Gaslighting: Warning signs your partner is emotionally abusing you Advertisement

Gaslighting: Warning signs your partner is emotionally abusing you

When your fights are not normal

By ELLE team  August 6th, 2018

You think abuse and you think broken glass, a bruised limb or a black eye. But abuse is not always physical  it can happen at an emotional level and you may not even realise it. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that is done so subtly, it makes the victim question their sanity and memory. It involves one partner psychologically manipulating the other into doubting their self-worth.   

The origin of the term will give you a fair idea of how it works. In a 1938 stage play, called Gas Light, the husband dims the house lights, and when the wife points it out, outright denies it. It was an attempt to drive her crazy and make her question her sense of reality.

Disagreements and fights are part of every relationship  be it romantic, professional or familial. So how do you know whether it’s normal or you’re being gaslighted? “If your partner is provoking you to the point that you become aggressive, saying mean things and denying things he said, then your partner is gaslighting you. In such a relationship, the abuser is always trying to prove the other person wrong,” says clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany. If your significant other isolates you from your friends, belittles you or accuses you of being a psycho, then those are also warning signs you need to walk away from the relationship. 

abused woman

People who gaslight are pathological liars and masters at manipulation, whether they do it intentionally or unintentionally. Statements like, “It’s all in your head”, “You’re trying to confuse me”, and “You’re making it up” are all too common. “Most of the times, people who gaslight have a calm body language and remain unruffled, all the while provoking their partner to behave aggressively,” says Seema. So, you’re left shouting and feeling like a crazy person while your boyfriend or husband puts up a cool demeanour. 

Some of the red flags you need to watch out for are these: being scared to have a conversation with your partner, feeling afraid to share your weakness/vulnerabilities and being threatened with a break-up. For instance, you may be afraid to share the fact that you had a fight with someone, because it can be twisted to mean that you don’t get along with anybody, and therefore, you are the problem. “Victims of gaslighting don’t feel comfortable being themselves in the relationship,” Seema says. “You avoid exposing your vulnerable side because you know it can be used against you.”

According to Seema, many victims of gaslighting are low on self-worth. They rely on their partners to enhance their confidence, and constantly feel they are not good enough for their partners. On the other hand, people who gaslight are usually narcissistic and have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). “But they are charming and soft-spoken in public. Which makes it difficult for the victims to speak up because friends and family may not believe them.” Going through a difficult relationship can be emotionally scarring and a person who has experienced gaslighting can takes a few months to recover. Confide in a trusted friend or family member. Therapy can also help immensely.

5 mistakes everyone is guilty of making in their relationships

The checklist

As a matchmaker, this is the one habit that drives me nuts the most. Only if you’ve ordered a boyfriend on Amazon, who will be made in China with a customised personality based on your tick boxes, can you put so much pressure on the idea of your dream man. People can stay single for years, simply because they are too arrogant to let go of improbable expectations. Seeking the good stuff instead — important traits such as his value system, attitude, kindness, approach to conflict, and emotional intelligence will go a long way, rather than his designation. 


Free your mind

“Ten minutes into a date, I always know if this will even go somewhere.” Guess what, Sherlock: You don’t. None of us do. We tried to set up a date for two people who had almost met. The woman initially wasn’t very keen because when their parents spoke over this prospective rishta a few years ago, one dad had pissed the other off. We convinced her to meet him, and — surprise, surprise — they’re dating now. Don’t write off someone you’ve only just met or never bothered to — you may just end up marrying him. 

Be fair

It’s entertaining to occasionally meet the liberal, ‘creative consultant’ who makes her free-spirited life sound amaze, but is actually struggling to pay the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that — except she wants a “stable”, “well-to-do”, Ivy League alumnus to sweep her off her feet. I always ask my clients what they bring to the table (in this case, not even the bread), as a person. You should be able to respect your partner — emotionally, physically and even professionally. Don’t play the convenient Feminism card if you can’t play by equality. It’s not cool.

Be cool

You’ve had an amazing first date. What should you do next? If you’re going to text him every 10 minutes, overanalyse his social media activity or constantly stalk him, you’re clingier than my three-year-old nephew. Be it a year or 25, every relationship is a constant work-in-progress. I truly believe that a healthy relationship actually feels like you’re meditating — there’s no stress or fear — only a sense of calm. All you have to do is be patient and wait for him to meet you halfway.


Too much information

Sure it’s important to be yourself, and honest — but assess your date’s comfort level and vibes in the early stages of getting to know one another. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many educated; well travelled; successful; ‘evolved’ clients practically butcher a relationship in-the-making this way. There is a fine line between an icebreaker, and being foolhardy. Good conversation is an art. If he’s the right guy, you’ll both learn to trust one another, and will be able discuss everything from your million-dollar business idea to the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in public. Just pick the right time.