Life

The one unexpected sign you may be gaslighting the people around you

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites
What is gaslighting

Gaslighting isn’t always a conscious form of behaviour in relationships: it may manifest itself without you being fully aware of it.

Whether it’s Boris Johnson telling us the rules aren’t actually the rules or Donald Trump’s penchant for “fake news”, gaslighting is all too present in a digital post-lockdown age. 

But what we don’t often recognise with this toxic form of behaviour is that it’s just as easily applied to ourselves as it is to other people.

While gaslighting is a very common – and corrosive – type of abuse in relationships or even in the workplace, it’s also a habit that’s common to fall into ourselves.

You may also like

Sky Ferreira says gaslighting is a “go-to tactic” for music executives

“Gaslighting is used by people to make other people question their version of reality,” writes therapist Claire Jack in a piece for Psychology Today

“It’s an effective way of convincing someone else that you’re right and they’re wrong. By doing so, you can manipulate people into acting in ways which meet your needs and place them in a weak position within the relationship.”

Gaslighting makes other people question their version of reality

Jack explains that we tend to think of gaslighting as a very intentional tactic: a means by which manipulative people can assert their power over others.

While it often happen like this, Jack says it can also occur without you meaning to. In other words, you end up disempowering those around you, or damaging their self-esteem, without realising that you are doing so.

A typical scenario where this may happen is in reaction to arguments. Say you fall out with your partner, a family member or a friend over something and cannot reach a resolution. 

You may be tempted to gloss over the row afterwards, and not reference it again. But while this may seem like a positive reaction (by avoiding further conflict), Jack says it’s actually a means of gaslighting.

You may also like

Gaslighting: how to spot the signs of this emotional abuse

“If your partner, friend, or colleague expresses a desire to talk about what happened, do you brush them off or redefine the fight as ‘a little tiff,’ refusing to acknowledge that, to the other person at least, it was a significant event which needs to be dealt with?” she says.

“Disregarding someone else’s emotional and processing needs in this way, over time, has the effect of silencing them. What point is there in discussing things with you if you deny the significance of what happened before?”

Such a reaction also validates any bad behaviour that may have occurred during the argument (shouting, name-calling etc.) and trivialises the hurt the other person feels as a result. 

So, what’s a healthier way of reacting to an argument? A 2019 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that “active repair” is the best way forward. 

This involves anything from apologising to reaching a compromise or talking things through: but crucially, you need to acknowledge what has happened in the fallout, and any upset that has been caused as a result.

Another side note to this is that you should try to avoid passive-aggressive phrases such as “I’m sorry if… ” or “why are you so upset?” when you come to reflecting on your argument.

Again, these venture into gaslighting territory, by making the other person question the truth of their feelings. 

You may also like

Gaslighting in relationships: psychologist reveals 3 coping strategies for dealing with toxic relationships

Instead, try “direct, emotionally honest, assertive communication,” says Andrea Brandt, author of 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness.

She suggests validating the other person’s feelings by acknowledging where they come from, even if you don’t agree with them. For example, “X, I understand you’re upset because you have to move your night out in order to have dinner with my family. However, It’s very important to me and I appreciate you doing it.”

As relationships therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw points out in an insightful post on the topic (above), gaslighting is something “most people don’t consciously choose to use” in relationships: rather it’s a learned response.

With greater awareness, you can replace it with healthier reactions that help you and the people around you feel valued and secure in the relationship you both share.

Images: Getty

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Topics

Share this article

Author

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

Recommended by Anna Brech

Life

Elisabeth Moss’ new movie The Invisible Man is what your mates will be talking about this month

Stay ahead of the curve.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Opinion

“Are you guilty of gaslighting Harry and Meghan?”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have revealed their plans to sue the Mail on Sunday, but the response from some quarters has been disappointing.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Long Reads

“I am a survivor of domestic abuse. This is my story”

Warning: this story might be difficult to read.

Posted by
Stylist Team
Published
Opinion

“Gaslighting and harassment: Love Island raises vital issues but we need to handle them better”

By labelling contestants as heroes or villains, we’re playing a dangerous game

Posted by
Moya Lothian-McLean
Published