If you’re a fan of old movies, you’re already familiar with the concept of gaslighting. It
was the title of at least two classic films about a husband who tries to trick his wife into thinking she’s delusional.
More recently, it made the short list for Oxford’s Dictionary Word of the Year 2018, thanks to public dissatisfaction with politicians who stretch the truth.
Unlike the movie couples, your partner probably isn’t trying to have you committed so he can cover up the fact that he murdered your aunt. However, gaslighting can
still harm your relationship and self-esteem.
How can you protect yourself if you feel like you’re being undermined? Try these
suggestions for steps to take by yourself and with your partner to change the
way you communicate.
- Spot the signs. Gaslighting can involve many different kinds of behavior. Your partner may make false accusations or tell you that you’re overreacting. They may distort reality and challenge your faith in yourself.
- Accept your feelings. It’s important to remember that your emotions are natural and valid, especially if your partner tends to dismiss them. Practice observing and identifying your feelings without making judgements.
- Gather documentation. If you think your partner is frequently inaccurate or deceptive, keep track of events yourself. You may want to write in a journal or save text messages and other communications.
- Stay connected. Does your partner try to isolate you from family and friends? Maintain regular contact so you’ll have a strong support network.
- Evaluate your options. You need to decide if any relationship is healthy for you. Your partner may be willing and able to change. Otherwise, think about what you want for your future.
- Build your confidence. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Review your achievements and set meaningful goals. Stand up tall and smile.
- Address the issue. Let your partner know when you feel like you’re being treated unfairly. Advocate for yourself directly and respectfully. State your position and stand firm.
- Slow down. You’ll be more effective if you can stay calm. Pause if you need time to consider your response. Speak slowly and quietly.
- Set limits. Your partner may become defensive or try to change the subject. Tell them that you need to resolve this issue. Try to set healthy boundaries and negotiate conditions that will help both of you to feel understood.
- Apologize selectively. Do you apologize just to avoid conflicts? Train yourself to save your regrets for situations where you really are at fault. Be consistent so your partner will know what to expect.
- Act independently. Gaslighting usually occurs when one partner feels significantly less powerful than the other. In reality, you are probably more capable than you think. Take control of your life by strengthening your finances and developing greater resilience.
- Show empathy. It may help to know that gaslighting says more about your partner than it does about you. It could be the only way they know how to deal with stress or a way to hide their own insecurities. You can love them without approving of their behavior.
- Seek counseling. A therapist who specializes in relationships may be able to help you turn things around. Invite your partner to join you or go on your own.
If you’re concerned about patterns in your relationship that make you doubt yourself, you could be the victim of gaslighting. Stand up for yourself and talk with your partner. You may be able to settle your differences more constructively.