With a 1740% increase in Merriam-Webster searches for the term in 2022, the dictionary has named “gaslighting” as the official word of the year. How lovely.
It’s disheartening to think about the human impact behind those searches, that enough people have felt manipulated and mistreated this year that the defining word of 2022 is gaslighting. But if there’s any silver lining, at least more of us are becoming informed about toxic behaviour and learning what not to tolerate in our relationships.
With the term being used a lot, and sometimes misused to describe other kinds of toxic behaviour, it’s worth revisiting the definition of gaslighting.
Shan Boodram is Bumble’s Sex & Relationships Expert and a certified sex educator, dating coach and intimacy expert. Boodram is the host of the top podcast, “Lovers and Friends” and the best-selling author of “The Game of Desire.”
In her words: “Gaslighting undermines another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment, or their feelings, ultimately making a person question their sanity.” It can happen in any relationship, but is often used by romantic partners as a manipulation tactic.
We caught up with Shan to hear her take on “gaslighting” as the word of the year, and her advice on what you can do if you’re being gaslit.
How does it make you feel to see that “gaslighting” is the word of the year?
I’m not entirely surprised that this is the word of the year, especially as we’ve all seen that terms like “gaslighting,” “ghosting,” and “love bombing” have become more and more common in day-to-day conversation. Though unfortunate to think of the individuals who have been gaslit, I think it’s massively important to deconstruct manipulative mind games so that people can spot them, avoid them, and, if you’ve been through one, heal from it. No one wins when these games are played, and that’s why awareness of how to avoid them is key. Hopefully, by shining a light on these manipulative mind games, people know what to look out for when dating someone new and can make better and more informed decisions for healthier relationships.
As a relationship expert, what are some common examples of gaslighting that you hear about often?
Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their memory, emotions, and possibly their core identity. For example, a gaslighter would yell at you, and then if you raise your voice, they will get very calm and accuse you of having a temper for no reason. Example statements that a gaslighter might say are: “you’re being crazy,” “you thrive on drama,” “I never said that,” “you are so paranoid,” “you have the worst memory,” or even “everyone thinks that you’re too sensitive.”
What are some steps that people can take when they’ve been gaslit? What’s your advice on how to respond to a gaslighter?
The first step is to reconnect with yourself and your reality, something that gaslighters will expertly detach people from. A helpful way to do this is to get the support of others who can support your perspective and provide a reality check whenever your foundation is rocked.
Before leaving the relationship, you can attempt to illuminate the gaslighter’s behaviour for them — although by nature of their conflict response, this likely won’t go well — but you can try. Speak to your partner calmly and help them see the pattern, create a system of accountability, and make agreements. For example, if you notice that there is a difference of opinion when sharing facts, propose that you start writing things down or record conversations via audio notes on your phone. If they object to any of your proposed ideas or solutions, then it might be time to reconsider the relationship and invest your time and energy in someone who can have a healthy relationship with you.
Why do people gaslight? Is it about control?
Exactly. When it boils down to it, people often use gaslighting in relationships to create insecurities in others and use that as a form of control rather than fixing their faults and working on their own issues.
In your opinion, what’s the opposite word of gaslighting? And how do we strive to make that the word of 2023?
Self-insight and accountability. Let’s let 2023 be the year where people tell the truth and their truth in romantic relationships and beyond. Rather than invalidating someone’s experiences to validate our own, let’s lead with positivity, empathy, and honesty.
This does look promising, as based on a survey that Bumble ran amongst more than 14,000 of its global members this past fall, an overwhelming majority (92%) agreed that they have a clearer understanding of what is (and is not) acceptable in a healthy relationship – including gaslighting. Also, with conversations about gender norms and expectations being front and center in 2022, the survey also found that over the last year, 3 in 4 (74%) men worldwide on Bumble say they have examined their behaviour more than ever and have a clearer understanding of ‘toxic masculinity’ and what is unacceptable.
It’s not the word we would have hoped for, but it’s definitely one we can learn from, especially when it comes to finding a supportive and loving match.