You’ve probably heard the term floating around — but what is gaslighting, really? In short, it’s a kind of undercover relationship manipulation that turns into a total mindfuck. If your partner is making you feel crazy — and accusing you of being too sensitive to make the “crazy” label stick — the problem might not be all in your head.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the one doing it tries to get power over his or her victim by making them think they are crazy, out of sorts and “off.” The gaslighter lies to, manipulates and questions the other person for control. And though it can happen with your boss, a parent or friends, it’s perhaps most common in romantic relationships. In guy-girl couples, it’s often the man in the abuser role and the woman as the victim, but it can work the other way around too.
“The more powerful gaslighter attempts to define the reality of a less powerful gaslightee — and the person in the one-down position allows that to happen,” Dr. Robin Stern, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of The Gaslight Effect, says in her Psychology Today blog.
Red flags that your man is gaslighting you and how to handle it:
1. You’re often left feeling confused and crazy
If your guy frequently tells you you’re crazy and twists things around so that it seems like you’re being irrational or unreasonable, that’s a telltale red flag he’s gaslighting you. And if you feel confused a lot and actually believe you’re losing it, that’s an ominous sign, too.
2. You keep doubting yourself
Gaslighting victims start believing their abuser’s perception of reality instead of their own.
“The gaslightee begins to second-guess herself because she has allowed another person to define her reality and erode her judgment,” Stern says. So if your guy is constantly raising his eyebrows at you and spins things in such a way that you seriously doubt your own version of events, take a long, hard look at what’s going on.
3. You wonder if you’re too sensitive or emotional
A favorite tactic of the gaslighter is to accuse his significant other of acting overly emotional and sensitive. The victim ultimately winds up believing it’s true since she’s heard it so many times. If your guy keeps telling you those things and you start thinking he’s right, it could be a case of gaslighting.
4. You’ve become completely insecure
This is a classic sign in every relationship marred by gaslighting. Both partners are deeply insecure, but the victim’s lack of confidence goes beyond her abuser’s lack of confidence. She literally loses herself and her identity and adopts the one her significant other is trying to feed her.
“If you are insecure and don’t have a strong sense of self, you will give the power to the other person as a way of being attached,” says couples therapist Dr. Jeanette Raymond, author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t!. “But you’re giving away your mind!”
“[An insecure gaslighter] attempts to feel secure by controlling his partner’s perception of herself,” Dr. Raymond adds.
5. You find yourself saying you’re sorry all the time
Do you walk on eggshells around your guy and wind up apologizing to him constantly because he makes you feel like you’re always in the wrong? That could be another red flag that he’s gaslighting you.
Originally published March 2015. Updated December 2016.