What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term referring to a mental tactic that individuals use to control their partner's through making them question their reality and sanity. It is a form of manipulation and one up manship that can make even the strongest of individuals doubt their memory, thoughts and actions. Although gaslighting has gained recent popularity as a term, it has been understood for a relatively long time to be a part of the mind games played by abusive partners.
To understand gaslighting, it is important to remember that abuse is solely about power and control. Maintaining power and control is done by breaking down a partner's identity and sense of self worth, through mind games like gaslighting and isolating them for resources and support. Someone who is being abused is slowly discouraged from seeing friends and family, while being disconnected from work, hobbies and activities outside of the relationship. Together, this creates the perfect storm of an individual who is unsure of the reality of their doubts and does not feel empowered to leave an abusive relationship.
Examples of Gaslighting
The classic example, which the term gaslighting actually stemmed from is a movie released in 1944 called 'Gas Light' starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. In the movie, the husband (Gregory) intentionally makes the gaslights in their house flicker. When his wife (Paula) mentions that she is seeing flickering lights, he makes her feel like she's seeing things by stating that he does not see the same, thus causing increasing doubts in her own sanity.
You catch your partner smelling of perfume after returning home late from work. When confronted, he tells you that you are just being crazy, jealous and possessive again.
Your partner controls what you wear out of the house, one day you come home and he insists that you dress proactively to out of a desire to cheat.
Your partner frequently criticises you for spending money and blames money being tight on you. Meanwhile, she frequently makes luxurious purchases you are not allowed to question.
You are upset over your partner's rude behaviour. Instead of apologising, she tells you, you overly sensitive.
Denying things happened or things were said.
I hear term Gaslighting often, why is that?
Due to its recent popularity, gaslighting is used quite commonly when someone feels manipulated or is angry at their partner. Just like it is common for people to wrongly refer to someone's behaviour as "Bipolar" or "Schizophrenic," gaslighting has become a catch all for negative behaviour that causes someone to feel defensive or attacked. That being said, the newfound popularity of the word has also shed light and increased people's awareness of the mental games played by abusers. This is inherently a significant achievement as those being targeted by abuse are often isolated and feel trapped.
What do I do if I am being gaslighted?
If you feel like you are being gaslit, I would consider if there are other red flags of abuse in your relationship.
Does your partner encourage your personal growth, difference in opinions and support you having your own life?
Is your partner willing to compromise and engage in shared decision making?
Does your partner belittle you, put you down privately or in front of others, can make you feel like you are less worthy?
If any of these questions are a cause for concern, I recommend reaching out to a psychologist or someone you trust to gain some perspective on your relationship. You can learn more about couples therapy here and individual therapy here. If you would like to book a session with me, please see www.mindwell.biz or the contact information below.
I am Dr. Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, Psy.D. If you are experiencing distress or want to improve your well being, please reach out to me to book a session over Zoom or in person. I can be reached by WhatsApp at +60125472408 or at Cassandra@Mindwell.biz. I am a Clinical Psychologist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology who sees both individuals and couples in Mont Kiara, KL, Malaysia. In addition, I provide talks, workshops and content creation.