What Is Gaslighting Exactly & What Should You Do If It's Happening To You?

Watch out for these red flags. 🚩

Toronto Staff Writer
Brooke Houghton. Right: Women upset with her partner.

Brooke Houghton. Right: Women upset with her partner.

Gaslighting may be the latest and trendiest therapy catch-all phrase for bad behaviour, but dealing with it can be a lot harder than confronting your average cheater or a compulsive liar.

In this episode of Cheaper Than Therapy, I sat down with psychotherapist Kristina Virro and got the lowdown on what gaslighting actually is, how to spot it and what to do if someone's gaslighting you.

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What is gaslighting?

Have you ever doubted your own reality and legitimately thought you were losing your mind? If you have, you may have been the victim of gaslighting.

Virro defines gaslighting as when you are "slowly and systematically" driven out of your mind by another person.

This is to say that just because someone may be lying or emotionally abusive doesn't make them a gaslighter, and sometimes, two people can just have different opinions or perspectives.

"It's a very slow process of basically having somebody completely question their reality so that they don't know what's real anymore, and they don't know if they can trust themselves," explained Virro.

Remember when the world accused Clayton Echard of gaslighting Suzie Evans on the Bachelor? Well, Virro argues that wasn't actually gaslighting.

To catch you up to speed, during Season 26, Evans told Echard she wasn't sure she'd be able to get over it if he slept with someone else in the fantasy suites.

But after Echard confessed to sleeping with two other women, he turned the conversation around and was upset with Evans for not telling him that intimacy with others was a deal breaker beforehand. He ended up sending Evans home, and he was quickly slammed with gaslighting accusations.

"That, to me, was not an example of gaslighting because you can have a disagreement where people have two very, very different opinions, and that doesn't mean that you're being gaslighted," said Virro.

Virro explained that a true example of gaslighting would be if he had continuously cheated on Evans with multiple people and then not only denied it when confronted but actually turned the blame around on her for being insecure, having trust issues, or doubting his character.

Buuuuut he fessed up and just had a different perspective — so, in my opinion, this was just the old "We never defined boundaries, and it bit us in the ass."

Virro said a true example of gaslighting would be if she stole money from someone and just lied and bathed them in blame.

"Let's say I steal $50 from my partner, right? And then they're like, 'Oh, I can't find my $50. Did you take out $50?' [The gaslighter would say], 'No, you're just so careless with money, what's wrong with you? I don't know why you're always losing stuff. You know what I think it would be best if I actually held all the cash because clearly, you can't do that yourself.'"

This type of behaviour over time can make you feel like an unreliable narrator in your own life, and Virro said she's had clients that are at the point where they have to take notes of their life just to keep track of what is real.

Gaslighting doesn't happen overnight. It is a long process, and it can seriously impact a person's well-being over time.

Virro said gaslighting can make a person paranoid, on edge, anxious and riddled with self-doubt to the point where they feel out of touch with reality.

Signs of gaslighting behaviour

Some telltale signs of gaslighting are if someone is minimizing your feelings or experiences and if you start to hear a little voice in your head telling you that something's up, according to Virro.

Virro explained that gaslighters often flip the blame onto their victims. For example, if you found nude photos on your partner's phone, they might gaslight you by saying that it's completely normal and not cheating and that you are just being insecure.

Even though you know that friends don't send other friends in relationships saucy pictures.

These lies and odd occurrences will start to build up, and you may notice that your gaslighter never seems to take accountability and apologize in an argument. Instead, you may find they blame the issue on a fault in your character.

Virro says gaslighting victims are often isolated since people who aren't connected with friends, family, and the outside world are "easier to control."

Can gaslighters love their victims?

Passionate relationships with all-consuming love aren't always all they're cracked up to be.

"Some of the most abusive relationships I've seen have had the most love in them, which may seem very confusing to people," said Virro.

She explained gaslighters can love their victims unless it's a rare case where someone's a legit sociopath and that their behaviour probably stems from not knowing how to love in a healthy way.

Whether that be from past trauma, their family or other circumstances like culture or even religion.

"In some ways, I think a gaslighting person wants their partner all to themselves because in their mind they love them that much," said Virro.

What to do if someone is gaslighting you (a.k.a your cheap advice)

If you find yourself stuck in a relationship with a gaslighter, the first thing you want to do, according to Virro, is to connect with a therapist if you can afford it so you can have a professional to guide you.

Unfortunately, as the name of this column would suggest – therapy isn't cheap.

Alternatively, you can conduct your own research on the topic to inform yourself. Virro recommends checking out domestic abuse websites, reputable sources, and familiarizing yourself with the wheel of power and control.

After you understand gaslighting and have a grip on the abuse you're facing, Virro said it's important to connect with your own identity and reach back out to your social circle outside of your gaslighter.

"The more you can connect with yourself, the more helpful it can be," said Virro.

As you fight to trust yourself again, you may need some help supporting your own version of events and having some evidence that you are being gaslighted could help you leave the relationship.

Virro said that keeping a record of events by not deleting your texts, taking notes, and keeping receipts can be helpful for some people to find their "footing" before exiting a relationship.

Although it is important to note that there is a difference between someone being a gaslighter who wants to control you and a moment of gaslighting behaviour.

So if you see someone trying to gaslit you, call them out early and nip it in the bud.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic violence, refer to these resources available across Canada. If you need immediate assistance, please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. Support is available.

Cheaper Than Therapy is a spicy new column and video series hosted by Brooke Houghton where readers can share their own anonymous questions and get expert advice for free. Brooke speaks from her own experiences as a single 20-something woman in Toronto and brings on expert guests from therapists to celebrities to help solve your relationship, sex and love issues. So if you can't afford therapy from an actual professional, ask her a question here and tune in next month for another episode of Cheaper Than Therapy.

Brooke Houghton
Toronto Staff Writer
Brooke Houghton is a Staff Writer for Narcity Canada's Ontario Desk focused on celebrity news and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
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