Think someone might be lying or gaslighting you? Would you like to know the difference and learn how to identify possible gaslighting in your relationships?
Does this sound familiar to you:
Maybe you’ve approached a friend, parent or partner and tried to have a discussion with them. But instead of having the discussion, you end up talking about something else, being accused of something you are sure you didn’t do, or you are told that you are overreacting or too sensitive, and that you are to blame for the problem.
Before you know it, you are so preoccupied with defending yourself that you have forgotten what you were originally talking about. The discussion seems to have turned around and you are the one apologizing, second guessing yourself, and wishing you had never said anything in the first place.
They storm off, leaving you wondering what on earth just happened. And you decide never to pursue the subject again.
The term gaslighting comes from a 1940’s film called Gas Light, in which a scheming husband wants his wife’s inheritance for himself so he plots to get rid of her by convincing her she is losing her mind so she can be sent away to an asylum. He makes subtle changes in the home by hiding and moving things and adjusting the lights, but he tells her that she is the one doing these things and that she must be going crazy if she doesn’t remember doing them. Over time her husband breaks her spirit and she believes she has gone insane. She feels confused, powerless, and no longer able to trust her own reality or judgement.
Simply put: gaslighting is anything a person says or does that makes you doubt your own memories, judgement or reality, forcing you to second guess yourself and your choices.
When questioned or confronted, a gaslighter will tell you that you are overreacting, imagining things and are confused, even if you are sure something did happen.
They will invalidate and criticize your emotions.
They will attempt to rewrite history by forgetting or dismissing events and deny saying or doing things they have done.
In extreme cases this can be done as a means of gaining influence and control over someone so they eventually doubt themselves to the point that they cannot rely on their own perspective or the truth of their own experience.
Signs and symptoms of gaslighting:
- Constantly second guess yourself
- Think you might be too sensitive
- Feel like you are going crazy
- Have trouble making decisions
- Feel like you can’t do anything right
- Frequently make excuses for their behaviour
- Have the sense that you used to be more a confident, relaxed, different person
- Think twice before starting a seemingly innocent conversation
- Feel like your vulnerabilities are used against you
- Often argue about who’s right or wrong
- Things never get resolved
- Feel like you are apologizing all the time
- Know something is wrong in your relationship but you can’t put your finger on it
Examples of things gaslighters say:
- ‘That didn’t happen’
- ‘You’re wrong about that’
- ‘You’re always making stuff up’
- ‘I never said that’
- ‘I never did that’
- ‘You are the one with the problem’
- ‘Your feelings aren’t normal’
- ‘You need to learn to communicate better’
- ‘It’s always something with you’
- ‘Why are you being so defensive’
- ‘I don’t have time for your games’
- ‘You won’t be able to do that’
- ‘Get over it’
- ‘You should be over it by now’
- ‘You’re too sensitive’
- ‘It didn’t happen that way’
- ‘You are remembering it wrong’
What’s the difference between lying and gaslighting?
Most of us have told a porky and we do it either to avoid embarrassment or punishment, obtain power or reward, or even to protect ourselves or someone else. A person usually lies by either withholding or concealing information, or falsifying information and presenting it as true.
Gaslighting is similar to lying and a gaslighter may even do it for the same reasons, but they will also be attempting to confuse the other person by flipping a situation and putting the blame onto them, making them doubt their perception of events and second guess themselves. Typically the gaslighter is either trying to avoid taking responsibility for something and they want someone else to take responsibility, or they are trying to gain control over someone because they have an agenda.
So basically, gaslighting is about flipping, attacking, confusing and blaming, gaining power over another, and trying to get someone else to take responsibility for their bad behaviour. But lying doesn’t involve flipping, attacking or blaming and the liar isn’t trying to get someone else to take responsibility for their behaviour.
Say Janet arrived late when meeting Jill for coffee, but Janet feels embarrassed about being late and she struggles with apologizing or admitting her mistakes.
If Janet was to lie to Jill she might say: ‘The traffic was bad’ ‘I had to take a phone call’ ‘I couldn’t find a parking space’.
If Janet was to gaslight Jill she might say: ‘I’m sure you said 2 o’clock and not 1 o’clock’ ‘I think you gave me the wrong time’ ‘Maybe your memory isn’t what it was’ ‘You keep getting things wrong’.
Conclusion: Janet has managed to convince Jill that the reason she was late was because Jill gave her the wrong time. Jill is no longer annoyed with Janet. In fact, she isn’t thinking about Janet’s lateness anymore because she’s worrying that she might be having memory problems.
A wife decides to confront her husband about his debts but he doesn’t want to be confronted or found out. He has an angry outburst and storms off, leaving his wife hurt, confused, and distracted with trying to defend herself.
Wife: ‘Some money has gone missing, have you taken it?’
Husband: ‘What! I never did that! You must have read the bank statement wrong. You’re always doing that. I can’t trust you to do anything right, especially when it comes to money. And why would I need the money! I work everyday to look after you and the kids and that’s the thanks I get. It was probably you that spent the money, like that time you bought that dress that makes you look fat. Well clearly I can’t trust you with our accounts anymore, so I will look after them from now on. Or maybe I should just leave if you don’t trust me’.
Wife: ‘You have to mention that dress every time don’t you! You know I’m sensitive about my weight. I’m sorry, of course I trust you. Please don’t leave me. I guess you’re right, I probably did make a mistake like last time. You’re probably right, maybe you should look after our bank accounts from now on’.
Conclusion: The husband could have lied to his wife about taking the money, but instead he has managed to gaslight her by flipping the subject, distracting her with insults and accusations, and convincing her that she is the one in the wrong. She stops questioning him about the money because she is too preoccupied with thinking about the hurtful things he said and wondering if she did make a mistake when reading the bank statements. She concludes that she was in the wrong and she must have made a mistake.
Do you see how this has changed her perception of events?
‘The script for this tactic is simple: when you’re confronted on something you know will expose you for the unsavoury character you are, act offended and hurt, appear unshaken and resolute, and question the very sanity of your accuser. It’s a simple but often highly effective script’. Dr George Simon
What can you do about it?
Become an expert in gaslighting!
Learn more and educate yourself about gaslighting and other manipulative behaviours so you can recognize it and start to react differently, which will change the outcome of the interactions, and you can even start to heal from the abuse.
Reconnect with your gut instinct and intuition and listen to your inner voice so you can start to rely on what you say and how you feel about situations.
Respond by saying things like ‘I think this conversation has gone far enough’ ‘I don’t want to continue this argument’ ‘I don’t like the way I’m feeling right now and I’m not willing to continue this conversation’.
Write a journal so you can keep track of conversations and events.
Talk to trusted friends. Spend time with people that treat you well. Have a good support system around you. You need other people in your life who can confirm your reality and worth.
Check out your perceptions by talking to other people who witnessed what the gaslighter is calling into question.
Remind yourself of other times in your life when you have felt grounded, sane, stable, and generally felt good about yourself.
Gaslighting only works when you are not aware of what’s going on. Once you become aware of it you will be able to spot it instantly and it will not affect you as much. You will eventually get to a place where you think ‘Here we go again’ and shrug it off.
Keep in mind that the gaslighting isn’t about you, it’s about their need to maintain power and control. They have few other coping skills or other ways to negotiate differences or resolve conflict. This does not excuse their behaviour, but knowing this may help you take it less personally.
We don’t always recognize the signs even though we know we might be feeling uneasy or confused. Acknowledging the problem, seeking help, educating yourself and keeping good boundaries is the best way to have a healthy relationship.
If you feel unsafe or in danger in your relationship, it is important to get help and support. It is your life and you deserve to be happy. Do whatever you need to do to make positive changes in your life, and seek professional help if you need to.
How can I help?
Has this blog been helpful? Do you recognize any of the signs of gaslighting in your life or relationships? Do you think you might be in a relationship with a controlling, manipulative person? The solution is not to try and change them or even change yourself, but to recognize the signs and learn how to protect yourself from manipulative people and toxic relationships.
I am a therapist and I specialize in helping my clients understand, heal and recover from a toxic relationship with a narcissistic or toxic parent.