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What is gaslighting and how to deal with it in relationships?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological violence in affective relationships. Surreptitiously, the abusive partner hurts the victim’s emotional state through manipulations and lies to aggrandize himself or get out of unfavorable situations for him.

It is dangerous because it creates a toxic and unbearable dynamic in the relationship, destroying the self-confidence of the manipulated spouse. So, as unhappy as he is, he can’t let go of the abusive relationship.

What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation committed by one partner to create insecurities and fears in the other. Information is omitted, distorted or created to support psychological abuse.

In this way, the victim doubts himself and transfers the responsibility for conflicts and problems in the relationship to himself. She can come to doubt her own sanity in extreme cases. For example, a very common scenario is when one partner suspects cheating and the other swears nothing is happening, accusing them of “seeing things” or being dramatic.

The abusive partner does everything to debunk suspicions, accusing the spouse of creating unnecessary conflicts. Soon, the person momentarily forgets the distrust and starts to blame himself for having caused an uncomfortable situation.

Both men and women can practice gaslighting in affective relationships. However, this behavior is usually more prevalent among the male population. This reality is due to the machismo still intrinsic in our society.

The term “gaslighting” originated from the 1944 movie “Gas Light” (A half light, in Portuguese). The plot follows a husband who tries to convince his wife and the couple’s acquaintances that she is crazy. He makes small manipulations of the home’s environment, and when she notices the changes, he insists she’s wrong.

The danger of gaslighting
Considered a form of psychological violence, gaslighting hurts the partner’s psyche, victim of constant manipulations. People who are unable to end unhealthy relationships often have low self-esteem due to the abuse they have suffered.

It starts subtly, with small accusations and manipulations to undermine self-confidence. The victim slowly begins to believe more in the other than in himself, questioning himself all the time. “Am I not being crazy? Am I not exaggerating?” are common reflections.

As the abusive partner feels confident the practices increase and may involve direct attacks. He can attribute the victim’s suspicions and emotional demands to his inability to be satisfied with the relationship, insecurity, lack of self-esteem, inferior intellect, uncontrolled emotions, and so on.

The intention of those who practice gaslighting is precisely this: mistreat and disrespect others for their own benefit. Even when confronted for exhibiting such behavior, the abusive partner denies having bad intentions.

Recurrent manipulations destabilize the victim psychologically. She is at the mercy of her spouse’s opinions, always seeking to know what he thinks or if he approves of his choices. Friends and family notice her significant reduction in happiness and try to warn her, but she cannot understand that the other is the problem.

This form of violence is very powerful in destroying victims’ self-esteem and mental health, making them prisoners of abusive relationships.

How to identify gaslighting
What is gaslighting and how to deal with it in relationships?
As manipulations are subtle, people find it difficult to identify gaslighting in love relationships. The victim is eventually affected by psychological exhaustion and depression, being unable to perceive the seriousness of the abusive partner’s attitudes.

It is common for men and women to vent about their relationship with a psychologist without being aware that they are being psychologically manipulated. Perception can be shocking, but it is necessary to react to manipulations.

Feeling for your partner can also get in the way of judgment. The victim may be tempted to make excuses for the spouse’s questionable behavior by nurturing affection for him. Therefore, it is worth considering the observations of close friends and family. Their opinions can help you realize the toxic reality of the relationship.

The main way to identify gaslighting is through reflection. The victim must analyze the partner’s behavior in a rational way, questioning what emotions are aroused by the partner’s postures and words, as well as the moments shared with him. Are they good or do they cause anxiety? Are they comfortable or stressful?

Then reflect on the occasions when the partner has lied or made false allegations. If the number is high, it is likely that the victim is suffering from this form of violence without realizing it.

The verdict usually happens whenthe person tries to clarify their doubts through dialogue. The abusive partner seeks to show the victim that he is wrong, mistaken, or confused, thereby freeing himself from responsibility for his questionable behavior. He also says how she must feel about the events exposed during the conversation.

Typical phrases of those who practice gaslighting
To help your reflection, check out some phrases typically repeated by those who practice this psychological violence:

“You are crazy”;
“You are imagining things”;
“That’s not how it happened”;
“Stop being dramatic”;
“Your problem is that… (criticism of the spouse’s personality)”;
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”;
“You are very insecure”;
“Can’t you see I’m kidding?”;
“You pick on everything”;
“It’s your fault”;
“You are too sensitive”;
“You get everything wrong”.
It is necessary to pay attention to one issue: although there are people who feel pleasure in causing discomfort to the other, there are also those who cannot admit their own mistakes for being insecure. Such individuals lie to try to cover up unfavorable personality traits or insecurities that only they see.

Unlike the abusive partner, the insecure individual can admit his faults in couple therapy or in intimate conversations. He is also able to ask for forgiveness as he allows his emotional wounds to heal. However, it is necessary to insist that the person is no longer afraid to talk about the subject.

Gaslighting beyond affective relationships
Anyone can use gaslighting to destabilize another. Family, friends, co-workers and bosses can also be manipulative.

A supervisor may try to make a highly rated professional believe that he or she is not competent not to grant a promotion or a raise in salary. A familiar may come up with an entirely different scenario to try to escape having hurt, insulted, or disrespected someone.

It is easier to identify the manipulator in these situations, as there is no emotional involvement as deep as in affective relationships. The person may even have doubts at the time, but not fully believe in the other person’s lies.

As soon as uncertainties arise, the person who lied should be questioned. However, avoid doing it aggressively no matter how angry you are. This posture can cause the liar to come up with more outlandish excuses. Inquiries should be made in a calm yet determined tone.

If the person insists on lying and does not assume his behavior, the investigation can take on a firmer tone. Whoever practices gaslighting cannot deal with assertive and self-assured people.

Trust your position and do not allow the liar to deconstruct or fantasize scenarios that are not consistent with reality. If necessary, talk to other individuals for evidence of their behavior.

What to do if I am a victim?
What is gaslighting and how to deal with it in relationships?
The first thing is to seek the support of loved ones and psychological help to rebuild your self-esteem and strengthen your self-esteem. As victims of manipulation feel diminished, confronting the abusive partner without having a source of support can cause them to fall into his trap again.

Understand that your partner’s attitude, however much love and affection you have for him, is wrong and deserves to be questioned.

In a healthy love relationship, partners constantly lift themselves up through praise and encouragement. The relationship is light and pleasant, as well as making him feel good. If your relationship isn’t like that, it needs to be re-evaluated.

Then talk to your partner about his behavior and express your feelings. You might even suggest that they have couples therapy to improve their relationship.

If your spouse tries to make you feel guilty about your unhappiness, rate the times when you believe he or she has lied or withheld information. It is likely that manipulative behavior is not readily recognized or is never admitted.

From there, it is necessary to assess the feelings regarding your relationship and your desires for the future. Do you want to live quality life with a pleasant partner or remain unhappy to sustain a saturated bond?

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but this reflection is necessary to awaken victims of psychological violence from the trance in which they find themselves. They often don’t remember what it’s really like to be happy in a relationship.

Therapy can help you let go of an abusive partner and restore self-esteem. The process of getting away from the abusive relationship is usually neither easy nor quick. Surrounding yourself with support alleviates negative emotions and prevents relapses, which are very common in situations like this.

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