Part 2: Feeling the Burn
Understanding the textbook definitions of gaslighting, and even the various techniques that can be employed, can only help if you also understand what it feels like to be “gaslit.” By its very nature, gaslighting makes you question fundamental aspects of yourself: your thoughts, your emotions, your beliefs and judgments. You may begin to question whether the actions you are taking are logical and objective, or if you are actually over-reacting to something most would brush under the rug…Thus, it is important to be able to take a step back, and recognize when you may be in this type of situation. And, keeping in mind our quote from Tolstoy, it is also important to recognize when you may be putting someone into a situation in which they may begin to question themselves and feel gaslit.
Recognizing when you may be being gaslit can be broken down into three categories: questioning your thoughts, questioning your feelings, and questioning what actions you should take. While there is no particular order to these symptoms, and all could be occurring at once, we will begin with thoughts that may occur to you if you are in a “gaslighting relationship.” There are various ways to better understand whether your thoughts about a particular relationship are accurate, and can include repeatedly asking yourself some of the following questions:
- “Am I over-reacting?”
- “Am I too sensitive?”
- “Am I being unfair? Maybe I should apologize”
Again, it can be difficult to discern whether these questions are related to being gaslit or are indeed a result of other relationship difficulties. The most important way to differentiate between the two are whether this confusion is a pattern in the relationship, whether it is causing you constant confusion and anguish, and whether these thoughts begin to affect your decision-making and problem-solving skills in other aspects of your daily life. While it is normal to question whether you’ve made the right decision, constantly second guessing yourself, over-apologizing, and beginning to question whether you are “good enough” for this person are key signs that you may be being gaslit.
As for emotional signs of gaslighting, you are most likely to feel anxious, depressed and angry, and may begin to have lower self-esteem and question your own self-worth. The important thing to note here is that these feelings occur in the context of a particular relationship you have with someone (i.e., your “gaslighter”). While you may find yourself feeling more anxious in general when a loved one is gaslighting you, it is important to try to take yourself out of the specific circumstances of the relationship in order to understand whether you may be being gaslit. Talking to other trusted friends or family may be a good way to use reality-testing to help determine the extent to which your feelings are related to gaslighting.
Lastly, you may begin to second-guess your own actions you are taking in the context of a gaslighting relationship. This can include over-apologizing, making excuses for another’s behavior, and losing control (e.g., becoming furious, tearful, or isolating yourself) during conversations or arguments. If you find yourself acting differently when around a certain person, and/or feeling less confident in yourself when speaking with them, this could be a sign of a potential gaslighting relationship.
Remember, recognizing that you may be engaging in some of these “gaslighting techniques” does not make you a bad person, as long as you understand how your actions may be harming someone you love, and learn how you can put a stop to it to better your relationships. The following section of this guide will detail how best to deal with one’s behavior within the context of a gaslighting relationship.