Does your partner make you feel like you’re going crazy? Do they deny your perception of reality, saying things like “that never happened,” or “you have a bad memory,” even when you are completely sure certain events did happen? If so, they may be gaslighting you. The term gaslighting comes from the 1938 staged play Gas Light, in which a husband tries to drive his wife to insanity by dimming the lights in their home, but denying he touched the lights when his wife notices.
These manipulative behaviors can be seriously distressing for victims. It is an effective type of emotional abuse that involves manipulation and taking power away from the victim.1 As the gas lighter gradually chips away at the victims’ trust in themselves, the victims question their feelings, instincts, and even their sanity.
This treatment ultimately gives the abusive party the power and control they desire over their victim. Unfortunately, once the abuser has broken down their victim, the victim is less likely to leave the relationship.
Sometimes, people who gaslight others do not even realize that what they’re doing. They may have learned the abusive behavior from parents or partners and believe it to be normal. Often, though, the reason people gaslight others are that it gives the abuser a sense of control.
This need for control over another person can be a sign of a personality disorder, like narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. People who gaslight others gain a sense of power over their victim, and this manipulation gives the gas lighter the feeling that they have an upper hand.
Additionally, someone who gaslights their partner (in a romantic relationship, for example) will gradually weaken the partner’s confidence and self-trust, which will ultimately make them less likely to challenge their abusive partner—and less likely to leave them.3
Gaslighting most commonly occurs in romantic relationships and familial relationships, but these manipulative behaviors can occur in other instances too, such as in friendships, between colleagues, and even between medical professionals and their patients.
It is typical for abusive partners to constantly repeat certain gaslighting phrases to manipulate their partners. Common gaslighting phrases in relationships may sound like:
Though gaslighting is most common in romantic relationships, it can happen in medical settings as well. Medical professionals may gaslight their patients by minimizing or trivializing their patients’ concerns. Medical professionals may write off symptoms as side effects of depression or stress, when they are much larger issues.4 Some medical gaslighting examples include passing off serious chronic illnesses as “normal aches and pains,” or denying blood tests or referrals despite the patients’ wishes.
Additionally, patients in rehab who deal with gaslighting are particularly vulnerable to the harrowing results of this type of abuse, like confusion, lack of trust in self, and feeling generally unhappy. Effectively treating substance use disorder cannot happen if there is gaslighting in rehab.
Gaslighting can even push patients back into substance use disorder. The mental stress and manipulative behaviors that gaslighting victims face can lead patients to seek substances for comfort and relief.
If you are worried that you may be dealing with gaslighting, you may want to ask yourself some questions. Below are signs you may experience.
If you answered “yes” to any of these gaslighting signs, or if you often hear the gaslighting phrases mentioned above, it is likely you are dealing with gaslighting. It is important to get help if you strongly identify with the above statements or if you suspect your partner or someone else in your life is gaslighting you. Fortunately, there is help out there for those dealing with gaslighting and other manipulative behaviors, and the earlier you seek intervention, the better.
Talking with your partner, family member, or other person in your life about their behavior is a possible first step to take, but it is likely that the gaslighting person will deny their manipulation. It is also possible the person will not understand or recognize their behavior as gaslighting.
Even if you think your partner may not be gaslighting you intentionally, it is essential to put an end to the behavior. One step is to speak to the National Domestic violence hotline, whose workers may be able to help callers recognize abusive and manipulative behaviors.5
Therapy can also be a useful way to regain your sense of self and your self-confidence after dealing with gaslighting. A therapist acts as a neutral party who can aid in reinforcing one’s sense of reality, and helping the survivor regain control of their lives.6 They can advise on the best steps forward from recovering from gaslighting.
A therapist may also be able to treat dual diagnoses, like PTSD and substance abuse, which can often involve gaslighting. Dual diagnosis is the condition of having a mental illness in addition to having a substance use disorder. With time, support, and validation, one can certainly recover.