How To Tell If You're Being Gaslighted

The term "gaslighting" has had a resurgence in popularity lately. Gaslighting entered the vernacular as a term applied to a very manipulative relationship tactic, one used to terrifying effect in the 1944 film Gaslight where a woman's new husband plays all manner of cruel tricks to make her question her own sanity (via IMDb).

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting in a relationship is actually a form of brainwashing, one that in its mildest form creates an unequal power balance. More severe gaslighting, however, should be considered psychological abuse, or, as clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow told Business Insider, "Gaslighting is a psychological tactic used to make another person believe they are losing their mind."

If you suspect your partner may be trying this type of mental manipulation, there are certain red flags that may give you cause for alarm.

You're subject to constant criticism

A gaslighting partner wants you as off-balance as possible, and one way to achieve this is if they consistently undermine your self-esteem. All of your flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities are fair game for the gaslighter, and they will never miss a chance to bring these up and rub your face in them. They will also be sure to compare you unfavorably to their own perfection, since, of course, the gaslighter, who may well be a narcissist, is always right about everything.

Attacking you on this personal level makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. This puts the gaslighter in the power position in your relationship, which is the only place they ever want to be.

Everything is always your fault

Do you find yourself constantly saying "sorry" for things that no sane person would consider to be your fault? With a gaslighting partner, you're going to take the blame for absolutely everything that goes wrong. Even if your partner is walking down the sidewalk 100 miles away, in a city you've never visited, and they happen to slip on a banana peel, it will be your fault because you bought the wrong kind of toilet paper. Somehow, the thought of this distracted them to the point where they were unable to look where they put their feet.

If you've never been gaslighted, you'll probably see this example as a humorous exaggeration. If, however, it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch... you might be all too familiar with the lengths to which a gaslighting partner will go to shift the blame. As social science researcher Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D., told Health, "[Gaslighters] have to be right about everything. Someone's got to be wrong and that is going to be you."

Your partner repeatedly denies what you know to be true

You know for a fact you got the oil in the car changed in August. You also know darn well you agreed to spend Thanksgiving with your family, and Christmas with theirs. You are quite sure they told you they only like orange juice, and refuse to drink apple. So why, time and again, do they do a 180 and insist that everything you know is wrong? Could your memory really be that faulty?  

Or perhaps it's something your partner said or did — you were standing right there when they asked for the barista's phone number or kicked the dog, but should you bring either event up, all you get are blatant denials. Again, could you possibly have misinterpreted something you saw with your own eyes and heard with your own ears?

No, it really isn't you, it's them. According to Health, your partner's goal is to make you question your own perception of what really happened. This is their attempt to change reality to a version controlled by them, where the only truth is whatever they declare it to be on any given day. The real truth is, you're being gaslighted, and that's abuse.