‘Look, you can’t be mad at me for that, you’re totally overreacting.’
Tom*, 27, from Manchester, had become used to this response when confronting his ex-partner over her behavior towards him – a repetitive cycle where he somehow found himself being gaslit over questioning her gaslighting.
For those who aren’t familiar with the dating term ‘gaslighting’, it’s far from just a silly buzzword for a relationship trend – it’s a pattern of toxic behavior that can be incredibly damaging to those on the receiving end of it.
A major part of abusive relationships, gaslighting involves a person using relentless denial, lying and contradiction to make someone else feel unsure of their own sanity and perception of situations.
It’s not a toxic behavior exclusive to just romantic relationships, you can find yourself being gaslit in friendships, by family and even in the workplace.
‘I was gaslit for years by my ex, who would constantly say things like “I thought you were confident”, “you told me you were confident”, “I find confidence attractive, who are you and where have you gone?”, shares Jenna*, 31, from Edinburgh.
‘This drove me insane and made me question my identity and sense of self (and self-worth), plaguing my mind with thoughts like “have I misled her about who I am?”, “am I a disappointment?”, “she’s right”.’
Sound familiar? Or maybe you’re in a relationship (whether romantic or not) right now where you’re aware that this is going on?
It can be overwhelming trying to navigate how best to deal with gaslighting, especially if you want to save the relationship it is taking place in.
We spoke to relationship experts and psychologists to find out the best way to safely speak to someone about their gaslighting behavior while protecting your own mental health – and how to decide whether your relationship is actually worth saving.
Jessica Alderson, Co-Founder and Relationship Expert at SO SYNCD urges anyone being gaslit not to feel like they’re being unreasonable by wanting to address the situation.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘When someone is gaslighting you, you might feel like you’re going crazy, or that you’re not really sure what’s happening.
‘You may want to break things off with someone as soon as you notice signs of gaslighting but if you do want to stay with them, there are measures you can take to increase your chances of resolving the situation.
‘Talking things through with friends or family can help you gain clarity and give you confidence that you aren’t misreading situations.
Sit your partner down and explain calmly and rationally how their behavior is affecting you, using specific examples.
Using clear examples will help them understand what you’re talking about and why their behavior isn’t acceptable.
‘There’s a chance that they may become defensive or try to deny what you’re saying. In this case, it’s best to end the relationship.
‘However, if they are willing to listen to you and they genuinely want to change, you may be able to work things out, if you want to.’
The key to having a conversation with someone about gaslighting is keeping calm, says Jessica, noting that your partner’s (or family member or friend’s) reaction to being confronted is a big indicator of whether or not the relationship is worth salvaging.
‘When having the conversation, try to avoid getting defensive or emotional and explain what you need to change in order for the relationship to continue,’ she recommends.
‘Make sure to actively listen to your partner. To maximize your chance of the best outcome, try to stay non-judgmental, kind, and supportive towards them.
‘If they are emotionally mature and care about you, they should be sorry for their actions and how they made you feel.’
‘It may take some time for your partner’s behavior to change but most importantly, you should notice consistent momentum towards reaching a healthy relationship dynamic. Your partner should show consistent willingness and be accepting of any feedback.
‘For example, if you point out that they are showing signs of gaslighting again, they should apologize and immediately amend their approach.
‘It’s important to remember that even if you do need to occasionally point them in the right direction, not all of the change should come from you.
‘They have to be willing to make significant amends – if you don’t see any noticeable differences in their behavior after having the conversation, you should end the relationship to protect your well-being.’
Domestic abuse helpline
If you are in immediate danger call 999. If you cannot talk, dial 55 and the operator will respond.
For emotional support, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Alternatively, for practical and emotional support, please contact Women’s Aid Live Chat 10am – 6pm seven days a week.
You can also reach the National Center for Domestic Violence on 0800 270 9070 or text NCDV to 60777.
For free and confidential advice and support for women in London affected by abuse, you can call Solace on 0808 802 5565 or email email@example.com.
Male victims of domestic abuse can call 01823 334244 to speak to ManKind, an initiative available for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence across the UK as well as their friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues and employers.
Alternatively, the Men’s Advice Line can be reached at 0808 8010327, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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