If Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend Is Gaslighting You, They Might Say These 5 Things
Your partner is late for the zillionth time. You finally muster up the courage to call them out on it, but they dismiss you entirely. Maybe you're met with, "What are you talking about? I was barely five minutes late." Or, "You're too obsessed with being on time. You should really work on that." You might even find yourself feeling embarrassed for even bringing it up. Ultimately, you drop the conversation. No, you're not being paranoid — they might be gaslighting you. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is gaslighting you, and you've been entirely unaware of it, do not blame yourself. This type of abuse causes your sense of reality to gradually deteriorate until you have trouble separating your truth from what your partner tells you is the truth.
The term gaslighting stems from a 1940 film (adapted from a 1938 play) titled Gaslight, in which a man convinces his wife she’s gone insane and as a result, can't trust her own suspicions so that he can steal her most valuable possessions. Gaslighting isn't always so obvious, however. In the more subdued, yet equally as dangerous form, your partner may plant seeds of doubt in your mind that can lead you to question your own convictions. Ultimately, gaslighting is a highly manipulative form of emotional abuse.
"Gaslighting occurs when one person in a relationship seeks to gain power over another person by undermining and having that person doubt themselves, their perception or reality," licensed therapist Dr. Melanie Shapiro says in an interview with Elite Daily. "It can often lead to abusive relationships where an individual can even believe they have caused or deserve to be mistreated. Gaslighting most frequently often occurs in romantic relationships but can also happen in friendships or families."
The first step of ending an abusive relationship is recognizing it as such. And one of the most effective ways to detect gaslighting is to listen carefully to the language your partner chooses to use, according to clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, Dr. Joshua Klapow. Oftentimes when someone is being gaslit, their partner's intent to invalidate their feelings isn't so overt — it's lingering beneath their words. So, how can you aim to recognize whether or not your SO is gaslighting you? Listen closely and watch out for one of these toxic phrases.
“That never happened.”
One way to gain power over someone is to question their memory of an event. After all, how can your feelings about an event be justifiable if you're not certain you even remember it correctly? If you're convinced your memory has failed you in the past, you’re more likely to question how accurately you remember something in the future.
Keep an ear out for phrases like, “What are you talking about? I didn’t do that” or "I never said that." If your partner is often accusing you of misremembering details (or entire events), they may be gaslighting you. Dr. Shapiro explains that if you confront your partner about coming home late, for example, and they respond with, “I was home by 11 p.m., you must have looked at the clock wrong — you were really tired, you should get more sleep,” that’s a sign of gaslighting. Not only did your partner deny what you observed, but they were quick to turn it around on you.
However, if your partner is indeed trying to gaslight you, the language they use when trying to disprove your memory may be less blatant. As Dr. Klapow points out, instead of saying, “That never happened,” they may simply say, “Are you sure it happened like that? I don’t recall us ever doing that,” or, “I want to help you. Let me recount what really happened.”
There will most likely be many times in any relationship where both individuals recall an event differently. However, if you feel like your memory is being called into question on a regular basis, you may want to consider whether or not your partner is gaslighting you.
"I’m worried about you."
If you find your version of reality rarely matches up with your partner’s, you may begin to notice that your partner often finds a way to blame you for the discrepancy in memory.
Dr. Klapow suggests paying attention to the times when your partner says things like, “I’m worried about you, you don’t seem to be able to remember things,” “I think you may have a problem. You may want to think about getting help. You’re forgetting everything,” or “Let’s talk about what I can do to help you reduce stress. It seems like it’s having an effect on you.”
While it's possible that your partner is just showing concern for you, there's still a chance that they're purposefully manipulating you to believe your tainted memories are a product of a problem you have yet to work through. If the latter is true, you might feel less comfortable confronting your partner the next time they say or do something hurtful. It's a good idea to explore your partner's points more deeply to assess whether they have any validity. Try talking to other people outside your relationship (close friends and family) to determine if anyone shares your SO's concerns.
"You're too sensitive."
Does your partner frequently convince you not to be hurt by something they said or did? According to Dr. Sherrie Campbell, licensed counselor, psychologist, and marriage and family therapist, another sign of gaslighting is that your boyfriend or girlfriend might regularly convince you that you’re overreacting in order to avoid having to acknowledge their unacceptable behavior and apologize.
Take note if your partner has trouble taking responsibility when something they say offends you. For example, Dr. Campbell points out that your SO might say, “Everyone else thought my joke was funny,” when something rubs you the wrong way.
The bottom line is that a gaslighter can increasingly gain power over you by minimizing or discrediting your feelings. Don't be afraid to open the line of honest communication when something bothers you. An emotionally supportive partner will want to adjust their behavior as needed if they know how much of an impact it's having on you. As for being hypersensitive, you might want to evaluate whether this is something that anyone else in your life aside from your significant other has brought to your attention.
"Have you been talking to __ again?"
A gaslighter may frequently discourage you from talking to loved ones. This might be because they're hesitant to allow you to remain closely connected to those who may build you up, validate your feelings, or strengthen your sense of reality.
If you confront your partner about something and instead of addressing the issue, they change the subject and ask, “Have you been talking to your sister/mom/best friend?” it's possible that they could be subtly attempting to convince you that your loved one's opinion is negatively influencing you.
In fact, Dr. Shapiro asserts that one of the most common gaslighting behaviors is finding ways to prove that other people in your life are untrustworthy. This way, the gaslighter can “narrow the reality,” causing you to put more stock in their opinion and ultimately harness more control over your perception of things.
“Maybe this wouldn’t happen if you…”
When it comes to gaslighting, degradation and blame can go hand in hand — if a gaslighter is able to make you feel bad about yourself, then you’re less likely to reject their disparaging behavior toward you. For example, maybe your partner promised to take you out to dinner, and when they fail to follow through, you bring it up. Instead of acknowledging that they hurt you, they might falsely accuse you of spending all of their money in an attempt to divert your attention.
“It can often lead to abusive relationships where an individual can even believe they have caused or deserve to be mistreated,” explains Dr. Shapiro.
If your partner is continually drawing attention to what they see as your shortcomings or “flaws,” that could be a major gaslighting red flag. A gaslighter will exploit your insecurities in order to gain more power.
Gaslighting is one of the most challenging forms of abuse to identify, but if any of these above phrases sound familiar, then you may want to take a step back and consider the nature of your relationship. If you suspect your partner is gaslighting you, Dr. Klapow recommends talking to other people in your life in order to help determine the validity of your feelings, as well as your memory of certain events. He also recommends evaluating your level of communication with other friends and family members in order to determine whether or not you have problems recalling facts outside of your romantic relationship. Dr. Shapiro advises reaching out to a therapist if you feel trapped or need help navigating your relationship.
“If you are in a relationship with someone who is gaslighting you, it is important to remember that you are worthy of a partner who helps you to build a positive future — not someone who brings you down and makes you feel like you don't deserve happiness,” says Dr. Shapiro.
Keep in mind that if your partner exhibits one or more of these signs, that doesn't necessarily indicate that they are purposefully gaslighting you. However, if you suspect that your SO has been gaslighting you without your knowledge, remember: it's not your fault. But the sooner you can pinpoint whether or not you are being gaslighted, the sooner you can take measures in order to protect yourself from further potential emotional damage.
Don't be afraid to reach out for support as you evaluate how to proceed in your relationship — having another friend, family member, and/or therapist affirm your reality and strengthen your sense of self will help you become better equipped to pursue healthier relationships down the line. Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Many others have not only experienced the emotional distress that comes with gaslighting, but have also managed to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
If you believe you may be experiencing gaslighting or any other form of abuse in your relationship, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-3224, or the National Dating Abuse Helpline by calling 866-331-9474 or texting "loveis" to 22522.
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