This blog article is by Dr. Becky Davenport with the Institute for Couple and Family Enhancement in San Antonio, a mental health professional who works with the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance on select cases.
Gaslighting is a term that originated from the 1944 movie Gaslight. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which someone is manipulated into doubting their own experience of reality.
In some situations, gaslighting occurs in very specific situations, such as in attempts to cover up an affair. When some indicator of the affair is discovered and confronted, doubt is introduced by making the discoverer question his or her perception and assumption about what is true. In other situations, gaslighting is a much more generalized strategy to maintain psychological control in a relationship.
What makes someone use gaslighting in a relationship?
The simple answer is that fear and insecurity are underlying gaslighting behavior. Many people who perpetrate gaslighting in their relationships are terrified that without maintaining psychological control, their partner would not be willing to stay. They do not know how to tolerate their romantic partner having an independent mind, so they seek over time to make their partner doubt their experience and perceptions, as well as the validity of their own opinion. Sometimes this is done very intentionally, but in many situations that I have seen in couples, the person doing the gaslighting doesn’t seem to be consciously aware of what they are doing.
How do you recover from being a relationship with someone who is gaslighting?
After being in a relationship where you are consistently made to question your experience of reality by someone you expect to be able to fully trust, it takes time to recover a sense of trust in yourself. It can be very traumatic to be so deeply manipulated by someone you expect to only treat you with love and security. Therapy can be very helpful as a safe place to process the experience and restore a faith in your own perceptions. Also, time with trusted friends and family who validate your sense of worth and perceptions is very helpful. Recovery from any type of emotional abuse takes time and cannot happen without support and safe connection with others.
Can a relationship with gaslighting be saved?
Yes it can, but it take serious efforts to change, or even completely recreate, the relationship to become healthy for both partners. A healing separation can be helpful to allow both to spend time apart, and to restart the relationship from the foundation. Self-awareness and accountability, as well as personal healing from whatever caused the deep fears and insecurity underlying the gaslighting behavior are necessary for that partner. Healing from the emotional trauma of gaslighting, and learning to set and enforce boundaries. A healthy relationship includes emotional and psychological safety for both partners.