- Gaslighting happens when an abuser tries to control a victim by twisting their sense of reality.
- An example of gaslighting would be a partner doing something abusive and then denying it happened.
- Gaslighters may also convince their victims that they’re mentally unfit or too sensitive.
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Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse that can happen to anyone, especially in romantic relationships.
Abusers gaslight their victims in order to maintain control in the relationship, and make their victim question their own sanity.
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Additionally, the effects of gaslighting may make it even harder for the victim to leave an abusive relationship as they may not even realize it’s happening.
Here are six examples of common gaslighting situations to help you recognize and address this very real form of emotional abuse.
1. “That never happened.”
Gaslighting often causes the victim to doubt themselves. Someone will do or say something abusive and then deny that it ever happened, says psychotherapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Tina B. Tessina, PhD, in private practice.
“The victim starts questioning [their] instincts and relies more and more on the ‘reality’ that gets created and manipulated by the abuser. It also heightens a sense of dependency on the abuser,” says Tessina.
2. “You’re too sensitive.”
This is a phrase used by gaslighters to minimize and invalidate the victim’s feelings.
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If the victim tries to express hurt or disappointment, the gaslighter may tell them that they are making a big deal out of nothing.
“The intent is to make you feel stupid for even trying to stand up for yourself. Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to put up with the abusive behavior and stay in the relationship,” says Tessina.
3. “You have a terrible memory.”
This is another common phrase gaslighters use to make victims doubt themselves. Of course, everybody experiences trouble with recalling certain details, but Tessina says gaslighters will make their victim doubt their memory as a whole, spanning a multitude of situations.
“They do this because getting a victim to question themselves is at the core of gaslighting. When a victim no longer trusts their assessments, the abuser is in complete control,” says Tessina.
4. “You’re crazy — and other people think so, too.”
On top of making victims experience doubt, gaslighters may even make their victim question their own sanity, Tessina says.
The gaslighter might also try to convince the victim’s family and friends that they’re mentally unstable so that they can further discredit any claims the victim is making.
“This decreases the likelihood that the victim’s stories will be believed and disconnects them from the resources that would make it possible for them to leave [an abusive relationship],” says Tessina.
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This is particularly common in male-female romantic relationships where the man is gaslighting the woman. According to a 2019 paper, this may be due to the way society can sometimes depict women as more irrational and less in control of their emotions than men.
5. “I’m sorry you think that I hurt you.”
While this statement might seem like an apology, it isn’t. Instead, Tessina says this is a way for an abuser to deflect responsibility and blame the victim.
This kind of apology leaves the victim questioning their own judgement and wondering if they really did overreact. It can lead to the victim relying on the abuser’s interpretation of events.
6. “You should have known how I would react.”
This is another way an abuser will deflect responsibility onto the victim. This can make the victim feel guilty or hurt about a situation where they really didn’t do anything wrong.
“Gaslighting involves twisting facts so they can avoid personal ownership of their behaviors. By telling the victim they should have known better, the gaslighter places the blame on the victim for not only speaking up but also the abuser’s response,” says Tessina.
If you believe you’re the victim of gaslighting, there is hope. You do not have to stay in an unhealthy and abusive relationship.
Remember: It’s not your fault that you’re in an abusive relationship, and it’s possible for you to leave. Recognize the signs of gaslighting and open up to friends, family, or a professional to get help.
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