“You’re crazy, that never happened.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“You’re making things up”
Are these phrases that you constantly hear from your partner that cause you to question yourself? If so, your partner might be using something called “gaslighting” — a form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity, giving the abusive partner power and control.
The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 stage play called Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights in their home (which were powered by gas), then denies that the lights change when the wife asks him about them. Once an abusive partner has used gaslighting to break down the victim’s ability to trust his or her own perceptions and beliefs, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship, because he or she no longer believes it’s possible to survive without the abuser.
Gaslighting usually happens gradually in a relationship — so gradually that the abusive partner’s actions seem harmless at first. Over time, a victim can be confused, anxious, isolated and depressed, and even lose sense of what is actually happening.
Personal Signs That You are Being Gaslighted
While the above are the common signs your partner will exhibit if he or she is gaslighting, there are also tell-tale signs you will start to notice within yourself. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the following are signs of being a victim of gaslighting.
If you identify with these 10 signs, you’re most likely being gaslighted.
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You start to question if you are too sensitive.
- You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
- You find yourself constantly apologizing.
- You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
- You often make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
- You feel like you can’t do anything right.
- You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
- You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person.
- You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things.
The Following Actions are Associated with Gaslighting:
1. Withholding: Your partner pretends not to understand you or flat out refuses to listen to you. He or she might say things like “I don’t want to hear this again.”
2. Countering: Your partner questions your memory, even if you’re sure you know what happened. They say “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly,” or “You’re imagining things, that never happened.”
3. Blocking/Diverting: Your partner changes the subject to silence you or questions how you’re feeling, saying things like “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (friend/family member)?”
4. Trivializing: Your partner makes your needs or feelings seem unimportant, constantly telling you that you’re too sensitive, or that “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?”
5. Forgetting/Denying: Your partner pretends to have forgotten what really happened, or flat out denies promises he or she made to you. He/she will say things like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or “You’re just making things up.”
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. If you feel like you’re being gaslighted in a relationship, it’s important to seek help.