How Do You Know If You're Being Gaslit?

Originally introduced as a parody for the motivational phrase "live, laugh, love," a new set of three "G" words has recently resurfaced in our lexicon: gaslight, gatekeep, and girlboss (via i-D). Of course, these words have existed for years, but (per Google Trends) their popularity has exploded in a memed-out hyperbole today.

Gaslighting originated as a term derived from the 1944 film "Gaslight," starring Ingrid Bergman, according to Independent. In the thriller, a husband tries to make his wife, Paula, think she is losing her mind by removing objects from the house and accusing her of hiding them. All the while he says phrases like, "Paula, you silly child" and "Paula, stop being hysterical" (per The Independent).

Per Vox, after a couple-decade hiatus, the use of the term gaslighting has come back with a vengeance, with some crediting its popularity to Donald Trump's presidency (via Independent). With gaslighting back in the mix so frequently these days, it's important to be mindful so as not to be gaslit.

Feeling seriously invalidated

Just like Paula in "Gaslight," those who are gaslit may feel confused and mentally ill in a relationship, according to Vox. You may wonder if you are good enough or start to doubt yourself. The gaslighter might use phrases like, "you are making that up," or "you're imagining things." They may tell you that you're being dramatic or that something never happened to try and throw you off (per Vox).

As a result, you might feel bewildered or confused by things that happen in the relationship, according to Mental Floss. You may try to defend your actions and be labeled by the gaslighter as illogical or overly stressed. Dr. Robin Stern, author of "The Gaslight Effect" and a research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, told Mental Floss that gaslighting is in this way "​​like a magic trick, a sleight of hand." It's as if the gaslighter is saying, "Let me focus your attention here rather than there." In effect, "you've allowed someone else to define (your reality) for you," said Stern.

Feeling 'too' sensitive

It's important to note that gaslighting is not the same as genuine disagreement within a relationship, per Vox. Two people can disagree and listen to each other's point of view in a healthy dynamic, providing space for both sides of the story and all feelings to exist. The dynamic becomes gaslighting, however, when one person in the relationship is insistent that the other's experience is somehow not real, according to Vox. As Matthew Zawadzki, PhD, who studies perceptions of emotions, wrote in a 2014 article, gaslighting leaves the victim with "nowhere left to stand from which to disagree" (via Vox).

According to Stern, people being gaslit may start to ask themselves if they are too sensitive, or continuously apologize for being sensitive. Say one friend is always late to lunch dates with another friend. But when the person who has been waiting at the diner confronts them about it, the latecomer scoffs and asks their friend how they can be so sensitive, per Mental Floss. There it is: gaslighting.

Feeling depressed

Stern notes in Vox that many of the symptoms of gaslighting crossover with anxiety disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. However, gaslighting is set apart from these mental health conditions because it involves another person trying to make you question your beliefs, she writes. In order to tell if you're being gaslit, you might take stock of which so-called friends or people in your life you feel this way around and consider whether gaslighting is taking place.

Because once the first stages of gaslighting — disbelief, and then second-guessing yourself — have taken place, the third stage is depression, according to Mental Floss. In this stage, if you're being gaslit, you might actually take the side of the gaslighter and try to prove them right, or in some way try to earn their approval. You might start lying to avoid the subject or avoid being manipulated further. Eventually, in a truly manipulated fashion, you might start to admire your gaslighter if you are being gaslit, per Mental Floss.

When physical symptoms manifest

If gaslighting continues to occur in a close relationship, you might start to experience bad sleep or nightmares, per Mental Floss. You may also forget about certain situations involving this person altogether, or avoid speaking about them to other friends as a means to avoid them. To compound this, the gaslighter might say things like, "That never happened"; "You know you don't remember things clearly"; or "Nobody believes you, why should I?" Stern writes in Vox.

You might not be able to understand why you are not happier or have trouble making decisions you would typically be able to make with ease, Stern writes. With these symptoms it's important to make sure that another person is involved and that it is not another mental health condition like low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Still, the two can overlap; if you're feeling this way it could be because you're being gaslit.

Mind the gender divide

Of course, people of all genders may gaslight others. However, Stern, who has "spoken with hundreds of people experiencing gaslighting in their personal lives," writes in Vox that gaslighters are more often than not men, whereas gaslight victims are typically women. Because of existing sexism in the workplace and other social dynamics, women are "socialized to doubt themselves and continually apologize for disagreeing or upsetting their partners," she writes. "Men are not."

Gaslighting is most common in romantic relationships, per Vox, but it can also occur with bosses, friends, or parents — anywhere there is an established power dynamic to be manipulated. Men have shown to be more likely to manipulate these power dynamics in other settings, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the Center for American Progress.

Oftentimes, gaslighting takes the form of men asking women if they're on their period or "just being hormonal," according to Refinery 29. Men might use the word "emotional" to devalue the voice of a woman's argument in a disagreement, for example. This sort of sexism goes way back — the term "hysteria" comes from the Greek word "hystera," which means uterus (per Refinery 21). Isn't that in itself a form of gaslighting?