Relationships & Domestic Violence

Know your flags: gaslighting

Chrystal Dawne looks at danger flags that pop up in unhealthy relationships

Paying attention to danger flags or flags of warning can help us stay safe. When you’re making new friends or starting new romantic relationships, knowing how to spot flags can help you see trouble coming.

Gaslighting is a common victim blaming technique. It’s a form of abuse where information is twisted and omitted, where victims are made to believe their memories aren’t reliable, and come to doubt their memory, perception and sometimes even sanity.

This flag can be seen in different ways, but is sometimes visible in how your partner or family member deals with other relationships. Does he or she get into a fight with someone and twist the situation to their advantage?

Here are a few examples:

1) Keisha waits for her girlfriend to pick her up after work, as planned. Two hours late, Keisha’s girlfriend calls and begins yelling at Keisha. They were supposed to meet at her work, not Keisha’s. She’s really angry and starts asking Keisha how she could screw up like that. She wasn’t feeling well and has been waiting for Keisha for over an hour and is now at home. Crying, she threatens to end the relationship—obviously Keisha doesn’t ­­feel their time together is important.

Panicked, Keisha can’t believe she screwed up and promises to rush over. She could have sworn they agreed to meet at her work but thinks now she must have remembered wrong. Hopefully she can turn the evening around and convince her friend that she didn’t mean to get mixed up.

2) Mina is almost finished cleaning up the kitchen and her kids have settled into bed for the evening. Her partner Kyle is in the living room watching the game and playing on his phone. He’s going to watch the kids while she goes out with a friend for dinner and a movie, who she hasn’t seen since her youngest child was born.

The two friends are catching up at dinner and as their drinks arrive and they start to look over the menu, Kyle begins calling. He doesn’t understand what’s taking so long and wants to know if the movie has started. Mina points out she’s only been gone for an hour. He starts talking louder and says he’s got plans for when she gets back and to not take too long.

By the time they finish eating Kyle has texted a dozen times and starts calling again as they leave the restaurant. He tells her to hurry up and get home, that he never promised to watch the kids for this long and he really needs to leave the house. Mina is embarrassed to answer her friend’s questions—yes he knew she had planned this evening for a month, yes he knows they’re going out for a movie afterwards. No, she doesn’t know why he’s calling and texting so much.

After another round of texts and phone calls, Mina makes an excuse of not feeling well and cuts the evening short. Kyle threatened to leave the kids asleep in bed, before she can make it home. Mina is exhausted from juggling the visit with her friend and keeping her husband happy and doesn’t understand why he keeps saying she knew about his plans afterwards. She decides going out isn’t worth it and she doesn’t reschedule the movie with her friend.

What other flags should we pay attention to? Coming up soon, we’ll talk about co-dependency and smothering.

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