Gaslighting in Adult Relationships

Gaslighting is basically crazy making. It typically happens in abusive relationships, relationships where one (or both) partner has an addiction, or if one partner has narcissistic tendencies. It can be a defense strategy (he says "I wasn’t drunk", when he obviously was), a form of manipulation ("I'm worried about you. I hope you haven't told anyone, they'll think you're crazy"), or a result of limited attunement or empathy ("you're just being sensitive"). Sometimes it's blatant. Sometimes it's more tricky to spot. Either way, it has an impact on your health and vitality and is a pattern that needs attention and effort to change.

Because one effect is lack of trust in your perceptions, if you’re being gaslighted, you may be second guess if you’re actually being gaslighted. Here’s a list by Robin Stern, PhD to help.

Signs you may be being gaslighted:                        

  • You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  • You start to question if you are too sensitive.
  • You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
  • You find yourself constantly apologizing.
  • You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
  • You often make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
  • You feel like you can’t do anything right.
  • You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person. You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things                               

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Gaslighting - A Form of Manipulation

If you were like me, you had parents who did their best but made mistakes. One mistake that can have lasting impact is invalidating or gaslighting.       

Whats gaslighting, Erika? Glad you asked. It’s basically crazy making. Its denying or significantly distorting facts and feelings. In my house it looked like not talking about fights or denying fights, being told I was too sensitive, being told that I was selfish for not helping even though I didn't know help was required, being told "I never said that" or "I already told you that". There was a lot of stress in my family and that sometimes left insufficient room for my needs and emotions.           

Gaslighting is often described as a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. But it’s not always so conscious and sinister. Sometimes a parent or caretaker simply doesn't have capacity or skill or emotional space to see our emotion or take our perspective. But regardless, the result of chronic invalidation is that we are left separated for our self, our feelings, and our intuition. The initial anger we may have felt as a kid gets turned inward and manifests in poor self worth, shame, and depression. Most of the people I work with (and in my case as well) deal with that by numbing and soothing those invalidated emotions with food, sex, alcohol, drugs, codependency, etc. I would happily be out of a job if parents would be able to validate their kids emotions. I think through therapy and work on ourselves we learn to validate ourselves and be comfortable with our own reality and then can we be able to tolerate the feelings and perceptions of others. By doing that we can make an impact on future generations.