The word “gaslighting” has become trendy lately, and people seem to be tossing it around all over the place.
But what does this term actually mean, and what does the profession of psychology have to say about it?
The word doesn’t have its origin in pure psychology but instead comes from a 1938 play and then a 1944 Hollywood movie called Gaslight.
In the film, Gregory lies to and manipulates his wife Paula to make her believe she has gone insane so that he can move in on her family fortune. Among other things, he dims and brightens the titular gaslights in their home but tells her she’s imagining it when she notices.
Gaslighting can include one or a combination of activities, including “outright lying, manipulation of reality, scapegoating, and coercion,” according to the South African College of Applied Psychology.
It’s used to destroy a person’s confidence, degrade their sense of self, and confuse their conception of reality. In serious cases, it’s considered a form of psychological or emotional abuse.
If you suspect this is happening in your relationship, something is seriously wrong. But to be sure, let’s look at seven signs your partner is gaslighting you according to psychology so that you can decide if you should take action and even get out of the relationship.
1) They lie.
When your partner gets their back up against the wall, they may simply lie to get out of trouble.
Here’s the type of situation this might happen in:
Imagine a friend calls and tells you they saw your partner out somewhere, being obviously romantic with someone else. For most of us, this is going to be some devastating news.
So you really have no choice but to confront your partner and ask them to explain what your friend told you.
But if they’re clever and manipulative enough, they’ll be ready to deny the story immediately.
They might even take it one step further and say something like, “That’s crazy. They obviously hate me if they’re willing to make up such vicious lies about me! You can’t trust your friend at all!”
And there we have it – a classic example of lying to gaslight you.
Simply lying is not gaslighting, but it can contribute to an overall gaslighting strategy that’s designed to confuse you and attack your sense of reality.
2) They try to isolate you.
If someone is trying to make you feel confused and disoriented so that you question your own conception of reality, it makes a lot of sense that they’d use isolation as one of their tactics.
Gaslighting relies on the gaslighter’s ability to control the narrative, and that can be seriously jeopardized by other outside actors who are friendly to the victim. So, if your partner is gaslighting you, they’ll want to keep you away from people who can confirm your understanding of reality.
They can keep you believing their version of reality when they have exclusive access to you.
So, how do they use isolation as a weapon?
According to studies, they’ll keep you away from other people in any way they can.
They might spread rumors about you to make other people think you’re crazy and unstable. They could tell your friends and family that you don’t want to see them.
I’ve even heard of someone getting into their partner’s phone and sending messages to tell their friends they didn’t want to have any more contact with them.
Some people would actually go so far as to work to get their partner committed. This would completely isolate them and could be put forward as evidence that they really are crazy.
This is really manipulative stuff we’re talking about.
3) They attack your memory.
The aim of gaslighting is to gain power or coercive control over another person by “making victims seem or feel “crazy,” creating a “surreal” interpersonal environment.”
And one way to do this is to “sow seeds of doubt, hoping to make their partner question their own memory.”
So, a sign that your partner is gaslighting you is that they constantly attack your memory. There are a few different ways to do this.
One can be simply telling you that you have a terrible memory again and again. This kind of insult could actually go to your head and make you start to believe it.
But there are other ways that are a lot more devious. One is tricking you.
Imagine you come home and put your keys on the sideboard. An hour later, when you’re ready to head back out, your keys aren’t there. But you swear that’s where you left them!
Then, your partner chimes in and tells you that you’re nuts. They saw you put them on the kitchen table. And sure enough, you walk into the kitchen and there they are.
Are you losing your mind? Is your memory truly as terrible as your partner says?
No, they moved your keys to make you doubt yourself.
This is how gaslighting works, and as you can see, it can be extremely manipulative and intentionally cruel.
4) They call you crazy.
I want to be clear here that calling someone crazy as a joke is a pretty regular occurrence and has nothing to do with gaslighting.
But telling a person repeatedly that they’re crazy, unstable, irrational, hysterical, or out of their mind can definitely be evidence of gaslighting. After all, the end goal of this strategy is to have the victim doubt their reality.
They want you to believe that you’re really crazy.
According to research, some of the most common gaslighting behaviors include “direct accusations of epistemic incompetence, such as being “crazy,” “overly emotional,” or having deficient cognitive abilities.”
This behavior is used to insult the victim but also to disorient them and make them begin to question themself. It’s incredibly demeaning, disrespectful, and damaging to the victim’s self-concept and self-esteem.
5) They like to make you hurt.
This dark character trait can involve liking to see others hurt physically or psychologically or actually doing the hurting. The study looked only at the latter, which it calls direct sadism.
They found that the more sadistic a partner is, the more they would consider gaslighting appropriate.
Making you hurt physically or psychologically isn’t the same as gaslighting, but if this is something your partner does, it could be a sign that they’re completely willing to gaslight you.
However, this behavior on its own could be serious enough that you don’t need to consider if you’re also being gaslit. If you’re being abused physically or tormented psychologically, this is a relationship you need to get away from.
6) They sabotage you.
The goal of gaslighting is control over the victim.
Gaslighters feel like they need to confuse and disorient their victims so they can keep them in line, keep them close, or prevent them from going away.
So, one of the things you may find them doing is sabotaging your life. They’ll work to prevent you from having success or even learning and betting yourself.
Research shows that these actions are usually taken in response to any attempt to exert independence.
If you decide to study for a new degree or train for a new job, they will try to interfere with your studies by picking fights, belittling you, and distracting you from your assignments and tests.
Some gaslighters even use sabotage to keep their partners from getting jobs outside the home.
They might contact potential employers anonymously to disparage you. They might actively block any incoming contact from people who want to hire you by intercepting your messages and calls.
They’re interested in keeping you dependent on them and incapable of taking care of yourself independently.
7) They’ll discredit you.
One more sign your partner is gaslighting you is that they’ll actively work to discredit and disparage you.
Many victims of gaslighting describe their partners actually starting and spreading false rumors about them. This action is seen as a way to control and isolate them, as it can make other people wary and not want to associate with the victim.
Research shows that this discrediting is often related to sexuality, especially when women are the victims of gaslighting.
Does your partner tell everyone you’re promiscuous or a cheater? Do they start rumors about you that are completely unfounded?
If so, they’re gaslighting you.
If you recognize these seven signs, your partner is gaslighting you, according to psychology; don’t delay in getting help.
You’re not crazy, and you’re not overreacting. This truly is malicious behavior that’s hurting you, and you need to get away from it right away.
If you need help in escaping an abusive situation, there’s help you can contact now.