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What is gaslighting and is it happening in your relationship?



Cathy Press *Photo supplied

Falling in love can be the best feeling in the world! It’s intoxicating and exciting and while you are getting to know your new beau, they put you on a pedestal and make you feel amazing. You develop big feelings and believe they have your best interests at heart but this is when gaslighting can start and depending on whether you have had a relationship before and how your previous partners have treated you it can be easy to miss early red flags.

What exactly is gaslighting?

‘Gaslighting or ‘crazymaking’ is a form of emotional and psychological manipulation used to confuse you into believing whatever they want you to believe. In extreme cases the person on the receiving end of this behaviour will find they lose the ability to trust their own judgment, thoughts, recall or memory.

It’s often difficult to identify in the early stages of getting together with someone. Initially, your partner will play what looks like a bit of a game or just a joke. They may take or hide your things ‘for a joke’ and then lie, saying they haven’t.

While you are looking for your ‘lost item’ your partner puts it back in the usual place. When you find it, they will tell you it was there all the time and your partner might make it out to be a joke and will expect you to see the funny side too.

They might arrange to meet you somewhere at a particular time and not turn up. When you message them, they tell you it was a different time or the wrong place or even the wrong day.

They might say things like, “You’re so forgetful” or “You’re going mad” and will lie to you making you feel stupid for feeling confused and causing you to worry that you are losing a grip and going mad.

Before long, your partner starts to gradually pull you off your pedestal, dismantling the way you see yourself and you won’t realise it is happening. They may tell you that you’re being silly and unrealistic, they might laugh at you and the things you say, achieve and succeed in. If they are laughing at you but putting you down at the same time it becomes hard to tell if they are being serious or are joking. If your partner appears to ‘normally’ be nice you won’t want to believe they intended to be mean.

It can be confused with ‘just’ heavy-duty teasing, a bit of banter or perhaps you need to get a sense of humour! When you challenge these comments your partner might say you’re being over the top, too sensitive or that you are ‘mad’, ‘losing it’, or ‘messed up’.

It can make you doubt yourself

It is the same principle when your partner makes fun of or belittles your achievements. If anyone puts you down by chipping away at you like this, they are attacking the very core of your self-esteem and how you see yourself. They may also use sexist or racist jokes directed at you, using your gender, race, age, sexuality or difference to hurt your feelings and generally insult you.

When you believe you are in a good relationship and you have feelings for your partner, you tend to lean into believing them. This leads you to doubt yourself rather than doubt them. The manipulation and abuse isn’t simply the act of ‘gaslighting’ alone. You experience this alongside kinder behaviours, seeming acts of tenderness or care, leaving you to conclude that your relationship is okay and it is you that is ‘losing it’, making mistakes, over-sensitive and lacking humour.

Ultimately, you are left feeling confused, stupid, full of self-doubt, insecure and lacking self-confidence and ironically, more dependent on your partner, because at least they ‘seem’ to want you. You may think that if you work really hard things will get back to the way they were, and you will have more ‘good’ times. You believe because you clearly are the problem that it is your responsibility to put things right and make the relationship better.

If you find yourself in a situation like this there are services and organisations that can offer you support.
Women’s Aid –

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

Southall Black Sisters –

Men’s Advice Line – 0808 801 0327

The above is an excerpt from the book, When Love Bites-A young person’s guide to escaping harmful, toxic and hurtful relationships written by Cathy Press, which publishes today. Ms Press has over 25 years’ experience working as a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, registered as MBACP Senior Accredited Counsellor and Supervisor with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Cathy has specialised within the arena of domestic & sexual violence and abuse related issues with children, young people and adults, trauma and child to parent violence and abuse.

Cathy runs workshops and trainings to practitioners across the UK and internationally, including the Escape the Trap Programme, the Who’s in Charge? Programme and the new VOICE Programme.

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