What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is when someone makes you doubt your own reality, dismisses or denies your feelings and makes you feel like you don’t matter. Gaslighting is a tool that is used to gain power and control over someone. This form of emotional abuse can occur not only in intimate relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, but also within family dynamics and various institutions like workplaces, medical settings and schools.

Gaslighting can be particularly damaging in relationships where there is a clear power imbalance.

How to spot gaslighting

Gaslighting might be as subtle as someone telling you that your feelings are an overreaction, or as overt as outright denying events you know happened. For instance, suggesting that your period pain isn’t severe or dismissing your concerns as being ‘too sensitive’ are forms of minimizing and denying your experiences. These tactics allow the gaslighter to maintain dominance by making you question your sanity and the validity of your feelings.

Why do people gaslight? 

People use gaslighting to avoid taking responsibility or their feelings, actions or insecurities. Gaslighting is also a powerful tool that is used to gain and retain power over someone. High-profile cases, like accusations against politicians who manipulate facts and deny their actions, showcase gaslighting on a large scale. It can make someone less likely to leave a relationship by undermining their self-confidence and warping their sense of reality.

Signs of Gaslighting
Common phrases include:
  • “Are you sure you’re not just confused/anxious/overreacting?”
  • “It’s all in your head” 
  • “I would never do that – you’re being crazy”
  • “You’re not remembering correctly – you have a bad memory”
  • “You’re imagining it”
  • “You’re just being paranoid”

These phrases represent tactics such as diversion, trivialising, countering, denial or withholding. 

These are examples of the gaslighter’s toolkit, which includes diversion, trivialising, and denial. You might find yourself lying to cover up for your partner, second-guessing your memories, feeling persistently sad or confused, and frequently apologising.

Responding to Gaslighting

Trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. Gaslighting is meant to confuse you, making you mistrust your instincts. Keeping a journal or recording events can help reaffirm your reality. Practising self-care, like meditation or spending time with supportive friends, is crucial.

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling to navigate gaslighting. Keeping evidence and consulting with trusted individuals can reinforce your perspective. If you’re in danger, call 000 for immediate assistance. For other support, contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), a helpline for those affected by domestic violence and abuse.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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