During romantic relationships we can experience a rollercoaster of emotions; some of which can be new and exciting, especially at the early stages. However, over time, other emotions can arise; there may be a niggling feeling that something isn't right. It may be that you find yourself questioning your own thoughts and feelings and you may start to feel like you are always in the wrong. If any of these statements ring true to you, it is very possible you may be experiencing a form of emotional abuse called 'gaslighting'. Gaslighting can take place within families, friendships and workplaces, however, this article will primarily focus on gaslighting within romantic relationships and look at some of the warning signs that you may be experiencing this and, if you are, guide you towards what you can do next.
Gaslighting: The red flags
At the early stage of your relationship your partner may lavish you with gifts, smother you with compliments, and generally make you feel as though you are walking on cloud 9. They may wish to spend every day with you or message you at every waking hour. Quite often, very early on you will be told by your partner/ girlfriend/ boyfriend that they have "never felt this way before" or that you are the “love of (their) life”. This is known as 'love bombing'. While this may feel amazing at first (who wouldn’t enjoy the compliments and the feeling of a whirlwind romance?), within time this behaviour starts to fade, and it may feel like your partner has done a ‘U turn’ in their treatment and opinion of you. When their very ‘full on’ affection fades, it can leave you feeling incredibly confused and alone. The high you were once on now feels like an incredible low, and it is likely you are left questioning why and how this suddenly changed.
Your feelings aren't validated
It may be that you have turned to your partner for emotional support, or simply want your feelings and experiences to be heard. However, you are rarely given this space. Instead of listening to your concerns or opinions, a gaslighter will often prioritise their own needs and feelings, often leaving you feeling as though your needs and emotions are being pushed down and unrecognised.
You are made to feel like you are always in the wrong
The most significant sign of gaslighting is when you are being made to feel as though you are the one to blame. It may be that you have spoken up to your partner about something they have said or done that has upset you, and instead of listening to your point of view, It is likely that you are told you are over-reacting, or that the upset you are feeling was in fact brought on by yourself. This is likely to leave you feeling as though you are the one to blame.
You no longer voice your opinions
After being shut down several times by your partner, it is very likely you start to keep your opinions, thoughts and/or feelings to yourself. You may feel this is pointless as you are not listened to or acknowledged anyway. It is also possible that you feel you are walking on eggshells to avoid saying something that will upset your partner; most likely because you will end up being the one to blame yet again. This is likely to leave you being silent more often than not.
You question yourself more than ever before
You may be continuously asking yourself- is it me? Am I really in the wrong? You may even be questioning your sanity and think am I "crazy"? This will leave you feeling increasingly insecure and unsure of yourself. It's very likely that you look in the mirror and don't recognise yourself. The once carefree, upbeat person you once were may has been replaced by someone who lacks confidence and is full of self-doubt.
What to do next
Check in with yourself
This may seem obvious, but this is very useful tool- take a moment to ask yourself- how am I really feeling? How does my partner make me feel? If you are regularly noticing that you are feeling insecure because of how your partner is treating you, that is a red flag.
Trust your instinct
It is likely that, after being continuously told you are to blame, or you are in the wrong, or being made to feel that you are unintelligent, you begin to question your gut instinct. It is important to feel that instinct and learn to trust it again; is this person making me happy? Am I being treated well? If your gut instinct tells you no, then trust this.
Talk to a professional
A mental health professional such as a Counsellor or Psychotherapist can support you in processing the experiences you went through in this relationship and as well as guide you towards the best next steps for you to take that will help you rebuild your life.
Remember that any form of emotional abuse you experience is not your fault, and any confusion or anxiety you feel about your relationship is completely valid. It is likely that, your confidence has been knocked after this experience and now you need time to rebuild yourself. Give yourself space and time to do this, and above all, be kind to yourself.