I once lived with a world-class gaslighter. If they gave out trophies for mental manipulation, there wouldn't have been an empty flat surface in our entire apartment building. No matter what we argued about, it would inevitably "really" be my fault. When I pointed out their bad behavior, they would deny it so steadfastly, I would start to question my own memory. But worst of all were the long-term effects that months (and, sigh, years) of these mind games caused. What I didn't realize then was that I was seeing major red flags your partner is gaslighting you.
The thing about gaslighting is that it is innately tricky to spot. It can be really brazen or really subtle, but either way, it’s emotional abuse, and the sooner your recognize it, the better. First things first, though. For those who aren't aware, let's break down what gaslighting is exactly and why people do it?
Relationship expert Susan Winter explains that gaslighting is a systematic form of emotional and mental manipulation that "makes you doubt yourself, your intuition, and your reality." And the reason a partner might employ this form of manipulation is because "it's the perfect foundation for anyone who wants control over your thoughts, and actions." In other words, Winter notes that, with gaslighting, you eventually may begin not to trust yourself, giving your partner full control. "Slowly and insidiously, they become your master. They have you where they want you," says Winter. "Throwing you off your 'center' is a necessity in order to have complete control. Were you able to think clearly, you would question and defy their version of reality."
Well, that's certainly bone-chilling. It's also all the more reason why you need to be able to spot a gaslighter before they get in your head. Here is what to look out for.
1. They Deny Doing Things You Know They’ve Done
One of a gaslighter's most common (and infuriating) tricks is to deny the truth, no matter how obvious it is, to the point where don't even know what is true anymore. This can even happen when you personally witness their bad behavior. Even if you just saw it with your own eyes, Winter says they will "claim they didn't." "You just heard them say what they claim they never said," she says. "This is how gaslighting feels to the victim who begins to doubt their assessment of reality."
2. They Constantly Criticize And Undermine You
Another way a gaslighting partner throws you off balance is by constantly chipping away at your self-esteem and confidence by criticizing everything you do. "No matter what you do, you didn't do it properly. No matter what choice you made, it was faulty," says Winter. "No matter what situation has occurred, you're to blame. Every comment from your partner goes back to your being 'less than,' faulty, ineffective, and wrong." This all lays the groundwork for them to be able to play with your perception of reality.
3. You Start To Doubt Yourself About Things You Were Once Confident In
Over time, all the put-downs and manipulation begin to play tricks on your mind. Things you were once so sure of become fuzzy. You begin to wonder maybe you did misread the situation. Maybe what you saw wasn't want you saw. You begin losing confidence in your decision-making ability and begin internalizing all the negative, undermining things your partner has told you.
4. They Blame You For Their Bad Behavior
Every argument or disagreement you have with your partner somehow always boils down to be your fault. "You suddenly become the one at fault for noticing it. They insist you're overreacting, and overly sensitive," says Winter. "Now, you're made to feel bad and wrong for communicating your feelings. This tactic is designed to make you mute and placid."
She calls this tactic the "turnaround," and the whole point is to erode your sanity and make themselves the victim. "This second step of the equation renders you completely impotent in the relationship. Any move you make to defend yourself becomes the sword upon which you will fall," she continues.
What To Do If Your Partner Gaslights You
Now that you know what to look out for, the only question is left is what you should do if you realize your partner is gaslighting you. If it’s a one-off event, then it's important to let your partner know that it’s totally unacceptable behavior and you will not stay in the relationship if it continues (assuming you feel safe doing this). However, if you notice these red flags are patterns, Winter's advice is first to recognize that your partner is not someone you should continue having a relationship with.
"Understand that your partner is extremely unhealthy and this relationship is toxic for you. Gaslighters don't give up their control with ease," she says. "Needing control is essential to their day-to-day functioning, so denial reigns supreme. They'll never admit they're gaslighting you, so give up hope for that realization."
The next step is to get out as quickly — and safely — as you can, because they are a lost cause, and you have to prioritize your well-being. "You cannot save them or fix them. You can, however, save yourself,” Winter explains. “Get into therapy. Get support. Each day you remain with your toxic partner is another day you'll need to repair your diminishing self-confidence and self-worth."
While, at first, leaving may seem scary and impossible (especially if they've been in your head for a while), you can and should get out of this emotionally abusive relationship. Gather trusted family and friends around you for support, and then, leave and don't look back.
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