Gaslighting: How to spot it and stop it

Gaslighting | Beanstalk Single Mums

If you’ve been anywhere in, around or even observing the dating scene, you’ve probably heard the term “gaslighting”.

You may even be wondering if it has, or is, happening to you. But amongst the never-ending juggle of life as a mum that sees you in charge of all housework, homework help, meal preparation and then your own work, you probably haven’t had time to trawl the internet to hear if, and how, it relates to you.

Let’s break it down.

WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?

Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse where one person manipulates, causing victims to question themselves, their judgment and their sometimes even their sanity. The person being gaslit will feel confused and anxious and questions their perception of various experiences.

YES, I HAVE BEEN GASLIGHTED

It wasn’t until a year after my first marriage ended that I realised I too, had been under the spell of a gaslighter.

It took years of healing and rebuilding my confidence before I was able to trust and have a healthy relationship again. However, I did, and I know others can too, including you.

WHY THEY DO IT

The ultimate goal of the gaslighter is to break down their partner’s sense of self so that the partner becomes more and more reliant on the manipulator – giving the abuser ultimate control.

This kind of behaviour stems from the gaslighter’s own troubled and wounded past. Although appearing very confident, a gaslighter often lacks any real sense of self-worth so they attempt to gain this through controlling another.

GASLIGHTING IS NOT OK

Ultimately, gaslighting is abusive and is never OK.

At best, it leaves a partner feeling insecure and anxious, at worst it can result in emotional, mental and sometimes physical abuse that leaves the victim trapped, confused and reliant on the abuser.

Often, when someone discovers that they’ve been a victim of this kind of manipulation they’re shocked, believing that only the weak-willed fall prey to such treatment; but that’s not the case.

If you’re reading this and have some alarm bells going off (or perhaps just a quiet little knock at the door of your intuition), then you may have crossed paths with a gaslighter. How do you know for sure?

Here are five classic hallmarks of the gaslighting dynamic.

SIGNS THAT YOU ARE BEING GASLIGHTED

YOU FEEL MORE ANXIOUS AND LESS CONFIDENT THAN YOU USED TO BE

Gaslighters make you question your perception of reality.

They will blatantly lie to you, even when you have proof of what’s real or true. This is the key warning sign of gaslighting.

It leads to anxiety and uncertainty about yourself. You no longer trust your feelings, instincts or recollection of events. Your partner then exploits this: telling you that you’re paranoid, imagining things, or being overly sensitive ­– even when you are right.

YOU FEEL INSECURE AND INCOMPETENT

A gaslighter gains great power by consistently putting their partner down.

They will magnify and focus on your insecurities in a bid to make you feel bad and keep you stuck. They will often use this technique to convince you that no one else will ever love or accept or love you – trapping you by rendering you too weak to leave them.

THEY WILL USE OTHERS TO MAKE YOU QUESTION YOURSELF

Gaslighters will often fabricate evidence, claiming that your friends and family agree with them and their unreasonable claims or demands.

This can have you really questioning yourself; if they think this about you then maybe it is true.  It creates paranoia and confusion and undermines your self-confidence – all without you even knowing it’s happening.

THEY TELL PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE CRAZY

By telling others that you are crazy or “psycho”, the gaslighter seeks to get others on their side to continue the manipulation. This classic move saves the gaslighter from being scrutinised and undermines your connection to your vital support networks.

The way the gaslighter sees it: If your friends and family are left questioning your mental stability, they will be less likely to believe your claims about your partner’s behaviour.

This is masterfully manipulative and can isolate you further, leaving you without the support you need.

YOU FEEL LIKE THEY ARE ACCUSING YOU OF THE VERY THING THAT THEY ARE DOING TO YOU

Gaslighters are master projectors – that is accusing you of the very thing they are doing.

They call you a liar – chances are they are lying, if they accuse you of cheating, they may be doing just that.

Because they’ve already begun to undermine your sense of reality, you’ll get caught up defending yourself from their false accusations, which ultimately distracts you from the initial point (their lying or cheating) and creates chaos and confusion in your mind.

If you’ve been involved with this behaviour for some time, it is likely that your partner has distanced you from your friends and family and tried to convince them of your mental instability.  You’re also likely to be second-guessing yourself.  This makes it very difficult to leave. Take heart because there ARE solutions:

CREATE A LIFELINE

If you feel like no one is on your side, exiting the relationship would leave you feeling even more isolated and unsupported.

The first thing you need to do is create a lifeline. Find one or two friends that you trust and feel safe being honest with. Once there is someone in the outside world that knows the truth, breaking away from the relationship will be a whole lot easier.

By recruiting trusted help from family and friends, you will gain a more honest, healthy and real reflection of your situation. This will help to slowly rebuild your sense of self and certainty in the world.

GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

The next step is to seek professional help from a counsellor or therapist. While friends and family can have the best intentions, they are not equipped to fully help you break free.

An impartial person with the right skills will help guide you out of the maze of deception. This is crucial if you are to truly untangle yourself from your partner’s web and give yourself the best chance at a new life and a healthy love life in the future.

Obviously, please do not talk to your partner about seeing a therapist. They will see it as a threat to their power over you and will likely set off another round of manipulations to draw you back and undermine the whole process.

You may wonder if you could go to couples counselling together.  If your partner agrees to it, and you really want to try, then you could, but first have a therapist for yourself and create the solid lifelines you need.

For support call: 1800RESPECT.

REBUILD YOUR SENSE OF SELF

Next, bring your focus back to you. Once you’ve recognised that you’ve lost yourself to a destructive relationship and created a support network, it’s time to rebuild your sense of self.

This might sound easy enough, but when you’ve experienced gaslighting it will be hard to know where to start. Add this to the natural sadness and grief that comes with a breakup, plus being a parent with little time for yourself, it can be easy to spiral into self-loathing, fear and depression.

To help you to climb your way out of and start to see the light of a new and bright life I recommend these two important steps.

Ask yourself “What do I like?” And do that …

It doesn’t have to be a list as long as your arm and it doesn’t need to be anything spectacular.  When I was recovering from gaslighting, my list was as simple as: I like to dance, I like food and I like nature.

Find things that you really know you like and then dedicate some time to doing them. This simple action will start to reconnect you with your sense of self, and it will have a follow-on effect of boosting your self-confidence.

Further reading: Finding the real you admit the craziness of being a single mother.

Spend time with friends and family …

At times you may feel like staying in your pyjamas with an IV of chocolate and red wine, and that’s fine too. But to truly heal from a destructive relationship you absolutely must spend time with people that you like and who know the truth.

By spending time with trusted others, you will begin to break the negative internal loop implanted by your manipulator and eventually breathe new life into you, and your enjoyment and positivity for life will begin to return.

single mother support

If you’re reading this and wondering if you might be in a relationship with a gaslighter, I encourage you to trust your instincts and enquire a little more deeply.

A gaslighter seeks to dismantle your trust in yourself, making you second-guess everything.

If you have even the slightest hint or hunch that you may be falling victim to this kind of manipulation, please take notice, listen to it and take action.

You owe it to yourself and your children to break free of a destructive relationship.

Trust yourself. As mothers, our intuition is razor-sharp and what your gut tells you is usually right – so don’t doubt it.  You have the strength of all the women before you, urging you on to make great choices for yourself and for the generations that follow.

Further reading: Warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.

Gaslighting | Beanstalk Single Mums Pinterest

Belinda Bailey

Belinda Bailey

Belinda Bailey is a relationship specialist and has been working in the field of human potential and transformation for more than 25 years. She has a professional background in couples therapy, transpersonal psychology and neurolinguistics (NLP) and complements this with a growing education in quantum psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics.

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