What is 'gaslighting'? And how to tell if it's happening to you

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor

‘Gaslighting’ is a term that has entered public debate in the UK recently, after actress Rebecca Humphries ended her relationship with comedian and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ contestant Seann Walsh, and accused him of ‘controlling’ behaviour.

Walsh is thought to have cheated with his partner on the show, Katya Jones.

In a Twitter post about their relationship breakdown, Humphries accused her ex of being aggressive and repeatedly called her a “psycho/nuts/mental” when she doubted him. Twitter users were quick to jump in and accuse Walsh of ‘gaslighting’.

It’s a dangerous form of control and manipulation in a relationship and should be counted as a form of emotional abuse, says matrimonial consultant and relationship expert Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in a relationship. Photo: Getty

She told Yahoo UK: “The ‘gaslighter’ questions their partner and then twists and manipulates the information provided in such a way that victims doubt their own memory, sanity and reality.

“These relationships are toxic as they are unequal, one-sided, controlling and there is a complete lack of respect and love.

“Such negative patterns of behaviour can only lead to the breakdown of a relationship and also cause harm to the victim’s mental and emotional wellbeing and self-esteem.”

Here’s how to spot the signs.

They deny having said something even when you have proof

If your partner regularly dismisses your memory of events, this could be a sign of gaslighting,” Mackintosh-Stewart explains. “They’ve made you a promise and you even have written evidence. And yet they outwardly deny it, causing you to think: ‘Maybe I just misinterpreted’.

“The more the gaslighter does this, the more you question your own reality and start accepting theirs.”

They project their own traits on to you

Whether it’s jealousy, greediness or a tendency to cheat, a gaslighting partner will often accuse you of these traits rather than admitting they are guilty of them.

“The purpose of this is to make you try and defend yourself and, in the process, distract you from the gaslighter’s own behaviour,” says Mackintosh-Stewart.

They tell outright lies

Gaslighting often manifests itself as your partner telling you outrageous lies, but never admitting to it.

“They blatantly lie even when you both know they’re lying,” Mackintosh-Stewart explains. “They do it with a straight face and it keeps you on edge.”

They give you positive reinforcement to set you off balance

Ever felt you’ve been built up, only to be knocked back down again? Mackintosh-Stewart says this is a key sign of a gaslighting partner.

“After cutting you down and making you feel worthless, they then attempt to build you up again and praise you. This is a calculated attempt to keep you feeling uneasy and to destabilise your self-worth.”

They wear you down over time

This one is particularly sinister. A gaslighter will grind you down gradually, explains Mackintosh-Stewart.

“A lie here, a snide comment there and then they ramp it up.” She adds: “Even the most self-confident people can get sucked in over time.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don’t suffer in silence, call 1800 RESPECT any time of day or night.