Updated: Apr 30
Last month, we wrote all about gaslighting – a subject we’re very familiar with, since our founder Dr. Phoenix Brill literally wrote a book about how common it is in modern workplaces. But for many people, it’s something they experience more personally and a lot closer to home.
Gaslighting in Relationships
Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse in which one partner tries to manipulate the other person's perception of reality. This can happen in many ways, and the manipulative partner may use various tactics to achieve their goal. In the context of relationships, gaslighting is particularly damaging because it undermines trust and creates a power imbalance that can be difficult to overcome.
Why gaslighting in relationships is bad
Gaslighting involves an inherent amount of trust and confidence from the victim, which makes it doubly damaging when it happens. The victim often does not believe that their partner would purposefully be emotionally abusive or harmful and starts to doubt the legitimacy and intent of their own actions as a result. Over time, this erodes self-confidence, faith in the relationship, and the victim’s ability to objectively analyze the situation.
A relationship suffering from gaslighting is almost certainly doomed to fail unless drastic measures are taken…but a lot of manipulation and pain can happen in the meantime.
Remember, if you think your partner is gaslighting you, an outside and impartial opinion can help you see clearly. Reach out for a free consultation today to find out how Flourish can help.
Is My Partner Gaslighting Me?
Just because there are disagreements or something “feels off” doesn’t necessarily mean gaslighting is happening. Conflicts are unavoidable in every long-term relationship, but the key is in how they are discussed and resolved together.
Here are some example behaviours that are often signs of gaslighting in a relationship. If these apply to yours, it might be worth looking a little closer.
Examples of gaslighting in relationships
Excessive defensiveness: One common form of gaslighting is excessive defensiveness, in which one partner flat-out refuses to acknowledge any perceived inadequacies or shortcomings. This behaviour often starts other manipulative responses, and it can leave the other partner feeling unheard and invalidated. The manipulator may use this tactic to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and to shift the blame onto the other person.
Repetitive, unresolved conflicts: The manipulator may use this tactic to wear down the other person's self-esteem and confidence. The victim is often left feeling inadequate, powerless, and deflated.
Denial of what’s really happening: This tactic is often paired with minimization. For example, a manipulative partner may say, "No honey, I wasn't flirting with that girl. You’re just being too sensitive, as usual." This type of response is designed to make the other person doubt their own perception of reality and to feel like they are overreacting or being unreasonable.
Diverting the focus of a fight: Do you have fights that never seem to end with the topic they started with? It’s a classic gaslighting tactic. For example, the victim may bring up feelings of loneliness because of something the other partner is doing, and the fight ends with an argument over how a dirty house is the victim’s fault. This “bait and switch” leaves the victim feeling confused and worn down, without resolving anything.
6 Types of Gaslighting in Relationships
More broad than the examples above, experts (like our own Dr. Brill!) have split up gaslighting into six main categories. Knowing these can help you identify if you’re experiencing this manipulation in your own life, and understand how it might manifest in a specific way.
This form of gaslighting is meant to make you doubt your memory. For example, your partner might say, "That’s wrong. You’re not good with these things," when discussing something that you know is correct. This causes doubt in your own perceptions and makes it harder for you to trust yourself.
Withholding involves refusing to engage in conversation or give you the information you need. Your partner might refuse to answer your questions about where they were or what they were doing. The end goal is to make you feel isolated and ignored and create a power imbalance in the relationship.
3) Trivializing (aka Minimalizing)
This form of gaslighting involves belittling your feelings. For example, your partner might tell you that you are overreacting or being too sensitive when you express your emotions. This can make you feel like your feelings are not valid, and it can make it harder for you to express yourself in the future.
Denial involves denying saying or doing certain things. For example, your partner might deny saying something hurtful when you remember them doing it. As a result, you may feel like you’re losing your grip on reality and that you can’t trust your partner.
Diverting involves changing the focus of the conversation without addressing your concerns. Your partner might start talking about something else when you try to discuss an issue that is important to you, or question your credibility and accuse you of being overly emotional. Your concerns are made out to be unimportant, and this does nothing to solve genuine issues.
Stereotyping involves making negative comments about an entire group of people, often in an attempt to undermine your credibility or make you doubt yourself. For example, your partner might dismiss your concerns by saying, "All women are irrational" when you say something they disagree with.
It’s important to recognize these signs of gaslighting so that you can break the manipulative cycle if they exist. Therapy can not only help you recognize the signs of gaslighting, but also provide assistance in developing strategies to cope and heal. You can regain your sense of self-worth and confidence, set boundaries, and assert your needs (all of which are healthy, though not necessarily easy, ways to deal with a gaslighter).
When you’re ready to reach out, our compassionate team of therapists here at Flourish will be here to get you started on your journey towards a healthier, happier life. We look forward to meeting you!