Maybe you’ve heard the term thrown around, or maybe you haven’t. Regardless of your familiarity, you most likely have experienced it or heard of someone else experiencing it. Gaslighting is unfortunately extremely common.
So what is gaslighting? Beyond the dictionary definition, it is a type of psychological manipulation used by abusers. The goal of gaslighting is for the person being gaslighted to doubt their own experiences. The doubt experienced by the victim isn’t always sudden, but often a result of repeated patterns from their abuser. The abuser wants their victim to stop believing their own experiences, essentially driving them crazy while ensuring that they stay in the relationship. In short, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse.
It can be hard to pick up on this type of abuse. This is because you aren’t experiencing any type of physical pain- and not necessarily verbal harm either. But you are being harmed mentally. You are being manipulated, and this will take an incredible toll on you. The abuse isn’t overt; it will slowly wear you down as your doubtful thoughts increase overtime and you become more and more dependent on your partner to make sense of what’s happening. But there are some telltale signs of gaslighting to look out for.
1. You frequently feel like you’re overreacting.
Before you read on, know that your emotions and reactions are valid. Oftentimes, abusers will use the excuse that you are overreacting to justify their own actions. They want to make you believe that you shouldn’t be feeling how you do.
Telling you that you are overreacting to a situation is just a way for an abuser to feel better about what they are doing. As long as they have a way for you to stop feeling bad, they won’t feel bad and they can maintain their control over you. But this allows for the abuse to continue! In spite of what anyone says, you are allowed to react in whatever way you deem fit for the situation.
2. You’re making excuses for someone else’s actions.
While it is important to be able to see both sides of the coin in a discussion, there is never a need to justify a behavior that harms you or others. You do not need to make an effort to ‘understand’ why someone may have hurt you if you know the intention was to hurt you. Especially if the excuses end up being that ‘they were just having a bad day’ or that ‘that’s just how they were raised.’ If someone has a habit of consistently hurting you, it is not just a character flaw: it’s abuse.
3. The person in question repeatedly denies responsibility for their actions
Even if you don’t make excuses for them, you are running into another problem, which is that the potential abuser is consistently lying. But beyond that, they are also following a dangerous pattern of denying facts. When you approach them to discuss something that may have bothered you, they are often denying that they even did what you said they did.
This allows for you to begin to doubt your reality. You trust that what they are saying is true, so you must not have seen them do it. Even if you saw them do it with your own eyes, you begin to doubt yourself because of what they said. This type of lie is incredibly harmful. It also teaches the abuser that they don’t have to be held accountable for their actions.
4. You are the only one apologizing.
Forgiveness must go both ways in any healthy relationship. No one is perfect, so it is inevitable that both people in a relationship (romantic or platonic) will do something that will upset the other person. Mistakes happen, and in a healthy relationship, there will be an open dialogue about what happened, followed by a genuine apology.
For those being gaslit, it may feel like they are the only ones apologizing. And it may feel like they are constantly apologizing. Consistent apologizing for your actions- even if you didn’t do something wrong- is a major sign that you may be experiencing gaslighting.
Abusers who gaslight others want to make their victims feel as though they have done something wrong, so that they can have power over them. They may achieve this by having a bigger emotional outburst to prove that it affected them. This constant sense of wrongdoing is what causes victims to continue to apologize constantly, no matter the circumstance. They are afraid they have done something wrong, or something that might upset their abuser, so they are apologizing to right that wrong. But in actuality, they have done nothing wrong; they have only become extremely paranoid. You should never feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells in a relationship.
5. You question your own experiences.
A major component to gaslighting is making the victim question their own reality. If you frequently wonder if what you experienced actually happened, this may be a result of repeated abusive patterns in one of your relationships. If the instances where you are questioning your reality are only related to one specific person, it may be a sign that that person is gaslighting you.
Your self doubt is a result of habitual behaviors. Someone continually makes you feel like what happened to you didn’t happen, or isn’t as serious as you believe it to be. Your self doubt will not materialize overnight- it is instilled in you by your abuser.
Doubting what you know to be true can be a painful and traumatic experience. But one way to combat this is identifying all the experiences you don’t believe to be true. Track your thought patterns, so you can ask yourself why you aren’t believing your own reality.
6. They make it seem like your pain is your own fault.
This is also called blame-shifting; similar to an abuser failing to take responsibility for their actions, they also being to make everything seem like it is your fault. Even in situations where you clearly were the victim, an abuser has the ability to make you feel like you were responsible.
This is a major example of manipulation. The abuser is manipulating your own thoughts about the event that occurred. They want you to think that you might deserve your treatment in some way, or that you caused your own harmful experience. Obviously this is not true, they just don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.
If these behaviors sound familiar to you, it may be time to further investigate your relationships. When you know that you are experiencing toxicity, always try to talk to the person in question. But in abusive relationships, this isn’t always effective. If the negative patterns do not disappear, it may be time to let go of this partner or friend. Cutting off toxic relationships can be hard and painful, but know that it is always for the best. Cutting people out of your life who cause you emotional or physical trauma is a necessary step to protect yourself and ensure your wellbeing. Choosing yourself is never a bad decision.
When in need, you can always reach out to the following hotlines:
Text TEEN to 839863 6:00pm-9:00pm PST to contact the Teen Line, or call 877-968-8491.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are unable to speak safely, go to thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.
Contact the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-762-8483.