How do I know if a partner is gaslighting me?
This is a complex question.
And the thing about gaslighting is that it is by its very nature, designed to be as invisible as possible.
Some things that I would say to look out for.
If during conflicts, you feel really confused about why there is even a conflict.
That’s something to be looking out for.
What’s going on?
Why is it that you don’t understand why the conflict is happening?
If you feel crazy all the time.
You feel like you are just not remembering anything clearly like your partner keeps saying these things happened that you don’t remember at all, something to look out for.
If when you tell your experience of how something happened and the two of you just have like wildly different experiences, not just in terms of like your interpretations and your feelings, but in terms of how you are recalling the objective events that happened.
Something to just be aware of, of like what’s going on here, why are we experiencing this so differently?
I think that if you are concerned that a partner might be gaslighting you, you’re already at a place where it’s worth paying some attention to, not in a like go sit your partner down and be like, “I think you’re gaslighting me.”
I think if you are worried that you are being gaslit, one of the best things you can do is just start taking a lot of notes.
After each conflict, take a bunch of notes.
If it seems like you all recall things super differently, take some notes.
And keep those in a place where you can access them and your partner can’t.
It can be physical on paper notes.
It can be digital in the cloud notes, whatever works for you.
But just start taking a lot of notes because they give you something to reference back to.
If there are certain kinds of things that tend to create these conflicts that are super confusing to you then after the thing happens, write down notes about what the thing was so that if a conflict comes up, you have notes from like right after it happened which is when you will recall best what was going on.
Those notes give you the ability to really check yourself and say like, “Am I totally making this up myself? Am I totally misremembering things? Was I not present to this?”
It gives you something to reference that can help you anchor yourself in your experience of reality.
And the thing that I would say here is that gaslighting or gaslighting like situations can happen for a lot of reasons.
So for instance, like I have ADHD.
Part of that for me means that sometimes I just do not remember stuff that happened.
And so someone might say to me, “I told you blah, blah, blah.”
And I have no recollection of that conversation and they might absolutely be right.
It is a thing I know about myself.
And so, if that happens once or twice, I figure that that is just my brain doing its thing and having its own strengths and weaknesses.
If it starts happening a lot especially around stuff that is important, that’s when I start paying more attention.
If somebody has had a brain injury, they may recall things differently.
If somebody is in the middle of a very significant spike in mental health symptoms, that can affect how we remember things.
The more that we are in that kind of mess of our feelings, the harder it can be for us to experience the world other than through the stories that those feelings are telling us.
I just within the last few weeks have clawed my way out of a very deep depressive episode that has been going on on and off for years like three years at this point.
And there were days in the last four months where when I look back now outside of the main press of those feelings, I can recognize the ways in which my experience of reality was so heavily colored by what was going on in my brain that the way that I thought things were happening, the things that I thought were happening were not as accurate as I thought they were.
I was – my brain was hijacked by those very intense feelings.
And so, that is another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes if we are remembering things very differently, if what we are being told is very different than our recollection, it’s helpful to check in on like could one of us have been hijacked in our brain by something?
Is there something else going on that could create this problem?
If you genuinely think that someone is gaslighting you, that’s a huge deal whether they are doing it intentionally or not.
And I think for a lot of us, we’ve been taught this model of like, “Make it work for as long as you can no matter what. Hold on to it. Work on it. Relationships are hard.”
Relationships take work but you don’t have to stay until you’re so drained that you can’t possibly do anything but leave.
If I’m in a relationship and I feel pretty strongly that my partner is gaslighting me, outside of a few very specific situations, I’m not going to stay in that relationship because unless there is a very clear situational reason that the person was doing that, I don’t need that.
I don’t want that in my life.
I don’t want to change them.
I don’t want to be with them on their growth process.
We are all learning and growing.
And I am a therapist.
This is my job.
And when somebody is in that significant and severe of a situation, being close to them can often start to feel like work for me and I don’t want to be working as a professional in my interpersonal relationships.
That’s not what I want.
So part of it also is for you figuring out if you’re pretty sure a partner is gaslighting you, what do you want to do about it?
Do you want to stay and see if they can change?
Give yourself space to really open up the possibilities here because you don’t have to stay.
You get to leave a relationship at any time for any reason or no reason.
There can be consequences to doing that, but you don’t have to stay ever.
You can walk if you want to.
And if you need support in terms of resources, there are a lot of great abuse support resources.
There are a lot of great local groups that do this kind of work.
But you don’t ever have to do any certain set of steps before you get to break up with somebody.
You can just break up.
You can just walk away.
You can just take a break.
You can walk away and never talk to them again.
You have options.
And so like remind yourself that you get to have choices.
You don’t have to stay with somebody who you think is doing something really harmful to you.
And if you start taking notes and you get some really clear indicators that you are being gaslit, you can address that with the person and see if they are open to receiving that and working on it and changing it.
You can walk.
It’s up to you.
You get to choose what to do there.
Give yourself that power.
I think that especially if this is in the context of a larger abusive dynamic, a lot of times, you’ve lost track of where your power is and that’s super, super real.
So if what you need is for somebody to tell you that you can walk away, it doesn’t matter how hurt they would be, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t put in the required amount of work according to whatever other outside source, you get to leave.
You get to.
I give you permission to walk away.
There’s one more comment in the chat that I wanted to read.
So I think this is going back to the masturbation question.
“So if someone prefers solo sex to interpersonal, it’s not necessarily a bad fit for everybody and there are also other relationship models to explore.”
Again, sometimes it’s a good fit.
Sometimes it’s a bad one.
For me personally because of how I connect with people, being in a significant romantic or intimate relationship with someone who doesn’t really want to do partner sex just doesn’t work for me.
There are some people with whom it would work great.
There are some people with whom it would be messy and complicated and everything in between.
Even as a polyamorous person, the way that I am is not like – I think that there is sometimes this misconception of like if you are getting enough sex, it doesn’t matter who it’s coming from.
And at least for me, that is not true.
I don’t want to just be having a certain quantity of sex.
Sex for me is about a way in which I connect with, communicate with, check in with, experience presence with the person with whom I’m in a relationship whether that is a casual friends with benefits thing, a one-time hook-up or long-term ongoing romantic relationship.
Sex is a big part of how I interact with people who are in the sexual, romantic buckets for me.
That is how I am. It is not how everybody is.
And so, being honest about who you are and how you function helps you find people who are the right fit for you.
If somebody said to me like, “Yeah, I really don’t love having interpersonal sex. I’ll do it sometimes but mostly, I prefer solo sex.”
I would say like, “We could be great friends. Maybe we can go hang out. We meet together, whatever it is.”
But like for a dating or romantic or sexual relationship, that’s just not going to be a great fit for me.
And that’s OK.
There’s nothing with them.
There’s nothing wrong with me.
That is just how it is.
And I think when we talk about things like this, about when one person wants to have sex and the other doesn’t, it brings up a lot of big feelings for people.
Understandably because most of us if we’ve had that experience personally, it has probably been pretty rough when we had it.
I think that there are ways that people who are on the asexual side of the spectrum, get very shamed and maligned and treat it like a problem.
And there are also ways that people on the megasexual side of the spectrum or they like more sexual, they like primarily sexual connection side of the spectrum, get maligned and shamed and told that they’re wrong and bad.
And none of the people are bad.
For me, sex is a central part to how I connect to people.
That is how I function.
It is not something that I can change any more than an asexual person can start spontaneously desiring sex.
That is just how I am.
It is just a part of how I function, how I have functioned for a very long time.
And that’s OK.
And it’s OK for me to know that people who are more to that asexual side of the spectrum are probably not a good fit for me.
I’m not saying they are bad people.
I’m not saying that like they wouldn’t be great in other ways or that I don’t want to know them or have them.
They are not going to be a good fit for me as a partner.
And I think that we all need to make sure that we are feeling like we get to be honest about who we are how we work rather than having to try to fit into somebody else’s idea of how that’s supposed to look.