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  • Writer's pictureErika Agbabian, AMFT

Recognizing Gaslighting in Your Relationships

Gaslighting is a term that has gained significant recognition in recent years, but many still fail to understand what it really means and more importantly, how to identify it in their own relationships. Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation where one person seeks to make another doubt their reality, perception, or sanity. It can happen in various relationships, from intimate partnerships to family, friendships, and workplace connections. It can be difficult to recognize when you are truly experiencing gaslighting, but once you are able to understand and identify gaslighting in your own relationships, you can begin to build the confidence to confront and avoid these toxic behaviors.

To understand gaslighting, we must first take a closer look into the purpose it serves. There are many possible reasons why one might exhibit gaslighting tendencies, but perhaps the most central is control. Gaslighters often seek to either gain or maintain control over their victims. By making the victim doubt their reality, the gaslighter can assert authority and influence over the victim's thoughts, emotions, and actions. In more extreme cases, this may even be to maintain toxic or abusive power dynamics within a relationship to ensure compliance and submission. Gaslighters may also manipulate to simply further their own interests or avoid responsibility. By shifting blame or denying their involvement, they can get what they want and escape accountability.

We can often identify specific characteristics or patterns in the personalities or histories of gaslighters as well. People with narcissistic tendencies often use gaslighting to maintain their self-perceived superiority, asserting their own version of reality as the only valid one. Those with a history of trauma may have learned these behaviors from dysfunctional childhood relationships or employ these tactics as a way of coping with their unresolved pain. Lastly, gaslighters may have deep-seated insecurities or a fear of abandonment and use gaslighting as a defense mechanism to protect their own self-esteem or keep their victims emotionally attached and dependent on them. By making the victim feel inadequate or unstable, they attempt to deflect attention from their own shortcomings.

The tactics that gaslighters employ to destabilize a person’s confidence in their thoughts, feelings, and memories can vary, so it may be difficult to immediately recognize these tendencies. Common strategies include denying their own actions or involvement, withholding information, trivializing others’ feelings to make them feel ‘crazy’ or oversensitive, projecting their own feelings or behaviors, or shifting blame. Keep in mind that gaslighting can often manifest through subtle behaviors before gradually escalating into more severe manipulation and emotional impact. It can easily go unnoticed in relationships, especially if it has been happening for a long time, making it a very dangerous and destructive form of manipulation. So then, how will you know if you are being gaslit?

It’s important to recognize key signs which may indicate that you are experiencing this type of manipulation. Building proficiency in self reflection and emotional awareness is extremely helpful for identifying the presence of gaslighting in your relationships, as you will more easily be able to recognize these indicators for yourself. One common encounter for gaslighting victims is the frequent experience of self doubt. If you constantly find yourself doubting or second-guessing your own perceptions, feelings, and judgements, begin to recognize these patterns and take a closer look into what is causing you to feel this way. If the root cause of this experience is usually traced back to one individual, it is possible that they are gaslighting you. Another common mark of gaslighting is confusion. If you often feel confused or even overwhelmed by the inconsistency in someone’s words and actions, this may be an indication that they are employing gaslighting strategies for their self gain. Lastly, in more extreme cases, gaslighters tend to isolate their victims from anyone who might support them or provide a reality check. This protects and maintains the false reality that they create and allows them to stay in control. If you begin to feel isolated from others around you or those who were once close to you, especially to appease a partner or someone you share a close relationship with, you may be involved in a toxic or abusive relationship. If you are able to, reach out to friends or a therapist to build a support system. It is important to first ensure your physical and emotional safety if you fear possible retaliation. If you do feel unsafe, seek support immediately within the bounds of your personal safety by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or for resources and assistance.

Gaslighting is a destructive form of manipulation that can leave lasting emotional scars, so learning to identify it in your relationships may be the first step toward regaining your sense of self and well-being. Trust your instincts, seek support from loved ones, and if necessary, consider ending the gaslighting relationship to protect your mental and emotional health. It can be very difficult to navigate these relationships or confront these behaviors alone, so enlist the support of a therapist for guidance, tools, and resources. Remember that you deserve to be in relationships that are built on respect, trust, and genuine love.

If you would like to work with a therapist on how to manage gaslighting then please reach out.

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