Gaslighting in relationships is when someone manipulates someone so that they doubt their own mental health. It’s one of the many possible signs of an abusive relationship.
Gaslighting in Relationships in Gaslight
This came from the play/films called ‘Gaslight’ where basically some bad dude Gregory deliberately tried to make Paula have a mental health crisis so bad that he could control her and take over her stuff.
She was all like ‘why is that Gaslight going dim?’ and he was like ‘lol, what’s Gaslight?’ (it’s a back-in-the-day light powered by gas, you shit, and it’s going dimmer because you’re all up in the attic trying to find the jewels of Paula’s aunt who you murdered that time in Italy Gregory, or should I say ‘Sergius’). ‘Gregory’ then did a load of other shady stuff (shady, get it?) like taking a picture off the wall and saying she did it. This all led to her fearing for her mental health which Gregory took advantage of.
It all kind of ends up fine in the end because there was a Policeman who seemed to be a bit in love with her and because of that he got involved and helped her out. Here’s the bit where the nice Policeman, who was acting purely out of duty you understand, tells her what’s been going on.
Anyway the whole thing is abusive as hell and (like a lot of abuse) it also comes with a side order of sexism too.The whole ‘you’re an emotional woman who doesn’t know her own mind and I am a rational man who does so leave the decision making to me’ kind of thing (which is a message that many women still receive today).
Here’s a guide on how to do relationships
How It Happens Now
Maybe the Gaslighting we saw in Gaslight (keep up) was a bit of an extreme example but this kind of behaviour is common in relationships nearly 90 years after this was written. It doesn’t just happen from men towards women in heterosexual relationships, like Gaslight, but in any relationship. It can often happen where there is an existing power difference but sometimes not.
Read more about Power in Relationships
Commonly it happens when one person wants to raise a problem in the relationship only to be told that they are imagining it and that it isn’t a thing. Like “is something going on between you and this person you’ve been learning to dance with?” “no, you’re imagining it.” Often this person might double down and then say that the other person should consider that they might not be mentally well (usually saying they are ‘cr**y’ or ‘m*d’ or some other stigmatising word about mental health).
There are other kinds of Gaslighting in relationships too: like where we make someone doubt their interpretation of something you both experienced; or rewriting the history of what you’ve both agreed in your relationship; or being blamed for something that was actually the other person’s fault. A lot of us have probably had a bit of what Paula experienced – the ‘am I going m*d here or ______?’
Maybe We Do It?
We might not all be like Gregory but I’m sure that many of us have done something a bit Gaslighty in our relationships with people. Are there times when you’ve just wanted to shut down a potentially difficult conversation with someone by just saying ‘no you’re imagining it’ or ‘you’re m*d’? It might be because we have done something shitty, like lied, or covered something up. It might be because the other person wants to have a big conversation about trust or the nature of our relationship and we just don’t want to go there right now. It might be that someone is just completely off the mark and we don’t want to entertain the idea.
Whatever the reason for Gaslighting someone, it’s not cool and it’s not right. In any relationship we should feel able to tell the other person that there is something on our mind, something we are worried about. If the other person just dismisses that straight away, implies that we are making it up, or gets angry at us then this is not a good sign.
How to stop Gaslighting
No matter what the reason that we might want to Gaslight someone, it’s never a good thing to do to them and it’s never a good thing to do for the relationship and (in the long term) it’s never a good thing for us. Although hearing something difficult can be, ummm, difficult, it’s important that we give the other person the opportunity to say it and to be heard – even if the thing they are saying is actually wide of the mark.
It can be hard not to just react straight away and to make it go away and it can be really hard to stay calm and not fight back and accuse them of something. To make it easier we can give ourselves a few minutes to stay calm and think about what they’ve said. This will help us to feel our feelings but will also help us to try to understand their feelings too.
We could also have a conversation about how to talk about the difficult thing – talking about talking is something we could all do a lot more of and will help with relationships. Like, what’s the best way for you to have big conversations? Face to face? Text? Emails? Via a mutual friend?
You might just keep disagreeing on stuff and having the same argument over and over again. However, if you feel like you can’t even talk about stuff anymore because you feel like you aren’t going to be listened to or have your feelings taken seriously, then there’s a serious lack of care going on there. If they don’t care that you have concerns or are hurting, then is that a relationship you should be in? Find out how your relationship is going with the relationships graph.
Getting help with Gaslighting
As I often say about relationships (particularly romantic relationships) it can be really hard to be objective about them when we are in them. I think this is partly to do with what we are taught about romantic relationships: like ‘all we have to do is find someone who loves us and it’s happily ever after’ or the search for ‘the one’ or the ‘don’t you love me anymore’ thing. I think in many ways we are all Gaslighted by society which can enable these kinds of shitty behaviours in the first place.
So if in doubt, try to reach out to someone who you have a pretty good relationship with at the moment and ask them about what’s going on for you. Don’t just keep your relationship problems private from people (that’s often what happens in an abusive relationship) be honest with other people about what’s going on and ask them to be honest with you. Try to be objective about what’s going on and get help from them if you need to change the relationship or end the relationship altogether.
I have a post for you if you have a pal who is showing signs of an abusive relationship
© Justin Hancock, 2018