Have you ever had the feeling that the person you love, that you’re absolutely nuts about (that you’d do anything for!) is playing with your mind? You have this sense that you’re literally being driven crazy, but you honestly can’t put your finger on how it’s happening, because you really are feeling, well, a bit crazy!
It could be that the person you love – and very likely you should add “too much” after the word love – is playing a mind game with you called “gaslighting.” It’s a psychological syndrome where one love partner gains power over the over with emotional control.
It’s such an unhealthy, emotional nightmare of a situation that the gaslight effect is named after one of the most memorable scary old classic movies ever made, Gaslight, which won Academy Awards in 1944 for a plot line that includes a husband who tries to make his wife doubt her sanity by slowly making her believe that she’s imagining things – big time!
Most likely, if you’re relating to this gaslighting effect by now, you’re probably not in a relationship with an evil wrongdoer like the character in the movie, but you are hooked up with someone who puts the emotional screws to you, because they need to be right all the time. And you, being so in love (and let’s add blindly to that), simply want their approval. If this applies to you, read on.
The gaslight effect
Here’s a simple case of gaslighting: You’re at the checkstand conversing with the cashier about the price of fruit. You get a sense of discomfort from your mate. As you walk out of the store, your love tells you that they can’t believe you would try to hurt them by flirting so flagrantly. They tell you it’s clear that the cashier is interested in you and you’re leading them on. You, on the other hand, can’t believe your love is even thinking that! You were just talking. But maybe you were flirting, you ask yourself. But no, you honestly were just chatting. It happens again when you go to pick up the dry cleaning and joke to the cleaner about how you could have purchased a whole new outfit for the same price. Your partner once again berates you, saying that this time it’s clear that you were coming on to the cleaner. You swear to them that you were just having fun… but you did hurt your love’s feelings so maybe everyone else sees you as a flirt, too. Eventually, as time goes on, and the scenarios are repeated, you too begin to think of yourself as a habitual tease. Not wanting to appear that way, or offend your partner in any way, you become more businesslike on your errands, eventually barely smiling and saying a quiet thank you for their service.
It all may have started as what seemed to be a minor misunderstanding, one that builds and builds and builds until: “You are constantly second-guessing yourself. You often ask yourself if you’re being too sensitive. You become confused about your reactions to events. You may even lie to avoid putdowns or reality twists and think twice before bringing up certain seemingly innocent topics of conversation,” describes Dr. Robin Stern author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life.
Take the power back
If this is happening in your life, how do you take back control? The first step is to understand that it takes two for the gaslight effect to work. Trying to get the approval of someone who makes crazy demands on you will never happen. You have to admit to yourself that you’re trying to please someone who doesn’t make sense. In order to get to that belief, you may have to write down your arguments to see if your idea of what is going on is very different from your partner’s view of the situation, says Dr. Stern.
Get up stand up
In order to avoid the kind of conflict that just being you brings up in your partner, you have to be willing to walk away from their twisted thinking, until they understand that you are no longer falling for their abuse. Your new, self-protective behavior will very likely start arguments with your partner, which you can deflect by repeating those sanity supporting lines like, “I don’t feel good about this conversation… or this isn’t the way I see things and you won’t convince me otherwise.” You may actually have to be willing to leave the relationship if you can’t change the dynamic, says Dr. Stern.
What’s most important in any relationship, to get your full share of happiness, is that you believe in yourself, learn to sort out the truth from distortion, and keep other people, (especially the ones you love and are most vulnerable to trying to appease) from telling you what to think.
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