We hear this question often from the men we work with at Denver Men’s Therapy. “My partner is saying I am gaslighting them! What does that even mean?!”
Are these phrases part of your go-to defense when arguing with your partner or a loved one?
“You’re being irrational.”
“We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”
“You can’t take a joke.”
“Why are you so upset? I was only kidding.”
“Why would think that? What’s wrong with you?”
Do you find yourself glossing over fights? Or you think there’s nothing wrong with lying? Or maybe you tell people they’re wrong, just because they express different opinions than yours.
If you find yourself doing any number of these harmful habits, you might be gaslighting.
You can find plenty of articles online about how victims can tell if they’re being gaslighted by romantic partners or family members, but there’s not much out there for those who might be doing the gaslighting themselves.
While it’s essential that the victims get out of these emotionally-damaging relationships, the people who are performing these behaviors need help, too.
But just what is gaslighting? How do you know when you’re doing it? And how can you stop it?
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting starts off slowly, with a snide comment or criticism disguised as a joke. Or, your loved one might accuse you of doing something and you deny it or brush it off like it was no big deal. But once you start doing it all of the time, it turns into a dangerous, emotionally-abusive act that leaves loved ones questioning their reality and their sanity. Gaslighting turns into your desperate need to control the relationship.
You don’t have to be married or dating someone to gaslight them. You can do this to family members, friends, and coworkers.
Why do people gaslight?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation, a way of controlling others in a relationship. By not taking responsibility for your actions and blaming your loved ones, you’re breaking down their confidence, potentially causing them to question every aspect of their lives, which means you stay in control to mask your own insecurities.
Tactics used when gaslighting
You constantly lie
Habitually lying to your loved one and refusing to admit you’re wrong is a symptom of gaslighting. Even when you are called out, you refuse to back down and try even harder to convince them you’re right.
You discredit others
If you’re spreading rumors, lies, and gossiping to others about loved ones to try to get them to side with you as a way to justify your actions, then this may be a sign you’re gaslighting.
You deflect blame
When your loved one questions you or calls you out on something, you’ll often try to change the subject by asking a question rather than responding directly. You may blatantly lie by denying that the incident you’re accused of never happened.
You Minimize your loved one’s thought and feelings
To gain power over others, you may say things like “Calm down,” or “You’re overreacting,” to minimize their emotions and convince them they are wrong.
You shift blame
Another common tactic of gaslighting is shifting blame or blaming the other person when you, in fact, are the one to blame. When it comes to gaslighting, the person who is manipulating never admits fault. Rather, they tell the person accusing them of improper behavior they are wrong.
You use loving words as weapons
Have you ever caught yourself saying things like, “You know how much I love you,” or “I would never hurt you on purpose,” when you’ve been called out by a loved one? As an attempt to smooth over the situation, you may say things like this, but if you don’t really mean it, this could be a sign of gaslighting. You’re manipulating the other person to get out of admitting that you’re wrong.
You reframe the scenario
If you find yourself in an argument about something that happened in the past, and you reframe the scenario in your favor rather than owning up to it, this is a symptom of gaslighting. Saying you tripped and ran into your partner rather than admitting you purposefully shoved them is an example of this.
What can you do about it?
The first thing you must do if you feel like you’ve been gaslighting someone is to acknowledge you’ve been doing it to yourself and to your partner. Admit you’re wrong, that you have a problem, and then explain how you will address the behavior. Seeing a therapist is an essential next step to breaking out of this destructive behavior pattern.
Know when it’s time to get help
One gaslighting becomes a habit, it’s hard to turn it off. If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, it might be time to seek professional help. A certified therapist can help you break this damaging behavior so you can learn to have healthy, happy relationships.