You are in a conversation with your boss about an issue you are unhappy with. All of a sudden the boss informs you that you must be hormonal because you are overreacting to the experience. He indicates that the conversation is over without ever addressing your feelings or concerns.
You begin to feel defensive, first wondering if you are really overreacting and then deciding to do everything possible to make the boss see things your way.
Or, you find that your spouse is constantly laying the responsibility for issues in your relationship solidly in your lap rather than taking time to problem solve with you. You ask him to stop leaving piles of clutter on the dresser and he tells you that you are obsessive compulsive about cleaning. You mention that you dislike how he is spending money and he somehow makes you feel like a beast for complaining about the credit card debt that is piling up. Soon you begin to accept that all the problems in the relationship, any relationship, are your fault.
If you continue accepting the responsibility for someone elseâ€™s actions you become more and more depressed and beaten down. You lose parts of yourself as you strive to be more and more perfect, doing whatever you can to please the other person.
This is psychological abuse and it has a name; Gaslighting. Gaslighting is named after a 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman called Gaslight. In it the woman is being convinced that she is going insane by her husband. Try to find it and watch it. You will be amazed at how much your life mimics the main characterâ€™s.
You donâ€™t have to live this way. The first thing that you must do is recognize the behavior. This can be the hardest part because you have been duped into believing that you canâ€™t trust your own perceptions. You need a trusted friend or counselor to talk to.
Go over the following questions with your friend and if your answer differs from hers take time to discuss the question, think about it, and consider if she might be right.
- Are you always second guessing your decisions and feelings?
- Do you wonder if you are too sensitive, a drama queen, or just overreacting?
- How many times a day do you apologize to others?
- Do you make excuses for your spouseâ€™s (or partnerâ€™s) behavior?
- Do you have trouble making decisions for fear of doing the wrong thing?
- Have you changed from the confident person you used to be?
- Do you feel like you canâ€™t do anything right, that you mess up everything, or everything is your fault?
If you answered yes to several of these questions you may be dealing with gaslighting in a relationship. You may even be habitually responding from being gaslighted in a past relationship and not dealing with the emotions.
Once you recognize a pattern of gaslighting in your relationship, you can take the steps to rid yourself of the guilt. Counseling can help you work out your feelings and learn to trust your own perceptions again. You will need to learn how to identify and respond in a healthy way to people who attempt to use this behavior on you.
Remember that they may not even know what they are doing. It may be an ingrained behavior that is triggered in certain ways. By learning to respond correctly, you will protect yourself and possibly your relationship from the seriously negative effects of this abusive behavior.
photo credit: a2gemma