Many people have encountered gaslighting to varying degrees of severity and intentionality. By definition, these behaviors from others create an inaccurate picture of the world around us. Emotional abuse is highly dependent on this tactics to force the victim to want what the abuser wants, even when it destroys them. Those of us who endured it for years and escaped from its clutches slowly start to realize just how inaccurate everything they believed was, but depending on the duration it can be easy, even natural, to fall back into those patterns of thinking. It's difficult to accept that the truths your life may have literally or figuratively depended on for years aren't truths at all, especially when they developed subconsciously and you have to correct them consciously. As I uncover new ways that my PTSD impacts my life now, in particular how I manage difficulties in romantic relationships, I wanted to go through an article by Psychology Today that discusses the 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting and recall a specific instance when my ex would use this tactic. I hope in writing this I will be able to revisit these when I notice myself falling into my former self-perceptions of failure and inadequacy. I also hope that maybe this can help other survivors break down where the lies they believe started and therefore actively combat them.
1. They tell blatant lies.
In high school, I started to suspect I was bisexual, but I also grew up in very conservative religious family so it was a point of inner conflict for a while. The first person I came out to was my then boyfriend, now ex, who were going to call A. to protect his identity. When I told him about my realization he asked if I'd ever wanted to date a girl or if I ever had. Based on the fact I was just accepting my attraction despite how I'd grown up, the answer was no. I was still well aware of how passing a hot chick in the hallway elicited the same double take with stomach butterflies as when passing a hot guy. I explained this to him and he straight up said, "It doesn't count if you've never wanted to date a girl. You aren't bi." This was so obviously not what "attraction" entails, but I was so taken aback and had certainly have heard more problematic things about the LGBTQ+ community from relatives, that I kind of brushed it off. I briefly considered his definition for a moment when I deep under his manipulation, but now that I'm out of the relationship and out abot my sexuality, I realize how messed up trying to tell me that I didn't know what my own sexuality truly was.
2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
Oh, my gosh, the number of times we would get in an argument, I'd paraphrase something he said, hit me with the "I never said that!" B.S., I'd hit him with a screenshot and he'd point out one word I got wrong as justification for how the whole situation was just in my imagination was infinite. It was literally every. Single. Time. I tried to stand up for myself. what really hit it home was that his whole friend group did this, so towards the end of the relationship, I would search through months of messages to verify if I actually remembered what he said before validating my feelings enough to even bring it up. He usually had another excuse like how I didn't understand what he meant, and at this point I usually would switch straight into apology mode, "Oops, sorry for accusing you, you're right, my understanding of the English language is far inferior to yours." This consistency is honestly what made it so hard to tie my changing mental health to his unchanging behaviors.
3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
As I mentioned before I grew up in a religious home. To this day, I'm still very active as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; however, there's always been a lot of tension between the LGBTQ+ community and many religious groups. As someone who wasn't out yet, I hadn't figured out how to explain my views on the matter. Nowadays, it's easy to explain, when it comes up, that I believe in freedom and a God who loves everyone as well as that I have no right to assert that how I live my life is the best way to live life. However, despite having deep conversations on this subject, him knowing I was closeted and bi, he would often change the subject of random conversations to put me on the spot. We'd be at lunch with a group of people talking about homework and just randomly say, "Hey, Cic, what do you think about gay people?" Classmates were all very accepting when I stuttered out that even though I was religio5. Their actions do not match their words.us, I had no problem with people living their lives the way they wanted to, but the jarring topic changes to insecurities and questions I was still felt humiliated and embarrassed. He weaponized two of my core values: loving people and loving God. He set the stage for how he would continuously pit me against my own values by telling me there was no way they could coexist.
4. They wear you down over time.
This one is fairly obvious. I'd struggled with mental illness before, but when I met A. I was fairly confident in myself and coping. Towards the end of our relationship, he drove me closer to suicide than I'd ever been before and ever have since, yet I was so convinced of his truth that I blamed myself for that episode, even apologizing for the inconvenience of scaring him when I came out of it.
5. Their actions do not match their words.
I clearly remember getting a call at 2 am where A. was screaming and yelling at me accusing me of pretending to be asleep because I had been hanging out with a male classmate and new friend. Later in the relationship he told me about how his roommates had a group of friends, including female classmates, over at their dorm, got drunk, one of the girls took her shirt off and he let her sleep in his room so she didn't have to drive home. I wasn't drunk, I wasn't shirtless, my male friend didn't stay the night, and we ate snacks in the kitchen the whole time never going to my bedroom because I didn't want to insinuate anything more than platonic friendship. I would hope that the irony is obvious...
6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
I mean, there was a reason I stayed. I felt loved. I enjoyed being told I was beautiful and I like the attention of texting 24/7 even when we were long distance. I see now how it was more for control than interest in my day, but it felt supportive. After the aforementioned suicidal episode, he texted my best friend telling them to buy me ice cream and Venmo'd them for the expense. It was so sweet I forgot about how the night before he had convinced me that I was worthless aside from the flesh that I resided in.
7. They know confusion weakens people.
I have no way of knowing what he did or didn't know, but he seemed smart enough to know this and use it to his advantage.
8. They project.
Just...reread number 5.
9. They try to align people against you.
After I pulled the plug, I told him that I wanted to try and be civil since we had a lot of mutual friends that I didn't want to make things awkward for. Tension grew in grew chats, friends being more condescending and sarcastic than usual, passive agressively attacking me for dumping him. After I lost it at all the tension and confusion about what was going on, I found out there was another group chat with everyone but me that I was being talked about in. By then, nothing I could say could convince them of the truth because he had already spoken. There's a few of them I miss, but I don't think it will ever come back.
10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.
This one he never actually did, I give him that. He made me feel crazy and when I said I felt crazy, he didn't correct me.
11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
Again, this one he didn't do, but he cut me off everyone except his friends, so there was no one to disagreed with him.