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Conflict in relationships is normal and in some cases necessary for growth and understanding between two partners. More often than not, there is an imbalance of power among partners that can cause one person to feel inferior, or superior, to the other. When situations like this happen there is sometimes coercion and manipulation involved, which can lead to an abusive relationship. 

One form of emotional manipulation that is often overlooked is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse that involves one partner making the other question their judgments, memories, and perceptions. The victim of these scenarios is often left wondering if they have lost their sanity. It is essential to learn the elements of gaslighting so that if you ever find yourself in a situation where it occurs, you will know how to handle it as well as how to stand up for yourself.

Elements of Gaslighting

There are many ways for one to demonstrate gaslighting behavior. Gaslighting is a general term used to describe a kind of emotional manipulation that undermines a person’s understanding and perception of reality. Typically, gaslighting happens gradually as a relationship becomes more serious. An abusive partner may seem harmless at first, but over time, unhealthy behavior patterns will begin to unfold causing the victim partner to lose their sense of reality. The victimized partner may start to rely on their abusive partner to validate them, which can cause a dangerous situation in which a partner’s ability to leave the relationship is compromised.

There are multiple types of gaslighting. Taking a closer look at tactics, gaslighting partners might:

  • Lie. Either blatantly to your face or behind your back to others, lying is a form of destructive behavior that causes another partner to second-guess themself. This type of partner might tell you that you are making things up or try to alter your memories.
  • Minimize or trivialize your feelings. Have you ever heard that you are overreacting or that you are too sensitive? These are signs of emotional abuse. When your thoughts and feelings are never acknowledged, you start to question yourself. Partners are supposed to make one another feel validated.
  • Shift blame. This tactic often surfaces when a victim partner tries to address something that the abusive partner may have done that hurt them. In turn, the abuser twists the blame back on the victim. This situation often involves the claim that if the victim behaved differently, the abuser would not have acted the way that they did.
  • Withhold conversation. When a partner withholds, they choose to not participate in a conversation. They might respond with things that reflect that they do not understand what the other partner is talking about or manipulate the other partner into confusing them with the things that they are saying.
  • Deny memories or perceptions. In this situation, the abusing partner might pretend to forget memories or events that happened in the past in order to rewrite their history. They might deny saying or doing something, causing the victim partner to feel like they are making things up.

Although it tends to occur most in intimate relationships, gaslighting can happen in any relationship. This includes parent-child and sibling relationships, as well as friendships. 

If you ever feel any of the following in a relationship, you may be experiencing gaslighting:

  • Continuously confused
  • Challenged by making simple decisions
  • Responsible for defending the abusive partner’s behaviors
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, incompetent
  • Loss of independence

What to Do in a Gaslighting Relationship

Whether you find yourself on the abuser or victim side of this relationship, there are steps you can take to ensure your physical and mental safety. If physical violence becomes a factor in your relationship, we encourage you to seek emergency help and dial 911. 

If you feel safe but know that your partner needs help, there are ways to respond to gaslighting. You may want to consider gathering evidence over time, as this can help an abusing partner understand the harm they have caused. 

The article, “A Deeper Look Into Gaslighting” by The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests the followings ways to gather proof:  

  • Talk with a trusted counselor, friend, or family member. This allows you to gain an outside perspective and also alerts others of what you are experiencing.
  • Keep a record of events. This allows you to track the gaslighting behaviors, along with their frequencies.

It is also a good idea to have a safety plan ready and available. Your plan may include ways to safely leave a situation, identify safe escape points, and list family, friends, or places you can go to find help.  

Gaslighting is a type of emotional manipulation and psychological abuse that causes a partner to lose touch with their own understanding of reality. There are numerous types of gaslighting such as lying, trivializing, blaming, withholding, and denying memories. Gaslighting behaviors are not limited to interactions between partners or spouses; they can occur in all types of relationships. Over time, a victimized partner may feel powerless, oversensitive, and responsible for defending their abusive partner’s actions. Gaslighting can also cause a victim to endure psychological trauma, anxiety, and depression, along with other mental health concerns. If you find yourself in a gaslighting situation, prioritize your physical and emotional safety first. If necessary, keep records of your partners behavior, and have a safety plan readily available to you. West Coast Recovery Center knows that emotional abuse is crippling. Let us help you restore your sense of hope. Call us today at (760) 492-6509.