Is Your Partner Gaslighting You? An Expert Weighs In

partner gaslighting
Graphics by: Anna Wissler

The first time I heard the word “gaslighting,” I thought it was referring to a tasty backyard barbecue. Little did I know, it was actually referring to behavior I’d come across before in former sexual and romantic partners. For example, I once came across sexual messages between a former boyfriend and someone else. When I confronted him about it, he told me I was acting “crazy” and that it wasn’t what it looked like.

Gaslighting isn’t a new phenomenon. But, if you are like me, you may not be sure what it really means. Don’t worry, we’re not alone. According to a YouGovAmerica study in 2017, around 75 percent of adults were unsure of gaslighting’s definition. “Gaslighting is not simply a disagreement or difference in perception of reality. It is a pattern of undermining and questioning another’s reality,” said licensed therapist Jordan Green of The Love Therapist.

Meet the expert
Jordan Green, LCSW
Licensed Therapist, Founder and CEO of Remble

You may have experienced this before or you may find yourself wondering if your current partner is gaslighting you. What are the signs to look for? Why would someone exhibit this behavior? And what can you do about it? Read on for expert advice. 

 

Examples of Gaslighting 

There are many examples of gaslighting. Some of them include:

  • Lying
  • Minimizing, discounting, or making you question your perception, thoughts, and memories
  • Invalidating your feelings or concerns
  • Discrediting you to others or aligning people against you
  • Deflecting blame or blame-shifting
  • Denying they said or did something (rewriting history)
  • Telling you that you shouldn’t trust others
  • Hiding things and then pretending they don’t know anything about it
  • Denying wrongdoing and avoiding responsibility for choices
  • Degrading statements or false accusations
  • Twisting stories in their favor
  • Projecting
  • Withholding information
  • Isolating you
  • Sporadic positive reinforcement to confuse

 

Ways Gaslighting Appears in Relationships

Like in my example, sometimes gaslighting in romantic relationships “may look like cheating but making you think you’re crazy for questioning them,” said Jordan. However, that isn’t always the case for relationships. The point is that your partner may say something that “causes you to second-guess yourself and question your memories, perceptions, and reality,” she said.

 

frustrated woman covering face

Source: Liza Summer | Pexels

 

Some of the common phrases your partner may say are:

  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “It was a joke. You have no sense of humor.”
  • “You’re overreacting.”
  • “It’s no big deal.”
  • “Stop acting crazy/dramatic.”
  • “Why would you think that?”
  • “That’s not true. You’re making that up.”
  • “Don’t you remember?”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “Others have it worse.”
  • “You’re too emotional.”
  • “You’re imagining things.”
  • “Stop taking everything so seriously.”
  • “You’re just insecure/jealous.”
  • “You’re being irrational.”
  • “I criticize you because I care.”
  • “You’re overthinking this.”
  • “You should have known…”

 

Why Do People Gaslight?

Jordan said, “People who gaslight may feel insecure and anxious, leading them to need to feel right and in control. Many times, people don’t even realize they are gaslighting—it may be a habit they picked up from others.” 

One thing to keep in mind is gaslighting doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is a bad person. Again, they may be unaware that they’re doing it. “Like anything, gaslighting is a spectrum—it can range from power struggles in relationships to severe abuse,” said Jordan. Sometimes a person’s experiences from their past, like trauma, can cause them to develop this behavior. It can be the result of “fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem,” she said.

Furthermore, “it can be challenging to change ingrained behaviors…it often requires addressing the abuse or gaslighting someone experienced (maybe as a child) or other traumatic experiences that have led them to develop these controlling behaviors,” said Jordan.

 

What To Do If You Notice Gaslighting in Your Relationship

The good news is that you and your partner can work through this issue if you realize it’s causing tension in your relationship. This may look like reaching out to a therapist to help you reflect on your experiences and equip you with tools that teach you how to respond in situations you’re being gaslit. “By learning to identify the signs of gaslighting and catching the red flags, you can learn how to respond BEFORE the conversation escalates to the point of disorientation, accusation, and confusion,” said Jordan.

In your partner’s case, they also have to be willing to examine their behavior and the root cause of it. This means “they must first take responsibility for their behavior and stop making excuses or blaming [others],” said Jordan. 

Any time you find that you’re second-guessing yourself in a relationship, it can cause you to feel confused and possibly insecure. Even if you feel these things, they don’t make you “crazy” or delusional. Of course, even if you voice concerns, it’s possible a partner may continue gaslighting you. “If you’ve invited the other person into a conversation about how they are communicating, how it affects you, and how to communicate with more respect and kindness, and you are not noticing changes, you should consider taking space from them,” said Jordan. You don’t have to carry the burden of your concerns alone nor do you have to allow gaslighting to be a permanent part of your life or relationship.

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