What is gaslighting?

A version of this article was originally written and published by One Love.

Have you ever questioned yourself after an argument with someone? Maybe they made you second-guess your memory of something that happened. Or they downplayed your feelings, causing you to question if you overreacted. They turn the story around to make it seem like you are at fault—deflecting attention and blame away from them to make you feel guilty. This type of emotional manipulation is called gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where a person makes you doubt yourself or question your account of an incident. Gaslighting can come from a romantic partner, a boss, a friend, or anyone else. It is done to gain power over you and avoid responsibility for the abuse that is being inflicted. Gaslighting is incredibly harmful. It makes you question your own sanity, can lead to anxiety or depression, and can even trigger nervous breakdowns. Here are a few signs to help you tell if you or someone you know is experiencing this form of emotional abuse:

You question if your feelings are justified.

After an argument, you wonder if you are the one being too sensitive or dramatic. The person dismisses your feelings, making you feel like they aren’t warranted or that you can’t keep your emotions in check. They might tell you that “you’re just overreacting” or to “stop making everything such a big deal.”

You second-guess your recollection of past events.

You’re told that it never happened or that you are misremembering the details. For some reason, the other person’s interpretation of an event does not match yours—and it’s making you question just how reliable your own memory is, or how justified your reaction is. They might tell you that “You have a selective memory” or claim that you’re “changing the story” and “making things up” to your own benefit.

You find yourself apologizing for things you didn’t do.

You start apologizing unnecessarily, even if you did nothing wrong. After any argument or confrontation, you actually start believing that you might be at fault.

You make excuses for other people’s bad behavior.

Your friends and family aren’t the biggest fans of your partner, so you feel the need to defend them. You start keeping certain details about your relationship to yourself and hiding things about the person from the important people in your life. You know your partner’s behavior would be seen as unacceptable, so you’re ashamed to expose the dynamics of your relationship.

You think there’s something wrong with you.

You wonder if you’re losing it or going crazy. When arguing with the person, they’ll tell you that “It’s all in your head.” You don’t feel good enough, or you can’t seem to get things right. You think it’s your fault and that if you tried harder or did better, the state of your relationship would improve.

You trust the judgment of others over your own.

You’ve started to doubt what is or isn’t normal in a relationship. They’ll say things like, “It’s normal to fight like we do” or “You don’t know what makes a good relationship.” So, when given a choice, you doubt your own judgment and think that others have better logic than you do. You don’t trust yourself and have trouble making your own decisions.

You think something might be off.

You’re not as happy and confident as you used to be. Your gut is telling you there is something wrong with your relationship, but you might be afraid to admit it or speak up.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these behaviors, don’t hesitate to take action. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and can be very devastating for anyone who experiences this type of manipulation. You can read more about emotional abuse on the One Love blog or find real-time help in their resources.

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