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Gaslighting: Survive Dangerous Mind Games with Your Sanity Intact

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Gaslighting can happen to anyone. That’s why gaslighting is so insidious.

Even the most self-assured and confident people can suddenly find themselves years into a manipulative relationship. You may wonder when the relationship became so destructive. You may feel ashamed. You could feel trapped.

Gaslighting is a slow and steady trickle of manipulation, that can take years to come into full fruition. Women, men, old and young, can all become the target for a manipulative friend, coworker, or romantic partner.

Presumably, you are reading this because you suspect you may be in a manipulative relationship. After years of living under the oppression of a gaslighter, it can be very challenging to see the relationship for what it has become. As the saying goes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

But, what does gaslighting mean? Do you know the signs to look out for? Do you know how to escape with your self-esteem and sanity intact?

Arm yourself knowledge on what it means to be gaslighted, including gaslighting examples to help bring the definition home. Study the tips, listed below, for surviving this damaging relationship – so you can shake free of this abusive relationship once and for all.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting, by definition, is a manipulation tactic most commonly experienced in romantic relationships. Other relationships may also fall victim to it, like between close friends, a family member, or coworker. However, it’s within romantic relationships where gaslighting seems to earn the most attention and do the most damage.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the meaning of gaslighting is as follows:

“Gaslighting, an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period.”

Encyclopedia Britannica

The definition goes on to explain how, over prolonged periods, an abuser erodes the confidence and independence of their victim through persistent manipulations. The victim becomes completely and pathologically reliant on the gaslighter, and it becomes challenging for them to decipher truths from falsehoods.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and control, and therefore its a form of an abusive relationship. As is often the case with experiences of domestic abuse, from outside the relationship, everything appears as per usual. Both the victim and the abuser create the appearance of normalcy, despite tumultuous and toxic personal relations.

For victims, the experience of gaslighting – when it’s happening – is so intense that the victim often doesn’t realize they are getting manipulated until long after the relationship has ended. The victim works hard to maintain peace within a relationship, so much so that they ignore their own morals, needs, and gut feelings.

A Few Common Gaslighting Examples

If you are reading this because you have an inkling about your own relationship, a few examples might help. Examples make it easier to grasp the full extent of the gaslighting definition.

Gaslighting Example 1:

Sarah has been with Robin for three years. Their relationship was fast and furious as they fell madly in love, and within months they were living together.

Slowly, Robin began making off-handed comments about Sarah’s appearance. Comments like, “Maybe you should go to the gym this week,” “Your makeup is messy today,” and other remarks. Sarah didn’t think much of it, in the beginning, but slowly these criticisms began to pile up.

Three years in and Sarah’s former self-confidence is long gone, and she no longer feels desirable or beautiful. Robin has gaslighted Sarah with persistent negative comments. Individually, these may not seem that detrimental but taken together; they add up to bring Sarah down.

Gaslighting Example 2:

Eric has been with Morgan for many years. Recently Morgan has started working later and later. She has also begun locking her computer and keeping her phone out of sight.

When Eric asks her about these changes, she denies them. He suspects she may be lying. When he shares his concerns, she turns the conversation around. She blames him for not supporting her even though she is working 55 hour weeks. She claims he is the controlling one.

His concerns are dismissed, the situation denied, and she blames him. This is a classic example of gaslighting.

Gaslighting Example 3:

Janet has always been anxious. She processes difficult situations with tears. When she has had a tough day at work or a dispute with her partner, it’s common for her to cry.

She often tries calling her mother in her times of need, looking for a kind word and emotional support. However, her mother has never shown much empathy. Her mother often accuses her of being weak-willed.

Her mother will say piercing comments like, “Why you just get over it, like everyone else?” and “You cry all the time, it’s unattractive.” Over the years, this relationship has made Janet doubt her inner strength, and it has added to her mental health issues.

What are the common themes among these three examples?

  • The victim starts to lose sight of reality
  • The victim loses confidence
  • The gaslighter turns the situation around to accuse the victim
  • The longterm nature of the relationship.

One of the most reliable indicators of gaslighting within a relationship is the damage it does to the victim’s self-esteem. Going into the relationship, the victim might have been confident, social, and upbeat, but these positive characteristics diminish as the relationship evolves. As the years go by, the victim becomes a shadow of their former self, riddled with self-doubt and anxieties.

It’s although critical to point out that gaslighting doesn’t happen overnight. If it did, many people would see the manipulation instantly and shut the abuser down.

Gaslighters don’t begin the relationship with manipulations; it’s a slow burn that builds up as the independence of the victim breaks down. Gaslighters don’t show all their cards in the beginning, they know to work the relationship to their advantage, and that takes time.

Tips for Surviving Gaslighting in Any Relationship

woman with a label saying “I’m fine” covering her mouth against a black background

Getting out of an abusive relationship can take time. Manipulation can damage your inner-moral compass and independence. The first step is to identify gaslighting within the relationship, which is challenging in its own right.

Adopting the strategies below takes time, patience, and perseverance. Be kind to yourself as you work through these suggestions.

1. Seek Unbiased Support

First and foremost, speaking with a professional can help you sort fact from fiction. As explained, getting gaslighted is an extremely confusing state of mind. As the victim, you are trapped in a spiral of self-doubt and confusion.

Sorting out the manipulations from the truths isn’t straightforward. Seek the assistance of a counselor who has an unbiased perspective on the situation and who can offer sound advice.

A counselor can also help support you during transitions and educate you about abusive relationships. If you need to escape, they can provide resources.

2. Open up to Friends and Family

Abuse can feel immensely embarrassing and isolating. Many people feel the need to keep these experiences a deep, dark secret.

What if you were to start opening up to your closest friends about what is going on at home? What if you were to tell your parents or siblings about the ways through which your partner gaslights you?

Starting to share these experiences with others will help reorient your inner compass. Suddenly you’ll have people in your corner again, supporting you. With their support, you can start standing up for yourself, and defy the manipulative tactics.

3. Stop Lying for the Gaslighter

Gaslighters demand a lot from their victims, including the obligation to lie. You may not even have noticed this inclination, but take a step back to assess.

Do you often find yourself making up stories to cover for your partner? Maybe you lie to friends to keep up appearances about your relationship. Or perhaps, you withhold the truth from your family, so they continue to support you.

Lies build up until nobody around you knows the truth of what’s going on.

Start identifying this trend, and mentally note each time you spin a story to save the reputation of your partner. If it feels safe, you can also confront your partner. Ask them to communicate their opinions instead of relying on you. It’s not your job to cover for others.

4. Plan an Independent Life

Build a life outside of your relationship with the gaslighter. It is normal and healthy to maintain friendships, interests, and activities independent of your partner. These little snippets of independence will slowly build up your self-confidence and re-establish your center of gravity.

Don’t be surprised if this is threatening to the gaslighter. Stay the course because your independence is invaluable.

Creating a life outside of the bubble of manipulation is a surefire way to start rebuilding your reality. This new world of autonomy will also form a network of support should you decided to confront (or leave) the gaslighter.

5. Create an Exit Strategy

As the victim, you might feel trapped in the relationship. This is all a part of the master plan of a gaslighter. They strive to convince you of your helplessness.

After years of manipulation, many don’t feel like they could ever make it on their own. Plus, there could be children involved or financial stressors.

Try to remember, your abuser has worn down your resolve and independence. Many of these concerns may be manipulations and twisted truths. The last thing a gaslighter wants is a reliable and independent partner.

Gather a support network around you and design an exit strategy leaning on friends and family within your inner circle. You may be surprised to find out just how many people have experienced situations just like yours.

Gaslighting is Abuse, But You Can Break Free

Because of its highly manipulative nature, it can be hard to grasp the extent of gaslighting while stuck within the relationship. Your inner voice may be telling you one thing, while your partner is telling you another. Sorting out fact from fiction becomes harder and harder, the longer the relationship continues.

Many people only understand the extent of the manipulation once they escape the relationship. If you suspect you may be a victim of this form of abuse, seek an outside opinion. Look for a counselor, or even a close confidant to discuss your experiences. Having someone in your corner can make it easier to gain perspective.

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