Perhaps no other form of psychological torment is better known, or more frequently referenced in popular media today, than gaslighting. To experience it is to have your sense of reality denied, but it’s important to understand whether the person opposite you is actually using the manipulative tool with intent, or if they just plain disagree. Before hurling the accusation, it’s important to know what truly qualifies as gaslighting—and what might feel like gaslighting in the heat of the moment, but really isn’t.
Gaslighting is emotional abuse that denies one’s sense of reality, particularly when one person acts with intent. There are various ways this behavior can manifest, but ultimately, it’s about obscuring reality. As the psychologist Ahona Guha wrote for Psychology Today in 2018, it’s generally “a pattern of behavior, usually intentional, designed to make someone question their own reality, memories, or experiences.”
The term owes its origins to the 1944 movie Gaslight, which chronicled the relationship of a man and his wife, whom he slowly convinced was losing her sanity, encapsulating gaslighting in its purest form. It’s an especially manipulative form of communication in which one person continuously attempts to convince the other party that their interpretation of reality is false.
Anything that tends to undermine without probing for a deeper understanding can fall into the insidious camp. The gaslighter has a litany of rhetorical weapons, not limited to:
- “You’re too sensitive.”
- “I never said that.”
- “You’re memory is so bad.”
- “You’re crazy.”
- “You’re taking things too personally.”
- “Calm down.”
- “I’m sorry you feel I hurt you.”
Of course, this is just a taste of what someone subjected to gaslighting might endure. There are other behaviors that a gaslighter might employ, as explained by the psychologist Stephanie A. Sarkis in a 2017 Psychology Today article. For one thing, people prone to this kind of abuse might deny their own actions, even in the face of proof to the contrary. Or, they might project some of their own negative behaviors onto you. The list is long, and not everyone who experiences a gaslighting partner will be privy to all the same tactics.
Their needs to be a certain level of intent, or at least a stubborn unwillingness to hear the other side of the conversation, in order to meet the standards of gaslighting. As Guha wrote, there’s a necessary level of malice combined with intent in the definitive example of gaslighting, though it’s often carried out unwittingly. She wrote: “These motives are not necessarily understood or noticed by the gaslighter, and sometimes they may genuinely believe the things they say.”
It’s easy to straddle the line between gaslighting and mere disagreement, however. If there’s a subtle change to the phrasing of certain statements, it no longer meets the standard of gaslighting. Guhu listed out phrases that are assertive and contradictory, but not necessarily gaslighting.
- “You misunderstood me; I didn’t mean it like that.”
- “That’s not what I remember.”
- “I didn’t mean to.”
- “What I said wasn’t so bad.”
If a fight is just a momentary impasse—and every couple fights—rather than a consistent level of manipulation or emotional prodding, then it’s probably best not to level the accusation of gaslighting. If it’s clear your partner is at least willing to hear your side of things—they can disagree, but they should seek to understand your side, regardless—then they’re probably not gaslighting you and you can likely continue the conversation in search of common ground.
Source link: lifehacker.com