Gaslighting is becoming a hot phrase in 2020.
Seriously, I’ve been seeing it everywhere, especially in recent weeks with the continued rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Make sure you’re not being gaslighted.”
But what does that mean exactly?
In this post, I’m going to explain the origins of the term and how it relates to narcissism. I’m also going to share some personal experiences of some of my Twitter followers, and some key warning signs that it is happening to you.
Most of all, I want this to be a safe space for all my readers.
Here is my list of what the comments section of this post are NOT open for
- Negative comments about the Black Lives Matter movement, since I referenced it.
- Making others’ experiences invalid. All feelings are valid.
- Comments about whether a person who felt they were being gaslighted really was. It’s not up for debate.
I also want to add a trigger warning, since I am going to talk about, and provide examples of, abusive relationships. Read with caution.
Now, let’s talk about the origins of the term gaslighting.
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Gaslighting origin explained
It all started with a British play in 1938 called Gas Light. There were also two subsequent film adaptations of the play soon after. Here is the basic premise of the play:
The play’s title alludes to how the abusive husband slowly dims the gas lights in their home, while pretending nothing has changed, in an effort to make his wife doubt her own perceptions. He further uses the lights in the sealed-off attic to secretly search for jewels belonging to a woman whom he has murdered. He makes loud noises as he searches, including talking to himself. The wife repeatedly asks her husband to confirm her perceptions about the dimming lights, noises and voices, but in defiance of reality, he keeps insisting that the lights are the same and instead it is she who is going insane. He intends on having her assessed and committed to a mental institution, after which he will be able to gain power of attorney over her and search more effectively.Wikipedia: Gaslighting
Since then, it has become an increasingly ubiquitous phrase in our vernacular. I’m sure you’ve heard it somewhere on social media or in a true crime podcast.
If not, and this is your first time hearing about it, keep reading to find out how to spot the warning signs.
Gaslighting and narcissism
When a person uses gaslighting tactics, it is often a sign that you are dealing with a narcissist. What is a narcissist?
Psychology Today cites some interesting sources on studies linking the two phenomena. They also list the follow 6 signs that someone is a narcissist:
- They exaggerate and inflate themselves, big time.
- It’s never their fault, and they won’t apologize or admit when they’re wrong.
- They project images of themselves to others that don’t reflect reality.
- They regularly violate boundaries and rules.
- Narcissists make you feel as if your feelings are invalid.
- They try to manipulate you to their way of thinking and being.
Have you noticed one or more of these signs in a romantic partner? You are likely dealing with a narcissist. The hard part is, they are never going to admit that this is what’s going on. That is why it is so hard to have healthy relationships with one.
Gaslighting in a relationship
I want to focus primarily on gaslighting in romantic relationships, because I think it is the most common, but I may use examples from other forms of relationships as well.
First, there is an important question we need to answer.
Is gaslighting abuse?
YES. 100% yes. Whether the perpetrator is aware that they have narcissistic traits or not, which is probably quite rare, they are consciously using words and actions designed to manipulate and control you.
Look at the example from the 1938 play. The husband made his wife feel like she was going crazy by tweaking the lights when she wasn’t watching, and making her think she was hearing noises so that he could control her legally and continue searching for treasure without her knowing.
Coming up, I am going to share some examples of real life Twitter followers of mine. Before I do, let’s look at warning signs you need to be aware of.
13 common gaslighting signs
Healthline shares a pretty comprehensive list of warning signs that you are being gaslighted by a partner. They are (phrased exactly as in the article):
- no longer feeling like the person you used to be
- being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
- often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
- feeling like everything you do is wrong
- always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
- apologizing often
- having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is
- often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
- making excuses for your partner’s behavior
- avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your partner
- feeling isolated from friends and family
- finding it increasingly hard to make decisions
- feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Do any of these sound like your situation? If so, try not to panic. Since it is a form of abuse, it is a situation to tread lightly. I’m going to share some resources at the end of this article that will help you free yourself from your abusive relationship.
Classic gaslighting phrases
Looking for more specific ways to recognize gaslighting in action? Here are some common things you will hear them say to you, according to the Healthline article I linked above.
“Oh yeah, now you’re going to feel really sorry for yourself.”
“Don’t you know? The whole family talks about you. They think you’re losing it.”
“I didn’t say I’d take the deposit to the bank. What are you talking about? Thanks a lot for the insufficient funds fee we’re going to get.”
“You seriously can’t find your sunglasses again? That’s alarming.”
“You’re crazy. You never went to that show with me. I should know.”
I’ll add these examples in light of recent hateful comments made toward members of the black and transgendered community:
“No, all lives matter.” (Yes, I believe this is a form of gaslighting. It is meant to invalidate a person’s feelings, and manipulate them to think your struggles are imaginary.)
“You don’t really identify as a woman, do you? You were born as a man, so that wouldn’t make sense.”
Anytime someone says something like that to you, it is abuse. That needs to be more common knowledge.
Personal experiences you need to hear.
I think it will be really helpful to share some experiences from real life people. They were kind enough to respond to my call to action on Twitter, and I am so appreciative!
By Alexandra, from the blog La Dolce Far Niente
“Gaslighting is a very strange ordeal. It’s the sort of experience you can’t see at the time but when you’re out the other side, it’s blindingly clear what was happening.
I experienced gaslighting for around four years by someone who was supposed to love me and looking back, I feel so foolish for letting it happen even though I didn’t have the strength or understanding to acknowledge it at the time. That’s why people who do it feel so clever because they’re truly pulling the wool over your eyes and you’re too blind to see what is happening. Your eyes and gut instinct tell you one thing, but the person you’re with denies it and tells you the opposite.
Calling you names, crazy, mental, stupid, so that you have no other choice but to ignore your intuition and believe whatever you’re told. They do it to manipulate you, change your thinking and cover up whatever they are doing that they’re hiding from you.
Even if you have concrete evidence, you can’t do anything but believe whatever that person tells you.
You must be wrong because they have said so.You're going mad, you need help, you'll believe anything and everything they will say. You'll even fuel their lies to others who are trying to help you see the light and believe the truth, telling them they must be mad, joining with the… Share on twitter
But there’s nothing else you can do because the person you love has to be telling you the truth, there’s no other option, no matter what you ‘think’ you saw or heard or know, you’re wrong. Until you finally realise, you were right all along.
I can’t tell you to not listen to the lies and trust in what you know and believe because if it were that easy, gaslighting would have been extinguished. Anyone can gaslight, a loved one, a boss, a government, so it’s easy to understand why so many people get caught up with it, because you don’t know where it can come from. The only advice I can give you is to trust yourself. Believe what you see and believe your gut instinct, because if you’re anything like me, it’ll be right 99% of the time.”
By Essence Rayne, from the blog Calligra Freak
“This is your fault,” he yelled as he climbed through the newly broken window to get to me. “Look what you’re doing to us! You’re the one abusing me. Look at what you’re doing. You’re ridiculous. Who are you listening to, now?”
I was listening to my gut, finally. However, I hesitated to tell him that directly. I stopped talking because every word I said was used against me eventually. They were misconstrued to fit whatever story he wanted me to believe.
“You cannot love me and treat me like this. You are hurting me. Please just stop!” It probably would have been more effective to keep my mouth shut altogether. But I just couldn’t take it anymore.
My brain had never been so confused. I left behind everything and everyone I’d ever known for a new start. I didn’t realize I had moved across the country with the devil, the only person I knew on the entire west coast."You're always so defensive. You're the sick one. It's too late for you. Unfortunately, you've been through too much. You've got to listen to me; let me save you before you die. I know you better than you ever can know yourself." Share on twitter
“No you do not.”
“Unfortunately, I do. I’m sorry. I love you. But you cannot rely on yourself. It will lead you to Hell. Do you want that? You’re so defensive. Here we go again. God, you’re really letting Satan have full control over you.You’re so sensitive. No wonder no one believed you that time you were held against your will and sexually assaulted for six hours.”
“Seriously? Why would you even say something like that?”
“See? You should be over it, but you’re not. You’re mad.”
“I’m mad because you brought up a trauma for no reason. I’m mad at you.”
“No you’re not. You’re mad because…”
I checked out. I stopped listening. He hated that. Just another day with the devil.”
By Aisling, a 23-year old blogger from thisdreamsalive.com and pricklypineapples.ie. She loves coffee, dogs, and the environment.
“I was dating a guy who’d start trying to gaslight me over small things to build up to bigger things. The first instance I remember is when we were out for my birthday and he ordered a falafel wrap, and I asked since when did he stop eating meat. He told me he already told me he went vegetarian and I must have forgotten, but last time I saw him he ate meat. And he hadn’t messaged me about it, so I knew he didn’t tell me.
It was such a small thing, but he was so adamant he told me and that clearly I forgot. It got a little heated (again, on my birthday and in front of my friends) so I dropped it.
A few weeks later he was being cold with me when I messaged him after coming from something. After having to ask a good few times, eventually, he said I was “snappy.” I’m all for taking accountability for my actions, but I was actually in a good mood that day and always tiptoed around him. Apparently it wasn’t “what I said,” but “how I said it.”
But he wouldn’t give me more clarity like what I said or what part of the evening this was referring to so I could at least critically look back at it myself. He dragged it out and had me apologizing over and over, for something that really isn’t a big deal if it did happen.
But I don’t think it did.
He was the one who regularly was harsh to me or embarrassed me in front of other people, and I never said anything, but God forbid I so much as speak in a tone of voice he didn’t approve of.
The biggest thing was when I saw him all over another girl, and he was trying to act like it didn’t happen, and that maybe I just saw him “innocently” with his female friends. I knew who his friends were, and this girl was not one of them. His body language was also too affectionate for her to just have been a friend.
That was the last straw from me. The biggest issue actually became him trying to gaslight me about it and act like I was somehow the one in the wrong for being upset about something that he did. Although I knew what I saw, it was reassuring to meet the girl later and for her to back me up and say that it did happen.
The whole point of gaslighting is to get you to doubt your memory and for the other person to make you feel like you’re actually the bad guy.The reality is, the gaslighter just wants to break you down so they can treat you terribly without you being able to call it out while they play the victim. Unfortunately, it's used along with other emotionally abusive tactics like… Share on twitter
By Masquerade Jade, from the blog Real and Raw: A Hiding Place
“To manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
My experience with now identified gaslighting was in April 2020. I did not even realize it was happening, until I ended up in the hospital and was removed from the situation. The culprit is my husband.
On April 1st Covid was beginning, and our state was beginning to implement lockdown and what is now called quarantine life procedures. I saw my doctor, and some of my medications were adjusted. I knew I was feeling funny, as the days and weeks went on. Plus, I started sleeping so much more, not wanting to move or do anything.
I was insanely stressed trying to homeschool my nine year old, and I was thrilled to get some wine and other spirits along with unexpected food left on my door step by extended family. Our grocery store had barely any food to choose from, it wasn’t that I couldn’t afford food there just was not much in our local stores.
There was a day I was really stressed and opted for half a glass of red wine that was gifted to us. I cut it with tonic water because I am a diabetic, and I wanted to relax but not sky rocket my blood sugar. As I poured the half of glass of wine, my husband called me an alcoholic.
My head spun a lot and I stumbled around. I thought to myself. “Oh my god, he’s right, I have become an alcoholic. But I was sure I only had half a glass of wine, so how does that make me an alcoholic? I ran around the house pretending I was sober and did not seek medical treatment for my head spinning episodes, but I stopped drinking. I put the bottle of wine next to my chaise lounge, and it still sits there today.
And I made sure the level in the bottle never changed.
I know my husband was using cannabis at the time, and I did with him too, but I stopped because he was telling me how addicted I was. That I was using so much I was acting stupid. I believed him. I thought I had become some kind of addict, so I hid in my house and never called my doctor.
Obviously, I did not feel like myself. My head was spinning, and I was almost passing out. I fell down a couple times. The last person I saw before I fell was my husband and he was the first one standing over me when I opened my eyes. How long did he let me lie there?
He actually literally had me questioning what I was doing wrong. And if I was an addict, I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want my kids taken away. I thought I was a crazy drug-addicted alcoholic because of his words and the activities I had lightly participated in.”
By Brigit Pettit, from the blog Sparking Wisdom
“In 2016 I got involved with what seemed like the perfect person. We clicked instantly upon meeting and were exclusively dating days after. We met on his winter break, so for the first few months of our relationship we did long distance. Then came summer.
It started out simply enough. My friends were annoying so we stopped hanging out with them. My family was too involved so I said no to events. I was too busy and needed to stay home more, so I did. Once I became isolated and could only rely on him, the relationship intensified.
Nothing I could do seemed to make him happy, but everything that was wrong in the relationship was my fault. And that made sense at the time. I did have a lot on my plate. My family is really close and calls a lot, and my friend group was different than his. Then, his attention became focused on my dog.
I worked at a summer camp across the state during the month of July. During this time, he moved into my house to take care of my dog. They say dogs can read people well, and I firmly believe that is true. She could see that our home was unhappy and started to act out. This again, was my fault.
I didn’t know how to train a dog properly and he would SHOW me how. He would “discipline” the dog in front of me as I would cry and tell him to stop. At the end of the fight I would end up apologizing to him for not doing a good enough job training the dog. My dog started to show discoloration and random scrapes that he would explain away. It got so bad in fact that my dog had to be taken to the vet for bruising and joint damage.
And I believed him when he said she must have gotten in a fight with another dog, or she jumped off the bed and landed wrong, since I was not there when this happened. I had all the evidence, he even told me what he had done to her other times, and yet, in my reality at the time he was not doing anything wrong.
After eight months of dating I finally had a last straw.
We had a big fight and he threatened, yet again, to leave. I took him up on that offer and we moved his stuff out. It was still a few months before things officially ended, but it was finally over.I don't share this story to make people hate him. I am not entirely sure he even knows what he did. But I want to get my story out there to help people understand what gaslighting can be like. I felt confused, crazy, and lost for months,… Share on twitter
I still find it difficult to talk about this. Sometimes I feel like I won’t be believed, because I haven’t been. Gaslighting is hard to recognize from within the relationship, but even harder to recognize when you are on the outside.
Friends were witness to his antics, but I explained them away, using his words and reality. I had many people over to the house during this time as well. I would explain away my dog’s scrapes and scratches or hide her away entirely. And I was not able to tell anyone what was going on because I didn’t even truly know what was happening.
I am in no way blaming these people for not stepping in, for he was able to ally people against me, and I got good at believing his distortions of love.
My wish for you is if you sense a friend is pulling away, giving excuses for issues you see, or in any other ways seems to be acting out of the ordinary, please talk to them. If someone comes to you in confidence, hear them out.
I am thankful for you, taking the time to hear me out.”
You don’t have to stand for this.
As you can see, gaslighting is a very real thing. If you are going through it, you are not alone. Check out the following resources if you are being emotionally abused and want help:
- See a therapist so that they can help you get your bearings and figure out your next steps.
- Document everything in a place where your abuser cannot access it.
- Check out this safety planning resource.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Finally, and most importantly, know that you are not crazy. And you deserve better than this.