Recognize if you’re in a gaslighting relationship.
Gaslighting has become a popular term in American culture, with “gaslighting” being named the “word of the year” in 2022 by Merriam-Webster. As such, it’s no surprise that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 million women and 38 million men will experience some form of gaslighting at some point in their romantic lives.
The National Association Against Domestic Violence reports that almost 50 percent of humans have experienced some type of coercive control or physical aggression in a romantic relationship. When you add gaslighting behavior that occurs in domestic violence relationships to the statistics above, 74 percent of women referred to gaslighting behavior when contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2023.
The first step in combatting this epidemic is recognizing the signs. Here are 5 indicators that you may be in a gaslighting relationship.
Gaslighting relationships are characterized by a lack of truthfulness. Gaslighters regularly lie to their partners in both significant and minor ways. They do this to confuse their partner. Over a period of time, partners of gaslighters start to question their reality and judgment. Once self-doubt develops, there is a concurrent increase in their dependence on the gaslighting partner.
Gaslighters tend to be territorial and possessive. They discourage contact with family and friends. By doing so, they ensure it is their version of reality to which their partner is most often exposed. In turn, that reduces the incidence of being questioned by their partner about their behavior or judgment.
3. Financial control:
Often, people in gaslighting relationships lose control over their finances. Gaslighters encourage their partners to give over monetary control to them. They are successful in doing this by criticizing their partner’s ability to make sound financial decisions while at the same time smugly emphasizing their impressive financial judgment. By taking over their partner’s finances, they further deepen the dependence.
Gaslighters are very jealous. They tend to become jealous without cause. They may be suspicious of all incoming phone calls or texts. This can lead to behaviors such as demanding full access to their partner’s phone and email. If full access is denied, the partner may be unfairly accused of hiding something.
There are frequent signs of scapegoating in gaslighting relationships. When a partner is being scapegoated, they feel regularly criticized. These critiques are then used as a form of emotional manipulation. For example, a gaslighter may choose one of their partner’s character flaws as a way to defend their own misbehavior, as in “I had to do X because you’re like this.”
Many people find it very challenging to end a gaslighting relationship. This is due to a breakdown in self-confidence over time as well as an increase in dependence on the gaslighter. Here are 5 tips on how to combat gaslighting.
Use the information above to recognize the behaviors you’re experiencing as gaslighting behaviors. Once you recognize them, assess and evaluate them for what they are. Then, use the tips below to help you regain confidence, move out of denial, and reorient yourself into an alternative reality to the one currently being presented to you.
2. Own your truth:
Try not to let the gaslighter dissuade you from what you know to be true. Stand firm. You can say things like: “I know what you said” or “I know what I saw.” Gaslighters don’t have to agree with your version of events before you end the conversation. By just not giving in to their narrative, you retain your power.
3. Walk away:
Be comfortable being the one to choose to end a conversation. There doesn’t have to be a “winner” and a “loser” in an argument. You keep your power when you leave a conversation before you are stripped of your self-confidence. Reinforce yourself for leaving once you start to feel minimized or devalued.
4. Keep the conversation focused:
Don’t try to get a gaslighter to see your point of view. Stay focused only on getting across your thoughts or feelings. Presenting gaslighters with evidence to support a case that you’re being gaslit doesn’t work. Instead, focus on statements like: “My feelings are valid, please don’t minimize them,” “Please don’t tell me what I’m feeling or how to feel,” or “Please don’t tell me how to think or what I should be thinking.”
Over time, writing down your experiences in a journal can help you track patterns. The writing will also help ground you in a reality different from what the gaslighter is trying to present. This will help build confidence and reduce self-doubt.
As I mentioned, gaslighting behavior has reached epidemic proportions, with almost one out of every two people experiencing at least one intimate personal relationship that involves this behavior during their lifetime. If these tips are not helping you move on to a healthy relationship, remember there are professionals trained to assist you. Whether you prefer to talk to a clinician, clergy, or support group, there are people to guide you in figuring out the best next step for you. You are not alone.
Conrad, M. (2023, April 6) What is gaslighting? Meaning and examples. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/what-is-gaslighting
Italie, L. (2022, November 28). ‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year of 2022. https://phys.org/news/2022-11-headline-gaslighting-merriam-webster-word…
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2015). https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence_and_psycholog…
National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health. (2014, March). https://ncdvtmh.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/NCDVTMH_NDVH_MHSUCoercio…