“That never happened.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
“If you really loved me, you would ____”
Have you ever been in an argument or even everyday conversation with your partner and heard any of these phrases? If you have, you have likely experienced gaslighting in some way, shape or form.
So you’ve been gaslighted. What does that even mean? What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and can be presented in a multitude of ways. Gaslighting can be described as a manipulation tactic “in which one person makes another person doubt his or her perceptions, experiences, memories, or understanding of events that happened.” (https://www.psycom.net/gaslighting-in-relationships) Typically, the person being gaslighted can feel out of touch with reality, feel crazy or overly emotional, or confused and unable to recognize or remember what is really happening. When someone is gaslighted, it may be difficult for them to make sense of the situation and confusing to know if their feelings based on a certain situation are even valid.
So what does gaslighting look like? Let’s take a deeper dive into the examples mentioned at the beginning of the blog.
One example of what gaslighting might look like is one partner saying “That never happened” or that you are “making things up now” when you know something happened one way; when really your partner manipulates you into thinking that it either never happened at all or did not happen the way you remember it. This tactic leads the manipulated partner to believe that they are “crazy” and distorts their reality. Another example may sound like “Stop being so sensitive” or “you are overreacting”. When one partner expresses their feelings about a certain situation and they are followed up by one of these phrases, the validity of their feelings can be completely diminished. Again, leading to the manipulated person to believe their feelings and thoughts are indeed crazy and that they cannot react this way in response to their partner’s actions. One more example might sound something like “If you really loved me, you would ___” or “I thought you loved me unconditionally”. This form of gaslighting can make the partner question their own perception of what love should look and feel like. Additionally, it poses the idea that if you love someone, anything they do is excusable and forgivable. Insinuating, if you loved someone, you would tolerate any abusive behavior.
So how is gaslighting a feminist issue?
Gaslighting creates a significant power imbalance in relationships. While gaslighting can happen to anyone in all sorts of relationships, any gender, romantic or not; typically women are being gaslighted more often (which makes sense because women are SO easily falsely labeled as overly sensitive or emotional or PMSing). Gaslighting damages the “shared reality” that you and your partner have with one another. When this shared reality is damaged then it makes it difficult to feel a sense of security in the relationship. Being gaslighted can make the gaslightee feel as if they are constantly walking on eggshells in order to avoid the triggers of the gaslighter. When gaslighting is present in relationships, one person has all the power over what is right and wrong and what will and will not be tolerated in a relationship, ultimately giving one person nearly all the power.