Gaslighting in relationships is a form of emotional abuse. It is a destructive and manipulative tactic by an abuser to keep a victim off balance. When someone is being gaslighted, they are persuaded to believe something patently false or to question something true.
If you are regularly being gaslighted by someone, this can take an enormous toll on your psychological well-being. But you can gain help, perspective, and practical tools for overcoming this problem when you meet with a Christian counselor.
How does gaslighting work?
The term gaslighting comes from a play by the name gaslight which debuted in 1938 and was later turned into a film. In the original story, a man dimmed the gas lamps in increments but denied doing so to the woman. A woman’s visual senses told her the lights were being dimmed, but she chose to believe the falsehood the man was telling her, and this eventually drove her crazy.
An abuser uses this tactic of manipulating the truth to toy with their victim’s emotions, perception, memory, and sanity. It is a deliberate move to keep the victim under their control. But often, the abuser works in subtle ways so their insidious behavior will not be called out. Unfortunately, the subtle approach can make it difficult for the victim to know they are being gaslighted.
People who use gaslighting in relationships do it to exert power over their victims. Sometimes they simply enjoy the twisted pleasure of feeling like a puppeteer over someone’s life. They may also wish to gain emotional, physical, or financial power in the victim’s life.
Here are several examples of gaslighting that occur in different types of relationships.
1. A man tells his wife that he loves her and had no intention of hurting her feelings, so she couldn’t possibly think that he was flirting with another woman. But the wife saw clear evidence that he was flirting at a party. He is trying to distract his wife with kind words to make her feel like she’s overreacting or not seeing the truth.
2. A father tells his teenage daughter that she’s being too sensitive when he makes fun of her when she cries. Since he makes fun of the feelings she is showing, the daughter tries to avoid crying in front of him out of a sense of shame.
3. A mother-in-law feels jealous of her daughter-in-law’s financial success. So, she gives backhanded and manipulative compliments like, “Congratulations on your promotion, but it’s too bad you still have such a long commute that keeps you away from your kids.”
4. A man plays mind tricks with his girlfriend, denying that he failed to do something and pushing the blame onto her. For example, he will say, “Why didn’t you call ahead to make the reservation? I talked to you last night about it. Are you not listening to me again?”
5. A parent who gaslights may negate a child’s feelings, pretending they don’t know what the child is talking about, or shift blame to the child for their own actions or inactions.
6. An adult son questions his elderly father’s memory, saying, “You don’t remember what we decided about this.” Even though the father’s mental faculties are intact, the adult son attempts to call the father’s acuity into question to manipulate the finances.
7. A mother is cruel when her daughter asks her for things, saying, “I can’t believe how spoiled you are to think you can have whatever you want.” The daughter may grow up feeling like she is a burden and suffers from anxiety or depression.
8. A woman’s female friend tries to get close to the woman’s boyfriend while they are out together. When the woman confronts her friend, she accuses the woman of jealousy and denies any flirtatious behavior.
9. A mother invalidates her teenage son’s depression. She says, “I think you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Other people are dealing with so much more than you.” He feels hurt and ashamed due to her disregard for his feelings.
10. A coworker attempts to sabotage a man’s reputation at work by promising to send a document needed for a presentation, then “forgetting” to send it on time.
11. A boss is too vague when giving guidance to an employee for a work project. This puts the employee in a tough spot – though she suspects the boss is manipulating her, she fears that confronting him will put her promotion in jeopardy.
12. A supervisor insists that every employee shows up to work on time. However, the supervisor shows up late most mornings. When confronted about this in a meeting, the supervisor denies any hypocrisy and may attempt to shift blame.
If you see yourself as the victim in any of these scenarios, you may benefit from talking with a Christian counselor about how to stop being gaslighted.
The basics of gaslighting in relationships
Gaslighters don’t act like selfish monsters one-hundred percent of the time. Instead, they use a tactic called “love bombing” to woo their victims into thinking they are pretty nice people. They will use nice words, gestures of affection, and lavish gifts to try to convince their victims they are in a relationship with a great catch. If it’s a new relationship, you may notice the gaslighter moving in quickly with lots of praise and acts of affection.
However, it won’t be too long before the gaslighter begins to lie about small matters. But if you question the gaslighter, they will use denial and try to shift the blame back onto you. All the while, the gaslighter will break in with love bombing to keep you hooked.
The problem is, you never know what you will get – will they be in a good mood or a bad mood on any given day? The gaslighter does this intentionally to keep you off balance. They will also try to lure you away from friends and family who could notice and counteract their deception.
On the victim’s side, feelings of confusion, doubt, insecurity, and shame will steadily increase. Over time the gaslighter will wear down the victim’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth by getting them to question reality. If the victim does not have a strong support system, he or she may buy into the false narrative that the gaslighter is trying to sell – the one that says they are always at fault and possibly mentally unstable.
It’s very common for a gaslighter to only act in abusive ways behind closed doors. Many of them have a public face that looks very different, often successful, so a victim will feel like no one will believe her if she reveals the truth about the abuse. Gaslighters often have mental disorders like narcissism or borderline personality disorder, which drive their behavior.
Overcoming gaslighting in relationships
Gaslighters will work hard to keep their victims under their thumbs. By doing so, they maintain a supply of narcissistic fuel for their inflated egos. When victims finally stand up to the abuse, the gaslighters may play victims themselves. They will not let go of their carefully created outer image very easily.
They may also double down on love bombing in attempts to win the victims back. Often, they will promise to change and reaffirm their love and affection for the victim. But if a victim agrees to stay without putting strong consequences in place, the gaslighter will eventually return to his or her abusive tactics.
To overcome gaslighting in relationships, it’s almost essential to get outside help. Gaslighting is such an insidious and complex problem that it’s nearly impossible to remove yourself from the tangled web of dysfunction. A caring Christian counselor can help you surrender your broken trust to God for repair. You can learn how to see what’s good about yourself, though the gaslighter may have undermined you many times.
With a counselor’s help, you can learn to trust others in a relationship again, since many people will not treat you with such disrespect and cruelty. Reach out to us today to get the help and healing you deserve.
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