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‘You’re making that up, I never said that.’ 

 

‘Stop overreacting.’ 

 

‘I can’t believe you think I’d hurt you on purpose.’ 

 

Gaslighting is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “manipulating (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” It is an insidious form of emotional abuse that can be found in toxic and manipulative relationships. The abuser uses several tactics to force another person to question their reality, memory, or perceptions of their relationship, and the victim can even be pushed so far as to question their sanity. 

 

People who gaslight become de facto experts at exploiting your vulnerabilities and sensitivities. After communication with the abuser, you may be left feeling confused and wondering what is wrong with you. According to the US National Domestic Violence Hotline fact sheet, the techniques a gaslighter might use include: 

 

Withholding: They refuse to listen or claim they don’t understand what you’re talking about.

Example: “I don’t want to hear this again.”

 

Countering: When the abuser continually questions the victim’s memory of reality.

Example: “You’re wrong, you never remember things as they happened.”

 

Diverting: When the abuser changes the subject or questions the victim’s thinking.

Example: “That’s just another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]

 

Forgetting/Denial: The manipulator will pretend to have forgotten what actually happened or deny something they have previously agreed to.

Example: “You’re just making that up, I never said that” 

 

Trivialising: The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs seem unimportant. 

Example: “Are you really getting angry over something so silly?”

 

In a post for Psychology Today, Robin Stern Ph.D. outlines some of the signs that a victim of gaslighting may be experiencing. These include feeling like everything you do is wrong, often apologising, making excuses for your partner’s behaviour, feeling hopeless, and it being increasingly hard to make decisions within your relationship. 

 

Stern goes on to describe the process of gaslighting in stages, which reflect different emotional and physical states of mind, from disbelief to defence and ultimately to depression. Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their version of reality, the victim is then much more likely to stay in an abusive relationship. 

 

Gaslighting generally happens very gradually in a relationship, and abusive patterns can fester from something seemingly harmless, the expression of a person who lacks self-awareness or is prone to unflinching honesty who ‘says it like it is’. Studies have also found that gaslighting is typically conducted by men. 

 

In a piece for Vox.com, Stern notes that in her experience as a clinical psychologist, women are socialised to continually doubt themselves and apologise for disagreeing or upsetting their partners; men are not. 

 

It can be tough to remove yourself from a relationship where the power imbalance is such that you feel manipulated and emotionally abused. Stern says that “the antidote to gaslighting is greater emotional awareness and self-regulation – both the practice and the knowledge”. 

 

Identifying the problem, sorting the truth from distortion, engaging in a mindset shift, talking to friends, and family and giving yourself permission to feel all of your feelings will help you manage your doubts and develop coping skills. Consulting a psychiatrist will also help you sift through fears and understand the reality of your experience.  

Economics Politics and Law student in DCU. Lover of creamy pints and wishful thinking :)
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