Is My Partner Gaslighting Me? 9 Ways To Handle Being Emotionally Manipulated By A Partner
Spoilers ahead for The Bachelorette, season 15, episode 10.
After Luke P.'s sex-shaming comments in episode 9 of The Bachelorette, Hannah stood up for herself and sent him home at the end of the night. But he made a surprising reappearance during last night's episode to use gaslighting to manipulate Hannah to take him back. Even though she was clearly upset that he returned, Luke attempted to convince her to let him stay by ignoring her feelings in a cringe-worth confrontation.
Hannah repeatedly told Luke P., "This is not about you," and yet he continued to try to guilt her into accepting him back by saying that he needs clarity about the situation. But her response acknowledged that she's the one who's been suffering as a result of his actions. "That I've been a freaking emotional rollercoaster is because of giving you chances to give me clarity," she said to him.
Luckily, Hannah is able to see through Luke P.'s manipulation and speak up for herself. "I'm not doing this anymore, and I'm not going to let you rewrite what you said the other night," she told him. But it's not always easy to know how to respond if you're being gaslit by a partner.
"Luke P. is a prime example of a gaslighter," Megan Cannon, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in relationship issues and owner of Back to Balance Counseling, LLC, tells Bustle. "Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in a relationship where the abuser wants their partner to seriously start questioning their reality," she says. "It's essentially a really intense mind game." When you're being gaslit, you might begin to second-guess your emotions, question your ability to accurately recall events, and feel the need to apologize to your partner after every argument, she says.
Luke P. is doing just that in episode 10 when he confronts Hannah. "He feels that he is entitled to closure, and he continues to bulldoze Hannah's responses and requests for him to leave," Cannon says. Then, when Luke brings up Hannah's relationship with Colton, he essentially tries to find an emotional weakness that he can hold over her, so that he can take power over her emotions, she says.
It can sometimes be tricky to figure out if you're truly overreacting in a situation, or if your partner is actually manipulating you. By watching out for a few key signs of gaslighting, you can identify what's going on and figure out how to deal with it. Here's what to do if you suspect that your partner is gaslighting you, and how to respond if they are, according to experts.
1. Know What To Look For
Knowing the signs of gaslighting can help you recognize whether that's what your partner is doing or not. The key is in how they react to your feelings. "If your feelings are hurt and you are seeking to communicate this clearly and directly, but your partner’s response is minimization and deflection every time, they may be gaslighting you with a method called downplaying," marriage and family psychotherapist, Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. So if they're constantly trying to convince you that your emotions are invalid or that you're overreacting to situations, they might be gaslighting you. Once you recognize that this is taking place, be intentional about honoring your authentic feelings as you determine whether or not to end the relationship.
2. Remember That Actions Speak Louder Than Words
If you suspect that your partner is gaslighting you, it can be hard to figure out if what they're telling you is what they truly feel or is just an attempt to manipulate you. But keeping an eye on whether their actions match up with what they're saying can give you a clue about whether they genuinely have your best interests in mind.
"Pay more attention to what they do than what they say," Scott-Hudson says. "Often with gaslighters, their actions and words are incongruent and do not match." Maybe they tell you that they are always there for you, despite consistently canceling your plans or skipping important events. Looking at the actions behind the words can help you find the truth.
3. Pay Attention To What They're Accusing You Of Doing
"Gaslighters are projectors," Scott-Hudson says. "They will often accuse you of behavior they themselves are engaging in." So if your partner is trying to convince you that you're being unfaithful to them by talking to other people or lying to them about a situation, take a step back and consider your actions with a critical eye. If you genuinely don't believe that you're at fault, they could actually be doing the thing they're blaming you for. "Pay close attention to anything they accuse you of, as it often points to their own unwanted behaviors."
4. Trust Your Gut
When someone is gaslighting you, you might begin to doubt whether your emotions in a situation are real or not. But trusting your own gut can help you know how to handle a situation, Scott-Hudson says. If, for example, your partner is trying to convince you that you shouldn't be upset by a mean comment that they made about you, trust the fact that you're feeling sad rather than accepting that you shouldn't be feeling this way. "Keep a journal of these incidents," Scott-Hudson says. "Your own body and intuition are your best barometer here."
5. Ask Your Friends For Advice
Even though your gut reaction can be a very useful tool for figuring out whether you're being gaslit by your partner, sometimes you might want an outside opinion. It can be hard to know how to react to gaslighting when you're experiencing it, but telling your most trusted friends what's happening can give you counsel for what to do next, Scott-Hudson says. Your friends will have your best interest in mind, so they'll be able to help you figure out whether you should just confront your partner about what they're doing, or if you should consider ending the relationship altogether.
6. Seek Professional Help
"If your partner downplays you consistently, and you begin to question if you are overreacting, you need to run this by a third party who is neutral and sensible," Scott-Hudson says. "Get some professional feedback from a therapist." While your friends can help advise you on how to handle a partner who's emotionally manipulating you, they'll probably be quick to take your side, so they might not recommend the most healthy approach.
A therapist, on the other hand, will be able to walk you through different strategies for handling your partner. They'll also help you work through any self-doubt you might develop as a result of long-term gaslighting.
7. Try To Confront Them
If you suspect that your partner is gaslighting you, try asking them about the situation. "Using your assertive communication skills, see if you're able to have an open conversation about it," Cannon says. But keep in mind that if you're dealing with a true gaslighter, they are not going to be receptive to your concerns. "They may fake listen, but you need to be very aware of how they are responding to you," she says. "If they begin denying such behaviors, or telling you that you misunderstood their behaviors, this is a big red flag."
8. Remain Calm
In some situations, you might not want to confront your partner about the fact that they're gaslighting you because it may cause them to retaliate or become enraged, Scott-Hudson says. If they have anger issues, it might be a better idea to practice the method of going "grey rock," she says. This means cutting out as much drama as possible from the situation so that they can't feed on it. "Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists enjoy drama," Scott-Hudson says. "Your big emotional reaction is like fuel for them, so starve them by only supplying them with genetic, boring responses."
9. Leave The Situation
While talking with your partner can be healthy in some situations, you might be in a situation where that doesn't feel like a safe option for you. "If you feel like your safety is threatened, leaving the relationship (albeit when it is safe for you) is recommended," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "A partner deserves to feel safe and valued in their relationship and if you are experiencing gaslighting, then it is justifiable that you should walk away," she says. If your partner has been gaslighting you for a while, it can be difficult to leave the relationship. That's when it can be helpful to enlist the support of friends, family members, and professionals to guide you through the process, Cook says.
It's never OK for your partner to gaslight you. If they're manipulating you in that way, that is not healthy behavior, so you should seriously consider whether it would be better for you to leave the relationship.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.