Gaslighting: Are You a Gaslighter?

Updated on November 3, 2018
Teeuwynn Woodruff profile image

Teeuwynn has a summa cum laude degree in both psychology and sociology from Widener University. She worked with domestic violence survivors.

What is Gaslighting?

If you are worried that you might be gaslighting your significant other, then just by looking into this article you are taking an important first step. If you are a victim of gaslighting, this article can give you insight into the symptoms of gaslighting, as well as into the main types of gaslighters and their motivations.

In Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy, gaslighting is described as an act made to “cause another individual to doubt his/her own judgments and perceptions.” To determine if you might be gaslighting your girlfriend, wife, or significant other, you need to take a hard look at your actions over your relationship. It’s good that you are reaching out and taking this step to evaluate if you have a problem—you might need to reach out to professionals to help you change your behavior if you are gaslighting your partner.

You can slip into gaslighting gradually, sometimes without even realizing it. Others reason for getting into a relationship is just to exert this kind of control.

An example of slipping into a gaslighting relationship is when you start by nagging your partner to stop getting so upset by your remarks or accusing her of being sensitive when she gets mad at you.

You may have already gone farther down the path. Perhaps when your partner asks you to do things you’ve promised to do for a while, you grumble and complain and accuse her of nagging too much.

Even worse, do you ever dismiss her opinions as “crazy?” How about her friends and hobbies? Do you diss them too and try to cut her off from them? The combination of these kinds of behaviors can make your partner begin to doubt her sanity and judgement—in other words, you’ve gaslighted her.

A woman devastated by gaslighting.
A woman devastated by gaslighting.

Gaslighting: A Power Trip

Gaslighting is an insidious technique that always keeps the target on her (or his) toes, while giving the gaslighter a real sense of power. That sense of power can be intoxicating. A classic way to gain this power is when the gaslighter says something nasty to his partner or puts her down and then, when she tries to defend herself, immediately puts down her answer as stupid, useless, ridiculous, etc.

A lot of times, if you are a gaslighter or have a tendency to be one, you may pick women with already low self esteem who are more vulnerable to these sort of tactics to begin with.

A lot of men who begin this cycle of gaslighting are desperate to maintain control over someone else, and thus, their lives. Often there is abuse or other stressors in their backgrounds. This can lead to their own lack of self-esteem and their desire to assert dominance and pain over another.

In its most mild forms, gaslighting is an irritant, a power struggle in a relationship, and a disconcerting position for the person being gaslighted to be in. At its worst, it is severe emotional abuse that can drive a person insane.

Strangely, many people who gaslight their partners at a lower level, do not even realize they are doing it. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of gaslighting so you can be aware of your own behaviour and that of the people around you.

Gaslighting does great psychological harm to its victims.
Gaslighting does great psychological harm to its victims.

Types of Gaslighters

In her book, The Gaslight Effect, Robin Stern Ph.D. outlines three different forms of gaslighter. Dr. Stern has a great deal of experience in this field. She works as the associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She is a licensed psychoanalyst with more than 25 years experience treating patients.

Dr. Stern identifies three different types of gaslighters in her book.

The Intimidator: This type of abuser is a bully. He is aggressive, controlling, and wants to dominate. Intimidators will use the silent treatment, threaten to take their target’s children away, and essentially find out their partner’s worst fears and use them against them. There is no thought of fighting fair, only bullying the person into the ground.

The Good Guy: Despite the benign name, this type of gaslighter is perhaps the worst of all. Generally, the good guy is happy and jovial to everyone. However, when he gets alone in a room with the person he is gaslighting his personality suddenly turns vicious and bitter. The true gaslighting horror of all of this is that everyone thinks the “Good Guy” is so wonderful - because he is… except when he is alone with his significant other. This adds to the gaslighting the victim feels.

The Glamour Gaslighter: This type of gaslighter starts out as a true gentleman. He wines and dines his new date. He worships his new woman and gives her luxuries and treats her as very precious -- the absolute center of his world. The woman he is wooing is happy at all the special attention...until things change. Suddenly, the gaslighter is furious at his significant other, bitter, angry and upset. The woman has no idea what she has done wrong.She immediately tries to make things better by trying to please him to get back that original love and tender treatment, but it only comes back intermittently, at best.

Gaslighting is a form of domestic abuse that causes pain and mental illness in its victims.
Gaslighting is a form of domestic abuse that causes pain and mental illness in its victims.

What to Do If You Think You Might Be a Gaslighter?

First off, it is very brave and self-aware of you to take the first step to admit you might have a problem. That’s not easy. Changing ingrained abusive behavior is difficult, but it can be done. Often, abusers were abused themselves, or had other traumatic experiences that they are re-enacting or attempting to gain control over in a way that turns them into the abusers instead of finding healthy outlets.

One thing you should strongly consider is seeing a therapist who specializes in domestic violence issues for men or going to a support group for men.

The following are suggestions from the National Domestic Violence Hotline for what people who harass or abuse women should do to begin to change their ways.

  • Admit fully to what you have done

  • Stop excuses and blaming

  • Make amends

  • Accept responsibility and recognize that abuse is a choice

  • Identify patterns of controlling behavior you use

  • Identify the attitudes that drive your abuse

  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long process — not declaring yourself “cured”

  • Not demanding credit for improvements you’ve made

  • Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)

  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors

  • Carrying your weight and sharing power

  • Changing how you respond to your partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances

  • Changing how you act in heated conflicts

  • Accepting the consequences of your actions (including not feeling sorry for yourself about the consequences, and not blaming your partner or children for them)

Origins of the Word Gaslight

The term gaslighting comes from the original 1930’s play and the famous 1944 movie, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. In the film, Bergman’s husband sets out to gaslight her into insanity to hide his illegal dealings. He moves objects around the house and blames his wife, he flickers the gaslights in the house and says it didn’t happen or make noises in the house and denies hearing anything.

Played by Charles Boyer, the lurking husband who pretends to be caring around his wife comes close to driving Ingrid mad, but Ingrid manages to overcome his evil machinations and escape.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many women. That is why it is up to men like you who are willing to examine your actions and see if you have been, consciously or unconsciously, engaging in some of these behaviors.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Teeuwynn Woodruff

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      • Teeuwynn Woodruff profile imageAUTHOR

        Teeuwynn Woodruff 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State

        It is a shame. You are right that men can also fall victim to this, although it happens to women much more frequently. I also think there are people who have learned this behavior growing up or have controlling tendencies, which is one reason this article asks: Are you a Gaslighter?

        Thanks for your response.

      • poppyr profile image

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Sounds familiar! I think we've all been in relationships where our significant other exhibits some of the behaviours described above. Men can also fall victim to gaslighting.

        I think some people do this without even realising it's a thing, because their partner irritates them. It's such a shame.

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