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Relationships and Gaslighting

Relationships and Gaslighting

This school year, a lot of students brought up the topic of gaslighting. Some people had a lot of questions about gaslighting, and some people had a lot to say about examples they'd seen in real life. Let's break it down:

What is gaslighting? 

Gaslighting is a term that refers to someone tricking or manipulating another person in order to get them to question reality, or to second guess what they know to be true. When gaslighting is happening, it can sometimes be confusing to know what is truth and what is lies.

What are some examples?

In general, gaslighting can look like: lying, denying things, purposely confusing you, convincing you everyone else is lying, making you believe they are the only person you can trust, flattering you in order to get you to believe or forget about something, actions not matching up with words (saying they'll do something, then not doing it), saying things like "you're crazy," and many more manipulative behaviors.

Here's a specific example: You and your partner have a disagreement one day and you argue. You both get upset and walk away, and don't talk or text for the rest of the day. The next day you see your partner like usual, and they act like everything is perfectly normal. You bring up your argument from yesterday, and they deny that happened. They say, "What argument? We didn't argue!" Or they may try to convince you that "You ALWAYS blow things out or proportion!" They may get you to question yourself by saying, "Did you dream that?" Or make you feel guilty: "You're always trying to pick a fight with me!"

If this were a healthy conversation, your partner would be able to talk about the argument. They would be able to express their feelings and listen to yours. They wouldn't deny it or pretend it didn't happen.

So why is it called "gaslighting"?

It's based on a play from 1938 called Gaslight (it also was adapted as a movie in 1944). In this story, a woman's husband tricks her into thinking she is mentally unhealthy by tampering with the gas lights in the home, and by moving things around. The husband uses controlling behaviors and isolation to have power over his wife.

Is it really that easy to experience gaslighting?

Yes, it can be. Sometimes from the outside it's easy to think that we're really good at picking up on when people are lying or tricking us - and sometimes we are! But there's another layer that comes into play when we are dealing with family members, friends, or partners, because our emotions can affect what we think about our experiences and how we evaluate other people and their intentions. We may give someone the benefit of the doubt if we love or care for them. Or we may focus on all of the really good and kind things they do for us and overlook moments of gaslighting and manipulation from time to time. The important thing is to remember that you should feel safe, healthy, and respected in all your relationships. 

What should I do if I'm experiencing gaslighting?

Here are a few options:

  • Talk to someone you trust about what's going on. You deserve to have emotional support, and to feel that someone believes you and wants the best for you.
  • Talk to the friend, partner, or loved one who is gaslighting you. You can express your feelings about what you've experienced and then ask for open, honest communication going forward. Find some helpful tips about communication at LoveIsRespect: https://www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/communicate-better/ 
  • If you think it would be a good idea to wait a while before bringing up gaslighting in conversation, you can write down what you're experiencing in order to help you sort through what is true and what felt false or was wrong. That also helps you see your thoughts and feelings on paper, and may help you start to figure out your feelings.
  • Talk to someone who can help! You can always reach some support at Tubman's 24-hour help line: 612-825-0000 or email us at teens@tubman.org for resources & info or to set up a time to talk further.