Gaslighting Meaning in Relationships

You’re probably familiar with the term gas lighting – but what exactly is it? Simply put, it is a manipulative technique used to shift the power dynamic in a healthy relationship so that one person has complete control over the other. To gain insight into the psychology behind this toxic relationship dynamic, we asked psychotherapist Jeremy Bergen, MS, LCPC, to think hard.

Gaslighting Meaning

Gaslighting is a form of continuous psychological manipulation that causes the victim to question or doubt her own sanity, judgment, and memories.
“In essence, gaslighting is emotional abuse,” Bergen explains. “It is a tactic used by one partner in an attempt to exert power and control and to inflict emotional damage on the other.” According to Bergen, “Gas-manipulation is a pernicious form of emotional abuse because it makes you question your experiences, so warning signs can be hard to spot.”
Before that, Bergen breaks down the psychology behind gaslighting in relationships, including identifying the warning signs, understanding the reasons behind this toxic behavior, and navigating the next steps.

Signs you’re on the gaslight

They make you question your perception of reality
The main warning sign of gas lighting is that “your partner is challenging your perception of situations, about yourself, your thoughts, feelings, and behavior,” explains Bergen. “One of the big warning signs is this constant sense that what you saw, you didn’t really see. And what you lived, you didn’t really experience. What you felt, you didn’t really feel.”

They lie to you persistently and frankly
According to Bergen, “their lies are designed to be manipulated for control.” If you think your partner might be an inspiration to you, Bergen suggests asking yourself questions like does my partner constantly make me question my thoughts and my experience of things? Did you catch them in the lies?

They make you feel insecure by breaking you down
In order to gain control and power, the gas spinner will play to the insecurities of gaslighting. To help determine if your partner is breaking you down, Bergen suggests asking yourself, Is this person saying things designed to make me feel bad? Is the level of criticism pervasive in the sense that they are constantly going to the same thing?

They try to keep you away from the people who care about you
“They do it because they want to control the narrative,” Bergen explains. “They want to separate these relationships, in order to cause conflict.”

They lie about saying something when you have proof
Gas lighting is about making the victim question their own reality and sanity. Oftentimes, the cynic will deny saying or doing something and treat the victim as if she were crazy. Referred to as a “response,” the warrior will question the victim’s memory of an event, deny it ever happened, or pretend to forget what actually happened, even if you have proof. They will exclude or distort the truth of your evidence.

Examples of Gaslighting in Relationships

Using ‘love’ as a defense
If someone says, “You know I only do it because I love you,” or “Believe me, this is for the best,” when you do something that you consider abusive, controlling, or wrong, it’s likely that they are arrogant. Gaslighters will use love as a defense of their actions and suggest that you don’t love them equally if you disagree with what they say or do. For example, a gas worker might sabotage opportunities (jobs, friendships) for you in order to control you, and then justify it by saying that they are worried or that they did it because they care about you.

Paranoid accusations
One of the most common tactics of gas drivers is to accuse their victim of paranoia. This often happens when a romantic partner is cheating. Gas workers will turn the problem onto their partner rather than take responsibility for their bad behavior. They’ll say things like, “Do you really think I’m going to cheat on you? You’re just insecure,” or “Why are you paranoid? You know I’d never do that.” The warrior would accuse the victim of excessive sensitivity and jealousy in the hope that they would no longer trust their instincts or their observations.

Constant criticism or belittling
The invader will use verbal abuse to exhaust his victim in an attempt to keep him stuck in the relationship. They will use constant insults or comments like, “You know you’ll never get anyone better than me,” or “You’re terrible with money. That’s why I have to be in control of finances.” They want to make you think that you are unloved or useless without them, and therefore you should stay in the relationship. Other insults, such as calling you “dramatic,” “hysterical,” “ungrateful,” or “crazy,” are intended to make you question your sanity.

Why Gaslighting Happens
People seek power and control in relationships for a variety of reasons, so the rationale for gaslighting varies from case to case. However, there are some patterns, Bergen also shares.

They think it’s the only way to maintain a relationship
“In some cases, gaslighting is a way of trying to keep someone you want to be in a relationship with in a very offensive way — there’s a notion that that’s the only way to keep the relationship,” Bergen says.
They feel better about themselves when they control another person
“Sometimes there’s a real sense of, ‘If I’m in control of other people, I feel better about where I am,’ and that search for strength is something that expresses itself in a relationship,” Bergen explains.

They just enjoy power and control
According to Bergen, there is “a reasonable amount of research showing that there are people who really find pleasure in controlling others.”

What do you do if they Gaslighting you

The first step in recovering from gas lighting is a commitment to breaking the cycle of abuse. Don’t allow the abuser to derail your plans, which is likely to intensify his or her manipulations upon realizing your intention to escape the relationship. Prepare yourself for this, and also aim to stay one step ahead of the pattern so that you can stay out of the engagement as much as possible. Here are some additional tips that may help you:
The first step in recovering from gas lighting is a commitment to breaking the cycle of abuse. Don’t allow the abuser to derail your plans, which is likely to intensify his or her manipulations upon realizing your intention to escape the relationship. Prepare yourself for this, and also aim to stay one step ahead of the pattern so that you can stay out of the engagement as much as possible. Here are some additional tips that may help you:

Ask someone out of the relationship for help
Turn to a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker to check your feelings. This will not be easy, as a byproduct of gas lighting is a feeling of isolation; The victim was manipulated into believing that her abuser was the only person who truly understood her. Realize that this is not the case, and find a close friend who can help you assess the situation, confirm your memories, and/or confirm that something is not right.
It is not recommended to talk to your partner about feeling like you are being gassed because they will most likely tell you that what you see is not what you actually see. They want to maintain control of the force dynamics.

Approach your recovery like a marathon, not a sprint
While talking to a loved one is therapeutic, you may need the advice of a neutral third party (think a psychologist or therapist) not only to guide you out of smoke and mirrors but to help ensure you don’t slip back into the cycle regardless of the nature of the relationship involved – romantic or Family, platonic, professional, or otherwise.