Earlier this week, Merriam-Webster announced its 2022 word of the year is "gaslighting," which it defines as "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one's own advantage." The dictionary reported seeing a 1,740% uptick in searches throughout the year.
One can be gaslit in many ways: politically, professionally, platonically. One of the more disarming ways to be deliberately deceived in a way that makes you question how much you can trust yourself, though, is romantically. Finding out a partner has misled you about who they are, what their goals are, or even how you are behaving during a conflict can lead to trust issues.
After all, if you can't take someone at their word, how can you form a relationship with them?
Gaslighters are often self-involved, says Pamela Larkin, a therapist who specializes in relationships. This makes it hard for them to be self-aware. "When you are focused on your own perspectives, it's hard to believe that anybody thinks any differently," she says. "You're only coming from your own experience."
They give more weight to their perception of events than your perception and are "not validating or acknowledging someone else's experiences," she says. "That's often what gaslighting ends up looking like."
Here are three red flags that indicate your partner might be the gaslighting type.
Think about the kinds of problems their friends or family feel comfortable discussing with them. Ask yourself, "Are they the type of person that someone would come to if they had a moment of vulnerability?" Larkin suggests.
If people seem guarded around them, this might be a sign that they aren't trusted by friends or family to react with empathy.
"If people are not coming to you when they have a need, that's maybe because you're not responding in a way that is respecting or validating their experience," she says.
Notice what specific words they are using when talking to others. Are they generally sarcastic or critical? Do they use "blaming" words?
This doesn't always mean blaming a person for their own actions. It can mean blaming others for situations that befall them or their friends.
This sounds obvious, but many who gaslight have a hard time believing they are doing it because they can't see another person's perspective.
If this is feedback they've received a few times, it's something you should pay attention to, Larkin says.
If this sounds like your partner, or if you recognize some of these tendencies in yourself, there are ways to change. Here's how to become more open to other's perspectives:
Do some reading
"A lot of people who gaslight are potentially narcissistic," Larkin says. "There's an inability to be empathic and other-focused."
If this sounds like you or someone you know, consult some resources. Some books Larkin suggests include:
- "Narcissism, Codependency And Gaslighting Effect Bible," by Dana Parent and Melody Covert
- "Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome: A Survival Guide For Healing From A Relationship With A Narcissistic Mother Or Partner," by Dana Parent and Melody Covert
- "Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't," by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
"It's like holding a mirror in front of you and saying, 'Oh, I think I might do that,'" she says.
Hang out with people who aren't like you
"Expose yourself to other people's experiences or stories so that you do have more of a frame of reference," she says.
The more you interact with people who take different paths in life or think differently, the more likely it is that you'll be able to empathize with them.
Don't over-internalize feedback
Being told you've gaslit someone can stir up feelings of shame, which can be counterproductive.
"You may internalize it and think, 'Oh, I did something wrong,' or 'I am bad,' and you are so flooded with that [thought] that you can't really hear the other person," Larkin says. "You literally aren't focused on the other person because you feel like they are telling you you did something wrong."
Decouple the act of doing something another person didn't like and being a bad person. You can start by changing the attitude you have about yourself.
"You need to build up a right view of yourself that is positive, but not superior, so that when people approach you telling you whatever, you know it's not about you," Larkin says. It's about an action that you can work to curb in the future.