Smash Talks: Detecting Smoke

Dear Smashera,

I’m not sure, but I think I my partner may be gaslighting me. I’ve noticed that when I don’t do things on his time then it’s a problem. There have been several instances where we agree on plans initially, but then they change at his whim. I’ve noticed this happening more and more and I don’t believe that I’m simply a bad listener. I love him, but I’m concerned. I’ve been abused in the past, and I don’t want to repeat that.

Déjà vu

Dear Déjà,

There’s a lot of talk of the honeymoon period in relationships—the stage where your person can absolutely do no wrong and love feels unconditional. Sadly, that feeling can never stay. I might sound jaded in saying this, but most people have manipulative streaks. They may not knowingly say, “Hey, this is my cue to cry and then they will hopefully acquiesce to my needs,” but some people do exactly this. So, how do we tease out a genuine emotional response over a simulacrum of one?

For those just tuning in, the term “gaslighting” refers to a pattern of psychological abuse in which the victim is made to question their own sense of reality. The term comes from the 1938 stageplay, Gaslight, where a woman’s husband convinces her and others that she is delusional by changing things in her environment. When the woman notices, he tells her she’s crazy, knowing full well that he has, in fact, been making the changes she notices.

In the recent cultural dialogue, the term “gaslighting” gets thrown around pretty frequently, but not always correctly. It is a slow, insidious form of abuse—not when a person disagrees with you on the internet. A gaslighting partner will often refuse to listen or engage, citing that they “don’t want to hear your crazy ideas again.” They will also counter arguments, asking if you got your ideas from a third party. They may just flat out deny that they made a certain promise when you know that they did.

I cannot say whether or not you are being gaslit from this information. There are many warning signs that you should watch for within yourself, such as questioning whether or not you really are too sensitive all the time. If you’re finding yourself feeling confused, crazy, and losing self-esteem, it’s time to really face up to what you’re dealing with. The Hotline has put together a list of potential warning signs here. If this list feels all too familiar, it may be time to make your exit strategy.

But what if it’s only just begun?

As with many relational issues, this comes down to patterns and communication. If one person notices an unhealthy pattern forming, it’s important to sit down and address it. Either it’s dealt with and the relationship can move forward, or the pattern solidifies into something toxic. It should be noted, though, that patterns can be persistent, especially those learned early in life. If a person feels that they have to manipulate others to get their needs met, that’s not going to disappear overnight. If they can be receptive to your concerns, then there is some hope. Being able to call someone out for their shit and have them say, “I’m sorry, and I’ll try harder in the future,” is a beautiful thing. Change is never immediate, but the insight is there.

If your concerns are met with denial and more manipulation (i.e.: if they make you feel like shit for bringing it up), then it’s time to notice the red flags. They might be capable of changing their behavior in the future, but it may not be with you. It’s sad to say, but enabling bad behavior with attention and love is only going to further that behavior. You may have to take a long, hard look and walk away at some point. Figure out for yourself what that point is. How long can you let another person dictate your movements? When will you know it’s gone too far? Figure it out, communicate to your partner, and stick to your guns. If you don’t respect your own boundaries, they never will.


Related Smash Talks:

Smash Talks: Border Behavior

Smash Talks: Love Off the Mark(et)

Smash Talks: Breaking Bad

Smash Talks: An Abuse of Power

Smash Talks: Doing You

Smash Talks: Ending the Prolonged Goodbye