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What is gaslighting?

If someone manipulates you into doubting your own beliefs or sanity, this is called gaslighting. Gaslighting can occur in any relationship and it’s important to know that’s it’s not okay. Gaslighting is a form of coercive control and is illegal, find out more about the law says below.

Gaslighting can happen over a long period of time and can be a very gradual process. It can often start with small lies and frequently putting someone down to disorientate them. This behaviour can be part of other types of abuse, for example, verbal abuse, physical abuse or other forms of coercive control.

The process of gaslighting

The beginning of gaslighting can be very discrete such as someone refusing to listen to how you feel. For example, minor gaslighting can be when someone refuses to hear what you have to say even if you are in the right. Over time frequent gaslighting will change a person’s self-esteem and make them dependant on the gaslighter for emotional support and a sense of reality. This creates an environment with a large power imbalance where the manipulator has a lot of control. This can gradually turn into something as serious as someone making you question your own memory.

Gaslighting is often used to make someone stay in an abusive relationship as the person being gaslit becomes more trusting of the gaslighter than themselves. Often gaslighting happens very gradually after a lot of manipulative behaviour which makes it difficult to see that it’s happening. Since gaslighting is often a long gradual process it can be difficult for those being manipulated and gaslit to be able to see that it’s happening. If the person has been isolated from their friends and family it can be even more difficult to spot and take action.

Gaslighting examples

Sometimes mistakes can be made and there can be a misunderstanding within a conversation. But if you are made to feel bad about yourself and someone makes you doubt yourself frequently it can be considered gaslighting. Here are some scenarios that are examples of gaslighting:

  • If your partner forgot your birthday, you told them how that made you feel and your partner says “you’re overreacting and being crazy”. You have a right to your emotions and they should be validated whether someone agrees with you or not.
  • If you tell your partner something about what happened to you that day and they reply with “but did that really happen? I don’t think so.” It could be considered gaslighting because they were not present and don’t have a reasonable excuse to not believe you. This might make you doubt your own memory or perception.
  • If you tell your partner the forecast says it might rain on the day you plan to go to the beach and they say “it’s only you who believes that”. It makes the person feel alone in their beliefs and reinforces the idea that nobody can relate to them so they must be strange to think a certain way.
  • If you try and talk to your partner about something that happened with them and they say “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.
  • If your partner says “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when you’re talking about something that happened to the both of you. This phrase can be used to make one person doubt what happened and creates a power imbalance of one person saying they’re right and another having to believe them.

What does the law say?

Gaslighting is a form of coercive controlIn 2019 a new Domestic Abuse law came into effect in Scotland. This makes it a crime for a person to engage in a course of conduct that is likely to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm, if, in doing so, they either intended to cause such harm, or else were reckless as to whether the behaviour would likely to cause such harm.  Examples include behaviour which has the effect of controlling, regulating or monitoring their partner or ex-partner’s day-to-day activities, or frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing them.   This can include ‘gaslighting’. The legislation covers anyone under 18 experiencing domestic abuse in their own relationships.

Where can you get help and support?

Find out where to get support.

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Visit the That’s Not OK campaign page for more information.

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