Am I Being Gaslighted? The Difference Between Gaslighting And Disagreement
“You are overreacting.”
“You are upset over nothing.”
“I never said that. You must be confused again.”
“You sound crazy.”
Have you ever heard something like this, especially repeatedly by one person? If it resonates with you, there may be a possibility that you were experiencing gaslighting.
Gaslighting became a buzzword that seems to pop up everywhere these days. The interest in the term grew so much that its search on Google rose by a whopping 1740% in 2022. This is more than twice an increase compared to any other search term this year. It’s not surprising, then, that gaslighting is proclaimed a Word of the year by the Merriam-Webster dictionary for 2022.
We live in an extraordinary time where we have more information about mental health, communication, relationships, and well-being than ever. This is, overall, a very good thing. It’s great that people are learning more about gaslighting, so they can recognize it and protect themselves. At the same time, when we use the word around so much, some misunderstandings may occur. It becomes important to make sure we know what it actually means, and also what it doesn’t mean.
So, what is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where one person undermines the other person’s reality and leads them to question their own perception and sanity, all the while dismissing their feelings. This tactic is common in emotionally abusive relationships.
By twisting the facts, denying, diverting from the topic, trivializing other person’s emotions and using degrading comments to put them down, one person tries to gain power over the other by twisting their sense of reality and making them question their ability to think rationally. Over time, the person who’s being gaslighted starts to feel anxious, depressed, withdrawn, confused, and unable to trust themselves. This is especially true when gaslighting happens in a wider context of abuse.
While anyone can experience gaslighting in any type of relationship, like in a workplace, in friend groups, or among family members, we most commonly discuss it in the context of romantic relationships.
What are some gaslighting examples?
So, what does gaslighting look like in practice? Sometimes it’s so subtle that we may not be sure if it’s gaslighting or mere disagreement. You may be wondering: “Am I being gaslighted?”. Here are some gaslighting examples and red flags in relationships that could help you identify it:
- Dismissing your feelings and perceptions as invalid or even pathological. (“You sound crazy”)
- Attempting to convince you that you should not trust your memory (“This must be another one of your crazy ideas. Think back to the situation when you remembered X wrong. This is the same thing”)
- Pretending not to understand what you’re saying so that they don’t have to respond (“I don’t know what you’re talking about”)
- Trying to change the subject in order to divert you from the topic (“Have you been talking to your friend again? Usually you get this kind of crazy ideas when you spend some time with her”)
- Flatly denying that they have said or done something they obviously did. This happens often, it’s not a one-time thing (“I never said that. You heard that wrong. You are making things up. I would never do such a thing”).
Gaslighting red flags to watch out for in a relationship:
- You find yourself always apologizing
- You feel confused, question your perception and memory, and constantly second-guess yourself
- Their actions don’t match their words
- They deny your reality. When confronted by proof, they can become defensive and start attacking you
- Degrading comments, questioning your ability to think rationally
- You frequently wonder if you are too sensitive
- You know something is wrong, but you just can’t point out what.
In a nutshell, gaslighting often unfolds like this:
That didn’t happen. And if it did, it wasn’t that bad. And if it was, that’s not a big deal. And if it is, that’s not my fault. And if it was, I didn’t mean it. And if I did, you caused it, and so you deserved it.
Gaslighting is extremely damaging for a relationship, but more importantly, for individual well-being. Over time, it can create the effects of confusion, brain fog, self-doubt, disorientation, fear, anxiety, feeling like you are losing your mind, difficulty making judgments or simple decisions, second-guessing your perception and memory, feeling like you are not good enough, that you constantly need to apologize. You may gradually feel more and more dependent on the gaslighter’s validation, emotional support, and “rational view”.
It’s important to note that many of these symptoms are experienced by people who already go through depression, high levels of anxiety, lots of stress, or who have low self-esteem, certain attachment styles, or unhealthy coping mechanisms to trauma. However, the difference with gaslighting is that there is another person who actively contributes to these symptoms occurring. If you don’t typically experience these feelings with other people, just with one particular person, then there is a higher chance that you may be experiencing gaslighting by them.
How to tell the difference between gaslighting and disagreement?
Not everyone’s perception of events is the same. We will sometimes disagree or have different views on what happened. We may even have strong opinions and reject the other person’s point of view. Still, it doesn’t have to mean it’s gaslighting.
So, how to tell if it’s gaslighting or just disagreement?
The main difference between gaslighting and disagreement is about power. In disagreement, the focus is on challenged viewpoints or hurt feelings. In gaslighting, the main goal is to take control over the other person by undermining their sense of self and making them question their own sanity.
Someone who uses gaslighting may try to convince the other person that they remember things wrong, that they are overreacting, and that, therefore, their view of the situation and their feelings are not valid. They may use the target’s “mistakes”, “missteps”, or “overreactions” to turn the situation around and cast themselves as a victim. On the receiving end of this behaviour, the person can feel disoriented, confused, and worn out. They start asking themselves if they may be imagining things or if they are even justified to think or feel the way they do. Gaslighting is usually not a one-time thing. Rather, it is used over time to belittle the other person into being controlled.
The focus of disagreement is explaining one’s point of view, maybe even trying to convince the other person to change theirs, but NOT convincing them that they can’t trust themselves. Disagreements often involve unpleasant emotions. They can involve tension, stress, and heated discussion, especially around specific topics and with certain people. However, if there is a pattern of disagreement exactly in situations when one side feels hurt and tries to let the other person know about it, then there is a high possibility there is gaslighting involved.
Are gaslighters aware of what they do?
Those who use gaslighting are people too. They usually use this form of manipulation to ease the anxiety surrounding the possibility of losing control and power in the relationship, or to protect themselves from feeling ashamed. Gaslighting serves as a tool to deflect responsibility, because in their world, taking responsibility for hurtful actions = shame and degradation. So, instead, they turn to tearing down the other person, all the while keeping them hooked. For them, gaslighting is a cognitive strategy for self-regulation and co-regulation.
Often, people who use gaslighting are very well aware of their tactic. They know it’s effective and they consciously use it to manipulate the other person and gain power. However, sometimes, they may not even know that what they are doing is manipulative and so damaging. They may be convinced that they are “just being direct” or that it’s a normal way to behave in conflicts. For many, gaslighting could be something they picked up from the relationships they grew up around.
Whatever the case is, if you recognize that you are experiencing gaslighting, it’s crucial to remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. Whatever the reason behind gaslighting is, the other person is consciously choosing to behave this way, and there is nothing you are doing that causes this behaviour. It is something they do to protect their self-esteem and their sense of control. There are many ways to protect these things – and they are choosing the one that is harming you.
The most important first step toward protecting yourself from gaslighting is recognizing that it’s happening. From there, you can start making rational steps on what to do next, from working on your own well-being, to addressing the problem and setting boundaries, or maybe stepping away from the relationship. Talking to a mental health professional may also be beneficial, whether it’s in form of individual therapy or couple’s counselling. Recovery may take some time, but it is definitely possible to learn skills to overcome the damage gaslighting may have caused you.
Do you know how to spot gaslighting in relationships? How do you make a difference between gaslighting and disagreement? Let us know in the comment section down below!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Abramson, K. (2014). Turning up the lights to gaslighting. Philosophical Perspectives, 28, 1–30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26614542
Catapang Podosky, P. (2021). Gaslighting, First- and Second-Order. Hypatia, 36(1), 207-227.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Gaslighting. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaslighting
Miano, P., Bellomare, M., & Genova, V. G. (2021). Personality correlates of gaslighting behaviours in young adults. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 27(3), 285-298.
Toxic Positivity: What To Say Instead of “Just Be Positive”
“Everything happens for a reason”
“It could be worse”
“Delete the negativity”
“Just don’t think about it”
“Never give up!”
You’ve certainly said or heard some of these phrases before. It’s fairly common, and people who say them usually have good intentions – they are just trying to help somebody feel better. However, as you probably know if you heard some of them while you were going through difficult times, they don’t work. In fact, they can sometimes make you feel even worse, right?
But why is that? How can too much positivity possibly be a bad thing?
When Positivity Becomes Toxic
Keeping a positive attitude during stressful times can be incredibly helpful. It can help us cope with the situation, feel hope, and keep working toward a solution. However, being positive and optimistic doesn’t mean we won’t ever feel unpleasant emotions. Having a positive attitude is a good thing. Pushing positivity to the detriment of your authentic emotions is not.
Toxic positivity is an idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and positive aspects of life. It’s an attitude that being positive, and only positive, is the right way to live your life. This implies that any unpleasant emotions are considered as negative, and should be avoided.
It would be great if it was possible to feel good all the time. However, not only that it is not, but it can be even harmful to us and the people around us. Rigid and intense as it is, toxic positivity doesn’t leave space for experiencing all human emotions and being authentic. Instead, it encourages the person to remain silent about their struggles.
Toxic Positivity Can Be Harmful To You And Your Relationships
We have all kinds of emotions. Emotions are messengers. When instead of listening to ourselves and allowing ourselves to feel, even (and especially!) when these feelings are not comfortable, we fight and resist them — we create tension in our body. Different studies show us that hiding or denying feelings, oh the irony, makes them bigger and increases stress.
Our unpleasant emotions show us where we need some gentleness and compassion. They inform us that something is not right, not necessarily in our surroundings, but in the way we see the situation as well. They encourage us to pay attention to the parts of ourselves that need healing or the places in our paths where we need to take a turn. By suppressing or avoiding some emotions, we don’t allow ourselves to fully express and be honest. The result is denial, minimization, and invalidation of authentic emotional experience. When we go into hiding like that, we deny our truth. And the real truth is – life can be tough sometimes.
Toxic positivity can be harmful to your relationships too. When somebody is sad, anxious, fearful, what they need is support and understanding. Generic positive phrases can, although unintendedly, send the message: “You are not allowed to feel this way. Stop. It’s not okay to not be okay.” This is not helpful; it can make the person feel guilty or unheard. To them, it can sound like their emotions are not valid and important, and that they are wrong to feel the way they feel.
How To Support Someone Without Being “Too Positive”?
Feeling connected to and heard by others is one of the most important contributors to good mental health and happiness. When someone is going through a rough patch, we may not be sure how to support them. What to say to help them feel better? What to do? How to help them recover from setbacks more quickly? You may be inclined to tell them to “look on the bright side” and to “be grateful for what they already have”. However, these monochromatic statements are usually not helpful, because they are, on the basic level, dismissive. When happiness and positivity are compulsively pushed, the person doesn’t have the opportunity to feel truly heard and accepted, understood and supported. Instead, it can seem like he or she is rushed to stop feeling the way they feel, their emotions minimized and invalidated.
If we, instead, let the other person connect to their emotions and allow them to share them with us without judgment or the urge to run away to positivity, we are giving that person much-needed space to be authentic and still accepted. We are sending the message: “You can be yourself. It’s okay to not feel okay. I am here anyways”.
With toxic positivity, although it is usually not our intention, we are showing the other person that we are uncomfortable with their feelings and that we will put ourselves in the first place, urging them to stop feeling the way they feel so we can stop feeling uncomfortable. A much better, more comforting approach, is to show the other person that we are ready to sit with them with their emotions, that they are not alone, and that we are there to patiently give them our compassion and support. It can be truly healing.
So, what can you say instead of generic, “encouraging” sentences to support someone? Here are some suggestions:
It is important to acknowledge the reality of our emotions. Once we honour our feelings, we honour the whole of ourselves. We accept our positive parts, but also other, not-so-pretty sides. Accepting and loving ourselves as we are is the path toward balanced emotional life and better well-being.
If you like this article or think someone can find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media or leave a comment down below.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Featured Post: Psychology Today on Flirting Styles
Flirting is defined as “to act as if one is sexually attracted to another person, usually in a playful manner”. Flirting is a behaviour that both men and women can use freely to show interest in someone they are sexually, physically, or emotionally attracted to. People also often flirt just for fun, or for boosting confidence.
Different people have different ways of expressing interest in someone. If you’re trying to find the right person for you but it looks like nobody worth your attention is interested in you, look more closely. Maybe someone is flirting with you without you even realizing that. This happens often to people, as they sometimes find it a little difficult to recognize if someone is flirting with them, especially if that someone has a different flirting style than them. Also, check out the article: “10 Signs She’s Flirting With You”; it might help you recognize when someone is expressing interest in you.
Renee Garfinkel Ph.D. wrote a nice article about styles of flirting on Psychology Today. She says that the way people flirt falls roughly into one of 5 categories:
1. Traditional Flirt
This style of flirting involves traditional roles of men and women – men are supposed to make the first move while women should be feminine and playing “hard to get”.
2. Playful Flirt
Remember when we said that some people are flirting just for fun? These people fall into this category.
3. Physical Flirting
This flirting style often sends the message of sexual attraction toward the other person. Spontaneous touches and putting an accent on attractive parts of the body are characteristics of this style.
4. Polite Flirting
Polite flirting is the least obvious style. It involves nonsexual behaviours and proper manners as tools for expressing romantic interest toward another person.
5. Sincere Flirting
People in this category tend to express sincere interest in the person they like, in order to create an emotional connection. These people will genuinely ask about other person’s favourite book or movie or about their hobbies.
Read the full article on flirting here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/time-out/201011/whats-your-flirting-style
How do you feel about flirting? Do you use any of the 5 styles of flirting mentioned in the article? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave your comments below.
6 Tips for Shy People to Make New Friends
Shyness is the feeling of awkwardness or apprehension when approaching or being approached by unfamiliar people. Shyness is not the same as introversion. Introverts feel energized by time alone. Differently, shy people often want to sincerely connect with others, but don’t know how to approach. Also, they can be fearful of the reaction or results that will come by making the first step or initiating contact. In other words, they want to get in social situations, but often don’t know how to overcome shyness.
The experience of shyness can occur at any or all of the following levels:
- Cognitive (e.g., excessive negative self-evaluation)
- Affective (e.g., heightened negative emotion)
- Physiological (e.g., racing heart, blushing)
- Behavioural (e.g., failure to respond appropriately, avoiding certain situations).
Most shyness tends to occur around interactions with authorities and strangers, or, one-on-one opposite-sex interactions. In addition, unstructured social settings can also precipitate shyness.
Here are 6 Tips on How to Overcome Shyness and Embrace Your Socialness:
- Visualize a Positive Outcome
- Turn Self-Talk to Positive
- Do something uncomfortable and get out of your comfort zone. Just Do It!
- Ask Questions
- Remind Yourself Of Your Strengths
- Worry Less About What Others Think
Go ahead, you got this!
How to Reduce Stress Over Christmas and Holidays
The holiday season…
Cold weather ✔
2013 coming to an end ✔
Deadlines approaching ✔
More family time ✔
More commitments ✔
Season of giving ✔
…as you know, the list keeps running. Most of our lives encompass some of these things right now. In my practice, I’m finding that there’s an increased level of stress and anxiety in people’s lives. Why does holiday stress happen?
Holiday Season and Stress
Research from the American Heart Association (2004) contends that this time of year there’s an increase in emotional stress about the holidays. Having to interact with family we may, or may not want to associate with, feeling the pressure of having to absorb financial pressures such as purchasing gifts, travelling, and/or entertaining. Having planned your holiday in advance is a good way to de-stress yourself. For example, you could visit friends, play a role-playing game with the family, renovate the house, etc. Also around this time of year, people are more likely to indulge in foods and beverages they may not usually consume. Consequently, if it interrupts normal healthy patterns, feelings of guilt or regret creep in.
5 tips for avoiding holiday stress:
- Pick and choose your holiday activities
- Ask for help
- Say no when necessary
- Everything in moderation
- Set realistic expectations for the season
Try to relax and lower your expectations from yourself and from your family. You may find yourself enjoying holidays more than you expected.
Kloner, R. (2004). The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon. American Heart Association. Retrieved from: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/110/25/3744.short
Jennifer Lawrence and Social Anxiety
Making headlines today was the release that Jennifer Lawrence, from X-Men and more recently, the Hunger Games, suffered from Social Anxiety. Although our society is becoming more understanding of mental health issues, stigma still exists. When it comes to discussing mental health issues and getting treatment, there is still not enough openness regarding this topic. For a celebrity like Jennifer Lawrence, to publicly share her challenges is inspiring for us all. It helps to reduce stigma and increases awareness about mental well-being.
Social Anxiety and Its Prevalence
According to Statistics Canada, social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders. Social anxiety is
“a disorder characterized by a fear of situations in which there is potential for embarrassment or humiliation in front of others.”
There are generally two subtypes of social phobia: one involves a fear of speaking in front of people, whether it be public speaking or simply talking with a person of authority; the other subtype involves more generalized anxiety and complex fears, such as eating in public or using public washrooms, and in these cases, individuals may experience anxiety around anyone other than family.
In Canada, anywhere between 8-13% of Canadians will be influenced by social anxiety. The disorder is more common in women than men. Also, there appears to be an environmental and familial link to the disorder.
Jennifer Lawrence’s story of facing her fear of social scrutiny head-on teaches us all one important thing. Facing the things that cause us anxiety is the best form of treatment. Hence, the best example is exposure therapy combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
If you’d like to inquire about social anxiety treatment in Mississauga or Bradford Ontario at Real Life Counselling, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Are you ready for LOVE?
Honest, fulfilling love is what we all want, but it’s sometimes so hard to find. I hear many of my clients struggle with the difficulties of finding the right partner for them. They’re feeling lonely or unattractive, hopeless or like outcasts. Counseling can really help you get out of that rut of negative thoughts. But there is also another innovative method to help you find, grow and maintain a happy long-term relationship.
Dr. Epstein’s Love Counselling
Dr. Epstein is helping to create a new proactive kind of counseling—Love Counseling—that will help people build solid, lasting love relationships supported by the Four Pillars. He has also created an innovative, comprehensive new test of Love Skills—the seven essential skill-sets we need to be successful in long-term love relationships. The test, the Epstein Love Competencies Inventory (or ELCI, pronounced like the name “Elsie”) is a result of thorough scientific research on what makes long-term relationships successful. It has been empirically validated with a sample of more than 11,000 people in the U.S. and fifty other countries. You can take the test free of charge by clicking here or by visiting MyLoveSkills.com. ”
Dr. Epstein also created the test that will tell you if your partner and you are a good match. The test is called “Are We Good Together”, and shows how compatible your and your partner’s relationship needs are. The test is based on a premise that if two people meet each other’s basic relationship needs, and if they also feel mutually attracted, they have a good chance of being able to create a happy, long-term, loving relationship. It is also free of charge and you can take it here: AreWeGoodTogether.com.
If you’re having trouble finding the right one, maybe you should check out our article: “Throw Away the Checklist“. It might help you reorganize priorities and get a new perspective on dating.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
How to Improve Your Romantic Relationship
I’m eager to share a link by Brendon Burchard, who is one of the leading speakers and experts in personal development and motivation. In his video, titled “How To Improve Your Relationship”, he discusses a few great points, which I’ll outline below.
One of the first key points he makes is that it’s easy for people to fall in love, but very quickly, they lose the intention of working together in the same pure way which drove the couple together in the first place.
To help us, he identifies 3 intentions we can make on a regular basis:
We are social creatures! Life is so full of distractions. We have conditioned ourselves to habitually disregard those around us. We are engaged with our phones, iPads, and everything else around us that so few of us have real connections.
One of the most heartfelt ways of giving attention is to be fully present. Give that person you’re with your full attention. Lock your phone away and Make eye contact.
As he says, take a few hours and learn to be human again!
“You have to have the intention to give extraordinary amounts of attention.”
2) Give more appreciation
Learn to make your partner feel appreciated. Giving compliments and practicing gratitude are great habits for relationships. Appreciating the things they do, as well as the things they don’t do. Unconditionally appreciating the person you’re with rather than showing appreciation with gifts.
“The magical part of a relationship is having someone you can pitch and catch with.”
Show more attention and appreciation to that person you’re with. It’s a give-and-take. As you both start to turn towards each other (phrased from Dr. Gottman), you’ll work together as a team, and feel more magic in your relationship.
As a bonus, here is an awesome video about how to improve your relationship:
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