Gaslight” aka gaslighting is a buzzword right now, but should it be used with caution? One of the latest memes has been utilizing the phrase “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” in place of “live, laugh, love.” Whether I’m scrolling on TikTok or Twitter, I don’t have to go far to see the phrase “gaslight”. However, gaslighting refers to manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity, basically making someone feel insane and creating self-doubt. It involves an imbalance of power between the abuser and the person they’re gaslighting. 

According to a Forbes article from June 2021, Paige Sweet, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, explained, “I think of gaslighting as trying to associate someone with the label ‘crazy’. It’s making someone seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible, making them feel like what they’re seeing or experiencing isn’t real, that they’re making it up, that no one else will believe them.’” 

When it comes to relationships, educating yourself on the difference between gaslighting and disagreeing helps you be mindful of yourself and your partner. Disagreements are healthy and necessary in relationships. Disagreeing means you are working through things to build a stronger foundation.

The difference between Gaslighting and Disagreeing

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After leaving an interaction with a gaslighter, you feel confused, even powerless. Gaslighting is meant to confuse you, but there are some common signs of it.

Signs of Gaslighting:

Your partner will manipulate you into questioning reality and your sanity. Victims of gaslighting report feeling like a situation is surreal like it’s happening on a different plane from the rest of their life.

Your partner will shut down conversations and blame you for getting too emotional to handle it. They will use language like “crazy, irrational, or overemotional” and describe you or your behavior as crazy. In American Sociological Review, Sweet wrote, “when I asked women about their partners’ abusive tactics, they often described being called a ‘crazy bitch’. This phrase came up so frequently, I began to think of it as the literal discourse of gaslighting.” 

Have you ever been in an argument with your significant other, you challenge them on something, and they criticize the tone of your voice? Another name for this is tone policing, a tactic used to flip the script and make you feel like you’re the one to blame, not them. They will tell you that you’re exaggerating and attack your perspective. They will try to convince you their opinion is fact and the only way to look at things correctly. Many gaslighters also make efforts to isolate their partner from friends, family, and other networks of support.

I know I’ve personally experienced a cycle of hot/cold behavior in a number of my relationships. You know, one day your partner is giving you all their attention and the next it feels like they’re avoiding you? A more extreme of this behavior will happen within the same day, or even in the same conversation. When your partner is gaslighting you, this is a cycle of verbal abuse followed by praise.

That being said, someone disagreeing with you does not always mean they’re gaslighting you. A disagreement is seeing things differently, but recognizing, respecting, and learning each other’s perspectives. Instead of playing a hot and cold game or calling you crazy, your partner will notice things are getting heated and suggest taking a break from a conversation to cool down. Remember, the goal when disagreeing is to come to an agreement. 

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