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Gaslighting: What is it? How to recognize it?

We are back on the blog to explore another term that has made its way into Pop Psychology:

gaslighting. Gaslighting is a very real and potentially harmful phenomena, which is why we believe it’s important to understand not just what it is (and is not), but also how to recognize when it’s happening.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation, control, and abuse that occurs in relationships of all kinds (romantic, professional, familial) and causes the targeted person to question their thoughts, feelings, memories, and, ultimately, their perception of reality. In time, this can also lead the target to experience decreased self-esteem, -confidence, and -trust, all of which can have deleterious consequences for their mental health. What’s worse, these consequences often make the target more dependent on the person doing the gaslighting, making it harder for them to recognize what’s happening and/or leave the relationship.

Causing someone to question their sense of self and reality may seem like a difficult task, and it is! But it is important to remember that this doesn’t happen all at once. Gaslighting is often a slow, insidious process, which makes it difficult for the target to identify both that it’s happening and what changes they are experiencing. As with many other forms of abuse in relationships, gaslighting often doesn’t occur in the very beginning, and it gets more frequent and severe as time goes on. For example, in a romantic relationship, the “gaslighter” may start out by quickly trying to develop a sense of trust and intimacy with their target—maybe they give a lot of praise, or they share private information. Once the relationship has been established, the gaslighter may start by introducing small lies or revisions of shared experiences. Then, they may accuse the target of lying, making things up, exaggerating, etc.; at first they may make these accusations to just the target, but eventually they may also make them to those close to the target. Throughout this process, the target is receiving more and more messaging from more and more people that they care about that says they and/or their perception of reality are wrong, which they ultimately internalize and start to believe themselves.

What isn’t gaslighting?

While they may share similarities, gaslighting is not synonymous with any of the following concepts:

Differences in opinion

Insensitivity

Invalidation

Manipulation

Narcissism

Beyond this, gaslighting isn’t always malicious or intentional. Some of us may have witnessed or experienced gaslighting in our families of origin, making us more likely to repeat this in our later relationships and less likely to see it as atypical. We say this not as an excuse for those who gaslight, but as an opportunity for us all to use empathy and self-reflection. That being said, whether or not we realize we are gaslighting someone does not change the harmful impacts it has on them, which is ultimately what’s most important to consider.

How can you recognize when you’re being gaslit?

As mentioned, recognizing when you’re being gaslit can be quite difficult. Signs and symptoms to be ok the lookout for include the following:

Signs

Your partner makes your needs or feelings seem trivial.

Your partner denies things that they have done or agreed to do.

Your partner changes the subject when you confront them about issues.

Your partner forgets instances where they could be perceived to be in the wrong.

Your partner refuses to listen to your experience and/or insists they don’t understand it.

Your partner questions your memories or thought processes when they conflict with theirs.

Your partner encourages those close to you to question you in similar ways to how they do.

Symptoms

You often doubt yourself and your decisions.

You don’t feel seen or heard by your partner.

You feel like you’re too sensitive for your partner.

You’re often apologizing, but maybe aren’t sure why.

You feel isolated from people who aren’t your partner.

You feel like you’ll never be good enough for your partner.

You feel out of touch with your thoughts, feelings, and self.

You feel like there is an unequal power dynamic in your relationship.

You feel like your perception of reality is skewed (compared to before the relationship).

If you recognize these signs and symptoms in your own relationship(s), you may benefit from speaking with a professional! Contact us today to find out if The Holding Space is a fit for your unique needs.


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