Is Someone Gaslighting You?

Is Someone Gaslighting You?

Gaslighting has become a more commonly used word in our everyday lives but especially in therapy. It’s important to separate gaslighting from disagreement, which is common in relationships. Not every conflict involves gaslighting and of course, there are healthy and helpful ways to resolve conflicts. Sometimes people mistake this term for other forms of psychological aggression, such as bullying or exclusion.

So what is gaslighting? According to Merriam-Webster, gaslighting is defined as a psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes someone to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories. This can typically lead to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and at times dependency.

It’s important to recognize how some of these symptoms may present similarly to other known phenomena such as anxiolytic and depressive disorders. However, an important distinction is to identify where these thoughts and feelings have originated from. Are they self-induced? Or does a particular person or group try to create uncertainty from what you know is true particularly about yourself? Take a look at some common phrases and examples below. If any of the following apply, explore the context in which you are hearing these phrases as this may be indicative of a gaslighting relationship.

  • You’re being sensitive.
  • You’re being paranoid.
  • You are making that up.
  • You’re imagining things.
  • You’re overreacting.
  • That never happened.
  • You know you don’t remember things clearly.

Gaslighting takes many forms and while it is often referenced in the context of abusive relationships; it can occur in non-abusive relationships as well. Some of us frequently find that we apologize, second guess, or doubt ourselves. In some relationships, the gaslighter will change small details in stories or memories. Over time, an individual will begin to discredit their own intuition and have trouble trusting themselves with decision making. In the workplace, an unequal balance or stereotype can perpetuate gaslighting. For instance, someone who has been working longer or perhaps have a leading role in the industry may disregard perspectives, advice, or opinions from subordinates. Additionally, we are challenged when we come across medical professionals who downplay or dismiss our medical concern. All of these circumstances can validate feeling irrational or fearful. 

If you recognize these signs being present in your relationship, it is important to address them. Healthy relationships, both personal and professional, should have honesty, trust, respect, support, and open communication. If you realize that your relationship is missing these qualities, seek support from family, friends or a therapist to process your feelings, evaluate the relationship, and make an action plan towards change. Here are some initial steps you can take towards building self-reliance and confidence in defining your own reality.

  1. Identify the problem – Observe and connect what is going on between you, your partner, your boss, your family, friend, or colleague.
  2. Sort out truth from distortion – Track and record the dialogue taking place. Writing down specifics from the conversation that you can later reflect on can be a helpful way to gain an understanding from multiple viewpoints. After examining the discussion objectively, document your emotional experience. 
  3. Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings – Acknowledge that your feelings are valid. Having an established, safe, and meaningful psychological or emotional well-being in a relationship is more important than identifying and assigning blame in the conversation. 
  4. Give yourself permission to give something up – Many conclude an ending to the relationship is the best way to regain your sense of self. While that decision is appropriate for some, there may be other sacrifices to consider when it comes to putting an end to questioning your thoughts, feelings, values, and perceptions. 

Lindsay Enright, MS, L(C)MFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy to clients located in Maryland, Virginia, and California. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary appointment with Lindsay!