same behaviors
Known as projection in therapy-speak, gaslighters often accuse their victims of their own behaviors.
How many partners accuse their partner of cheating because theyre the one whos cheating? The person whos cheating sees the world in a distrustful way because theyre distrustful, says Pitta. Theyre trying to wiggle their way out. If their partner doesnt have a good sense of self, theyll buy the projection and act it out by actually having an affair.
7) You feel increasingly unsure of yourself
Over time, a gaslighters behaviors cut into a victims self-confidence. You might think everythings your fault and apologize all of the time, then wonder if youre too sensitive. You might feel anxious and isolated. You might question your impressions, thoughts, and feelings, and have a hard time making decisions.
Taken together, all of these would be the effect that gaslighting behaviors would have on someone, says McNulty.
What should you do if you think someone is gaslighting you?
If you think youre being gaslighted, McNulty suggests confiding in a person you know you can trust. You need to get out from under the influence of the gaslighter and have your perspective heard and understood, says McNulty.
Its entirely possible to fall for someone and realize that theyre gaslighting you after a date or two. Ditch them. If this isnt the first time youve been attracted to a gaslighter, therapy might be in order. How did you become attracted to this type of person? Are you playing a subservient role, and that was something that person smelled out? People who control are looking for people they can control, says Pitta.
Things get more complicated if youre being gaslighted in a long-term relationship.
If gaslighting is linked to specific circumstances, like covering up an affair, theres hope to salvage the relationship if the person is truly sorry and willing to try couples therapy. If the gaslighter atones and changes, and you determine why the cheating happened and address those issues, theres a chance you can recover.
A lot of people who have affairs never thought they would and are grasping for ways to make it go away or pretend like it never happened, says McNulty.
If, however, a person is slowly gaslighting you, and they arent remorseful when you confront them, they probably have a serious personality disorder. You may also be grappling with insecurity yourself or seeking a strong connection during a vulnerable time of your life.
I would be in favor of ending the relationship, says McNulty. Changing that in person takes time and a lot of motivation. Its much more complicated and often never occurs.