Last night I was watching MAFS (Married At First Sight). I found myself repeatedly appalled by the behaviour of one of the male contestants who shall remain nameless. It made me want to call out gaslighting behaviour. What is gaslighting?
If you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, let me catch you up. MAFS is a sometimes controversial reality TV show in which strangers are paired together by “experts” and are unofficially married. Apparently I am not alone in my concerns about one particular controversial couple. In fact, the Australian Communications and Media Authority have already received formal complaints. A Change.org petition has also begun circulating with no less than 2,500 signatures received in under 24 hours. The petition calls for Channel Nine to acknowledge its alleged ‘failure of duty of care’ towards the wife of the male contestant referred to above. Why? Because of his ongoing gaslighting behaviour.
You might be familiar with the term gaslighting. It’s a form of emotional abuse, and it’s not okay. It’s a tactic used by a person to manipulate another person in the hopes of acquiring power over them. Often, this manipulation leads to the victim questioning their own reality, thinking perhaps that they are going crazy. This behaviour causes the victim to stop questioning the motives and actions of the person gaslighting them.
If you’ve been watching MAFS and feel like it’s triggered a concern in you about our own relationship, or the relationship of someone you know, the below 5 tips might help you to get a better handle on what is happening so that you can call out the behaviour.
How does Gaslighting work?
Gaslighting is a scarily effective tactic that causes victims tremendous pain and suffering. The effects of gaslighting are slow and gradual which can make it difficult to name. The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Ingrid Berman, where a young woman is manipulated into believing that she is imagining events caused by her husband.
The 5 warning signs of Gaslighting
The following behaviours are examples that perhaps someone is trying to gaslight another person:
1. Telling White Lies
If someone is telling you a white lie that you know is false, they might be gaslighting you.
Now not all lies are created equal. For gaslighting to be at play, it must be a white lie – a blatantly untrue statement as opposed to a confused inaccuracy.
For example, if you were at an art museum and you were looking at one of Streeton’s paintings and your partner told you that they think the famous artwork was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, this would be a lie that you know to be untrue. But simply your partner is mistaken.
However, if your partner told you that the Streeton painting is your favourite painting, and when you say no the Boyd painting is my favourite, and your partner insists that you have told them dozens of times that the Streeton painting is your favourite painting – that would be a white lie, and an example of gaslighting. In this example, your partner’s ongoing adamant behaviour (that you know is a lie) is actually true and this will gradually weaken your reality.
2. Denial in the face of proof
This sign of gaslighting occurs when someone is insisting that they’re not lying, even if you have proof that they are. And it can be very frustrating. They do this to disrupt your perception of truth.
Say you asked your partner to take out the rubbish bins on their way to work. They hear you say it and then go off to work. When you come home that night you see the rubbish bins have not been taken out. So, you take the rubbish bins out yourself. A few hours later when your partner arrives home, you ask them why they didn’t take out the rubbish bins, and they tell you that they did. You counter saying no, that you took out the rubbish bins and they insist that it was them who took out the rubbish bins and that instead it’s you who are confused.
3. Manipulating your feelings toward other people
A gaslighter will try and twist the way you feel about other people or things that you love.
By doing this, they eliminate competition for your love and create a higher level of dependability upon them.
Take this for an example. If your partner knows that you are very close with your best friend, and they try to disrupt that relationship, it could be gaslighting. Your partner might try and poison the way you feel about your friend by creating lies about them. Maybe your partner will say that your friend told him something upsetting. When you question your friend about why she’d say that to your partner, and she tells you she didn’t, your partner may use that as further proof that your friend is a liar.
Convincing their victim that everyone is a liar, not them, is a very common move by a gaslighter. By doing this, they are attacking your identity.
4. Wearing you down over time
This sign is part of the formula of gaslighting and what makes it so destructive.
It’s a slow burn and the effects gradually affect the victim’s conscience and perception of reality – a victim will wear down over time.
A helpful analogy of this is the Sorites paradox. If you take away a single grain of sand from a heap of sand, it is still a heap and you won’t notice the missing grain. But, if you keep doing this over time, eventually there will be no sand and the heap is no longer a heap.
5. When actions do not match words
If you suspect you are being gaslighted, it’s important to examine your partner’s actions as opposed to what they’re telling you.
The gaslighting will only work if you allow their words to have more power than their actions. They are simply using their words to distract you from their actions.
Interestingly, this can be common with our political leaders. If our Prime Minister tells those that elected them that they’ll do one thing, and then they end up passing legislation or voting against that very thing, then the voters are being gaslit.
If any of these 5 signs sound familiar to you or to someone you know, you should act upon it. Some tips to help include that you should gather evidence, know that it’s not your fault, open up to a supportive person, and flip the script. And remember, while people become gaslighters for different reasons, unless they are willing to try to change their behaviour, nothing you do or say will fix them. Instead, focus on rebuilding your own life and mental health by attending therapy, reading up on gaslighting, and perhaps ending the relationship.
If you’re currently experiencing abuse or know someone who is, call 1800RESPECT.
How O’Loan Family Law Can Help
If you are thinking about separating or have already separated, please get in touch at 02 9922 2230 or via email by completing the form on this page to discuss your matter in complete confidence. Alternatively, If you’d like to book an appointment straight away, head to this link. We can advise and guide you to find the right resolution pathway for you and your family. O’Loan Family Law offers specialist family law advice, conveniently located in Lavender Bay on Sydney’s North Shore. We help separating families find amicable solutions that consider your unique situation so you can move on with your life. Our fixed and value pricing service offerings include collaborative practice, assisted DIY separation and what we like to call, the traditional family law pathway. We’ve got your back.
About the Author
Bron O’Loan is the Founder & Director of O’Loan Family Law and is an expert family lawyer and independent children’s lawyer. Bron has worked in Family Law since 2015 and is an experienced litigator and skilful negotiator in all family law matters. She is also an experienced speaker and soon-to-be author of The Splits – How to future proof your kids after divorce.
Connect with Bron on LinkedIn: Bron O’Loan | LinkedIn
This post is an overview only and should not be considered as legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.