Gaslight was a fab movie released in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, and a young Angela Lansbury. The movie was nominated for seven academy awards that year and won two.
What’s that have to do with your relationship, you ask? Hopefully, nothing, but the term gaslighting, came from that movie, and it’s used to describe abusive behavior where someone manipulates information to make the victim question their sanity, memories, or even reality.
In the movie, Ingrid Bergman’s character begins to find things missing in the house, and the gas lights are inexplicably turned off and on during odd times. She begins to question her sanity and memory.
Her husband, played by Charles Boyer, locks her away from others in an effort to “protect her.” Of course, he’s the one who has been playing with her mind all along, trying to make her go insane so he can lock her away and take her riches.
Is There Gaslighting in Your Relationship?
While you’re probably not in a similar situation, you may have some gaslighting practices in your relationship that are creating a toxic environment. Look for the following signs of gaslighting in your relationship.
Who Makes the Decisions
If one person is the primary decision-maker, there’s a good chance the other is being manipulated. When this happens, you lose your independence and stop thinking for yourself. This is a bad turn for a relationship and for you personally.
Are you constantly being told you’re wrong, you don’t remember things, or that you don’t see things correctly? This can be a sign of gaslighting where one person belittles the other and contradicts them so much they begin to doubt their own thoughts and feelings.
Flip the Switch
Is your significant other a champ at flipping an argument around to putting the blame on you? They’re so defensive whenever they’re called into question, that they immediately take control of the argument and reverse it. Then you’re left feeling a one-two punch of WTH just happened.
Are you constantly apologizing? When you feel that you’re constantly doing something wrong and taking the blame for things, saying “I’m sorry” can get to be a habit. You’ll find you’re not just doing it at home, but you’re doing it with your friends and family when there’s nothing to apologize for.
Where’d You Go?
When you’re being gaslighted for a long time, you begin to question the very core of who you are. Suddenly you realize you’re not the person you used to be, and you feel like you’ve lost yourself.
No, Really. Where’d You Go?
A lot of people who are being gaslighted begin to withdraw from their friends and family because they’re embarrassed about their relationship, or they don’t feel comfortable with themselves anymore. The isolation is a double-edged sword because it makes it easier for your partner to keep pointing out what’s wrong with you, and you’ve now lost all support.
How to Stop Gaslighting in Your Relationship
If you see some of the signs of gaslighting in your relationship, this is nothing to take lightly. But, it can lose its power once you recognize the behavior and don’t fall prey to their duplicitous ways. The following steps can help you break the cycle and/or break free.
Recognize the problem. If you often feel like you’re being questioned and criticized and begin to doubt yourself, then there might be an issue. Begin to take note and trust yourself.
Journaling. This can help support you when your memory is being called into question. Keep notes and write down instances of gaslighting.
It’s not you, it’s them. Gaslighting isn’t about you and how wrong you are, it’s about the gaslighter’s need for control and power. Maybe you can work with them on their feelings of insecurity and save the relationship, maybe it’s not a relationship you want to be in.
Whatever you decide, just remember that you can’t change a person, they need to want to change and will probably need help making that change a reality.
Bring back your support system if you’ve withdrawn. Let friends know what’s going on so they can be there for you emotionally, and they can remind you of who you used to be. Rebuilding your self-esteem is going to take time and effort, and love from people who knew you before is key.
Gaslighting in the movie happened in a marriage, but it can happen in all sorts of relationships. You can have co-workers, friends, and family members who use gaslighting techniques on a regular basis.
It’s true. Gaslighting at work is becoming a very popular topic, and more people recognize this form of harassment. The above signs of a gaslighting relationship actually translate pretty well to a work situation, and the ways to escape gaslighting are similar. Luckily, at work, you should have an HR department or at least a supervisor who can hear your complaints and maybe help you keep your working relationships.
Gaslighting with friends and family happens too. Again, the signs are similar, but breaking free might not be that easy. In these situations, mastering the coping mechanisms can make it more tolerable when you have to co-exist.
Always know that it’s not you; it’s them, and don’t let them doubt yourself. If it gets too bad and you’re feeling emotionally drained–it might be time to cut ties here, too.
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Gaslighting relationships are really one of those situations where you deserve better. No one should be made to feel like they’re always wrong and that there’s something faulty with them. It can come on slowly and sneak up on you, but at some point, you doubt yourself so much, you know something isn’t right.
If you’re seeing the signs of gaslighting in any of your relationships, don’t let the cycle of abuse continue. Start taking notes and supporting your suspicions with hard facts. When you have that on your side, it’s easier to begin rebuilding your self-esteem.
When you’re feeling more like yourself again, you can begin to see the situation like it is, their problem and not yours. While the way they’re making you feel can become your problem, the core of it lies in their insecurities.
Escaping gaslighting is usually the best way to break free, but there may be a way to save some relationships if you both work on the problem together. No matter what, professional help can make that process much easier and save your sanity and self-esteem.
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