One aspect of mental health treatment involves understanding healthy and unhealthy traits in relationships. This knowledge applies to many kinds of interpersonal relationships, from significant others to friends, family, and coworkers. To safeguard your mental health and maintain respectful relationship patterns, it’s important to recognize when someone else is acting in manipulative or abusive ways. For instance, you may have heard the term “gaslighting” to describe harmful behavior patterns. But what is gaslighting? And how can you recognize and avoid it?
Reach out to A Better State today at 781.412.1488 for help learning some signs of gaslighting and how you can identify them.
What Is Gaslighting, and Why Is It Dangerous?
Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse in which someone intentionally causes you to question your thoughts, beliefs, and reality. Some examples include:
- Telling you that events didn’t happen the way you said they happened
- Insisting you’re overreacting to a situation
- Convincing you their version of events is accurate, and yours is incorrect
- Making you believe you are forgetful or unreliable
People use gaslighting to gain power over someone else and control them. If you stop trusting your version of reality, you may find it harder to trust yourself, which will undermine your self-confidence and ability to make good judgments. You may also come to depend more on the person who is gaslighting you since they’ve conditioned you to rely on them for truth and stability.
Not only is gaslighting a common component of domestic violence in intimate relationships, but it can also happen in friendships, families, and professional relationships. Even authority figures can be guilty of gaslighting (like a doctor telling a patient that their symptoms are imaginary).
The technique gets its name from a 1938 British play called “Gas Light.” In the play, an abusive husband works to convince his wife that she is untrustworthy. Among other tactics, he manipulates the light fixtures in their living space and tells his wife she’s imagining the changes.
How to Identify Gaslighting
It can be tricky knowing how to identify gaslighting. Since disagreements and differences of opinion happen in every relationship, it’s crucial to understand the difference between ordinary disagreements and gaslighting patterns. Gaslighting usually builds up over time in long-term relationships. Someone may begin by making small comments that cause you to doubt yourself.
Some warning signs of gaslighting may include:
- They always act as if their opinion is the right one, regardless of the issue you’re discussing
- They trivialize your thoughts and feelings by making your opinion seem unimportant
- They may say you’re being too sensitive or claim you’re reacting too strongly
- They divert or change the subject when you have a discussion or disagreement to take your attention away from the topic
- They counter you by questioning your version of events and your memories. They may add details that are inaccurate or claim you’re misremembering accurate details
- They deny something they said or did, even when they know what happened, and sometimes even if you have proof. They resist taking responsibility for their actions
- They withhold communication by refusing to listen to you, cutting you off when you try to speak, or pretending they don’t understand what you’re talking about.
Some of these behaviors can happen occasionally, even in healthy relationships—such as one partner making an insensitive remark or failing to listen to the other person. But gaslighting is more than simply a breakdown in communication. When these behaviors are repeated and consistent, and the other person makes no effort to understand your perspective, you can start to identify a pattern of gaslighting.
How to Deal with Gaslighting
If you think someone is gaslighting you, what should you do? The specifics of how to deal with gaslighting will vary depending on your situation and whether or not you want to continue the relationship.
Here are some actions you can take if you believe you’re being gaslighted:
- If you realize you’re being gaslighted during a conversation, walk away from the situation as soon as possible
- If you can, talk to someone you trust about what is happening. An outside perspective can be extremely helpful. The other person can also be a witness to back you up if needed
- Gather evidence of events by keeping a journal, taking photographs, or recording yourself describing events in your own words. This evidence can help you confirm that your version of reality is accurate
- Keep any evidence confidential. You may need to find a hidden place to store memos and recordings that the gaslighter can’t access
- Seek support from a domestic violence organization. Gaslighting is emotionally abusive, and it’s not uncommon for emotional abuse to escalate into physical violence over time
- You may need time to learn to trust yourself again. Working with mental health professionals can help you regain confidence. In counseling, you’ll also learn more about the respect and open communication you deserve in all your relationships
A Better State has counselors who specialize in helping those affected by gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse. We provide a safe space for victims to process their experiences, heal from trauma, and learn more about healthy boundaries.
A Better State Can Help Support Your Mental Health
Often, mental health treatment is part of recovery from substance use. Recovery from addiction involves learning to trust and respect yourself, including in your interpersonal relationships. Our therapists and counselors at A Better State operate with a trauma-informed approach, so they can help clients heal from the trauma gaslighting can cause. At our outpatient treatment centers, we offer multiple evidence-based therapy modalities to develop a unique treatment plan for every client.
We serve clients with substance use disorders through specialized programs that include mental health treatment. Contact us at 781.412.1488 if you want to know more about the signs of gaslighting or about how our programs can help you or someone you love,