Do you have someone in your life who rejects whatever you’re saying as entirely false and says that some things never happened? Or maybe you’re in a relationship where your partner always tells you that you make things up or are crazy or irrational? Well, that might just be an encounter with gaslighting. In this article, we’ll talk about what it is, how to spot it, and how you can protect yourself from being gaslighted.
If you feel you might be in such a situation, these are some of the things you need to do:
- You need to seek support from your friends, family, or anyone close to you. Apart from emotional support from your close network, you should also consider seeking professional assistance. You’ll thank yourself later for that decision.
- Building your self-esteem is another crucial step to heal from gaslighting abuse.
- Lastly, you should consider if it’s worth letting yourself get manipulated by the other person. Consider distancing yourself from the abuser or ending the relationship altogether.
Table of Contents
If you suspect you’re being gaslighted, you need to act immediately. If you’re trying to help someone you suspect may be a victim of gaslighting, collect as much information as you can and gently point out to them what you think could be happening. . Let’s take an in-depth look at gaslighting abuse.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and thought manipulation. The objective of gaslighting is to plant doubts in the mind of an individual, making them question their memory and sometimes even their reality. It’s lying, with a goal. If it’s done with a purpose, do gaslighters know they are gaslighting? They may or may not. But this abuse is just as dangerous in either case.
It doesn’t only occur between two people; think of cult leaders, narcissists, and dictators. These are some of the people that successfully and effectively use gaslighting as a form of manipulation on a group of people. So it’s also present in the political and social domain. People in power use it as a tactic to preserve inequality or obtain political supremacy over a large number of people.
Abusive relationships often seem to include gaslighting, along with other abusive traits. It makes the victim unable to think for themselves, and consequently, they become dependent on the abuser. The victim becomes destabilized and starts looking for the abuser’s approval on every little matter. They start deferring to the abuser for an account of what’s real. Over time, the abuser becomes the authority over the victim’s life.
So we now see that gaslighting can take place in one-on-one relationships, friendships, families, work, or even on the news. You’ll hear gaslighting coming from politicians, corporate shills, cult leaders, advertising commercials, and so on.
Where did the term originate?
The term gaslighting and its verb “to gaslight” come from a popular 1944 movie titled “Gaslight.” This movie was actually based on a 1938 stage play with the same name.
In the movie, a guy wants to find and steal his wife’s heirloom jewels. So he decides to try to drive her insane so that she’ll be institutionalized. He hides objects around the house, flirts with the maid, and accidentally flickers the gas-powered lights in the home while looking for jewels in the attic.
When his wife tries to confront him about it, he denies everything and tells her that she’s making things up in her head. As a result, she does indeed begin to question her sanity. A cop then visits her house while the husband is in the attic and tells her that he also sees the flickering lights, which means that it wasn’t all in her head. In this way, she’s saved from going crazy.
The treacherous nature of gaslighting
Being the victim of gaslighting abuse is very difficult and challenging. Most of the time, the victim is not even aware that it’s happening. That’s what makes gaslighting so vicious. If a person doesn’t know that they’re being gaslighted or manipulated, they would never think of changing the situation.
Here’s an analogy to help us understand the nature of gaslighting. Some of us have probably heard it many times before.
Think about putting a small creature into a pot of water and slowly bringing it up to a boil. More often than not, the creature will have no idea what’s happening to it because it’s such a gradual movement of temperature. Finally, it’ll be too late, and the creature will die. Interestingly, it won’t resist the boiling water.
On the other hand, if you were to drop it into a boiling pot of water, it would instantly know that something is wrong. It would quickly jump out of the pot because the change was sudden and noticeable.
That’s the nature of gaslighting abuse. It’s a gradual series of events often seemingly innocuous and small in the moment. But over time, it can turn into a very impactful form of abuse to control people.
What is an example of gaslighting?
The core idea behind gaslighting is to invalidate your perceptions of reality, just to say, “No, that never happened. You’re making it up.” The abuser achieves their goal by continually saying things that make you question your memory and sanity. The most common of these assertions is to repeatedly tell you that you’re crazy, irrational, childish, immature, jealous, insecure, or overly sensitive.
When facing gaslighting at work, you might not be directly labeled with adjectives, which makes it harder to recognize it. Here are some of the things a gaslighter might say to you:
“How old are you?” (Suggesting that you’re immature and infantile.)
- “I never told you to do that.” (Think of your boss telling you to do something, and then saying that they never did.)
- “You always make things up”
- “You know, you weren’t always like this.” (Suggesting that something has gone wrong with you.)
- “You need help.”
As you can see, all of these statements are directed at invalidating the listener’s opinion and feelings. Remember, there’s a difference between pointing out that you’re wrong and telling you that you’re losing it. If the other person doesn’t engage in healthy communication, and instead, straight-up denies all your judgments or emotions, you’re being gaslighted.
Why do people use gaslighting abuse?
As we’ve said, gaslighting is often associated with abusive relationships. Gaslighters use this tactic for many reasons, such as:
- To convince you that they’re (always) correct
- To go back on a promise they made earlier
- To minimize or erase the abuse of the past
- To escape from responsibility
- To dismiss your needs and feelings
- To play the victim (a very annoying one)
- To make you feel like you’re crazy or mentally unstable
- To fabricate conversations or incidents that never took place
- To gain power and authority over your life
There are many signs of gaslighting. Here we will share some of the most common symptoms you’ll see if you’re going through this kind of abuse. These are questions you should ask yourself. They’ll help you distinguish between what’s normal and what’s not.
Remember, your intuition is your best friend in this case. If you feel that you’re not your old self and someone is gaslighting you, chances are, you’re right.
Do you constantly second-guess yourself?
Do you frequently second-guess your ability to remember the details of past events in your life? For example, you sort of remember that you asked your friend not to take your shirt, but you’re not sure if you really did. You don’t trust your memory and often wonder if something that you think happened actually did happen.
It’s not just your memory; you start to second-guess your decisions as well. If you often doubt your mind and perceptions, there’s a chance that you may be currently going through gaslighting abuse.
Are you confused a lot?
Gaslighters are generally very smart. They use positive reinforcement to confuse you and cause you to be further dependent on them.
What is positive reinforcement? It’s when you praise someone (in the form of words, gifts, or just a gesture of appreciation) for their good behavior. It tells people that you like what they did, which makes them more likely to do it again because everybody wants to be appreciated.
However, abusers use it as a tactic. You’ll notice that a gaslighter won’t always talk negatively. They’ll sometimes scold you for something, while at other times, they’ll compliment you on something you’ve done.
This double-faced behavior can lead to a lot of confusion. It can cause you to seek out approval from that person more times than not. You’ve gotten it before in some strange way, but you’re not quite sure why they decided to see something as praiseworthy.
Another tactic to watch out for is that sometimes they’ll throw in compliments and praise only to cut you down when you start feeling good about yourself. All of these strategies are there only to lower your self-esteem and make you feel like you’re nothing without this particular person.
Are you always afraid when you’re around that person?
You may feel threatened or on edge around the person who is gaslighting you. Maybe you’re not aware that they’re doing something emotionally manipulative, but you often notice yourself feeling tense around them. You have a certain kind of weird or uncomfortable feeling as if you’re walking on eggshells.
When you’re with them, something just feels off. But you also can’t put your finger right on it. If you’re always afraid that something might go wrong with a person, it could be that you’re being gaslighted.
Do you feel isolated?
Isolation is the key to gaslighting. Gaslighters know how to separate you from your friends and family. They want to become the center of your life. The only way to do that is to cut off your ties with everybody else.
A gaslighter will tell you that so-and-so said [something terrible] about you, while that person may have said nothing. The abuser does it so that your relationship with that person may diminish. You’ll feel bad about yourself that others don’t like you, and unconsciously, you’ll start to move away from that person. It only helps them that you’re already confused and ready to accept whatever they say as the truth.
They’ll not only tell you that your friends said something about you, but they’ll also tell your friends that you’re mentally unstable. They’ll try to get as many people on their side as possible. If some of your friends or colleagues also say that you’ve been acting strangely for the past few weeks, surely there must be something wrong with you, right?
Do you feel that the people in your life aren’t supportive anymore? Do you think that you cannot share your thoughts with them? Do you believe that all of them look down on you because you’re such a horrible person? If any of that is true, there’s a good chance you might be a victim of gaslighting.
First of all, you should consider seeking professional help. Gaslighting is emotional abuse. They’re putting you down, making you question yourself. You’re also entirely dependent upon them. These components are emotional abuse, and working with a trauma specialist can be very healing as you work to get yourself together.
Secondly, you should also seek support from your friends or family. Your friends will allow you to do fact-checking or reality testing. It’s helpful to have a friend who was at that party with you or went on that vacation. It’ll make things easier, and you can then do a bit of reality testing as you learn to trust yourself again and heal from past experiences.
Build your self-esteem
When you’re in an abusive relationship or have been experiencing gaslighting for some time, your self-confidence takes a toll. If you want to get your life back, you’ll need to learn to love yourself and build your self-esteem gradually. Meditation, gratitude journal, supportive friends, professional help, and reading books are just some of the ways you can go about increasing your self-confidence.
I highly recommend you to read the following articles as the first step. They’ll teach you how to bring happiness into your life by doing small things every day. As you start to see the results of these little habits, your trust in yourself will grow day by day, and you’ll begin to feel happier.
Further readings to get you started:
Decide whether it’s worth it
If you’ve recognized someone in your life who’s manipulating you in these ways, you need to decide whether or not it’s worth continuing the relationship, friendship, or whatever it is. Decide if you need to distance yourself from this person or discontinue the relationship altogether. If someone’s making you feel small, weak, or stupid, you need to take it seriously.
Now, chances are, there are times when this person is caring, loving, and pleasant. At times, they might also be a supportive figure in your life. However, if the other times are spent making you feel small and stupid, you need to listen to yourself. Follow the inner voice that tells you it’s not right for you. Walking away is hard, but sometimes, that’s the only option you have.
If you’d like to share your experience with gaslighting or have any tips for someone who might be struggling through it, please leave a comment below.
Also, if you’ve recognized that you’re in an abusive relationship but can’t force yourself to get out of it, this is the sign. Your first responsibility is to yourself.
I pray for you that you may get the power to pull yourself out of this situation and get back your life.
Good luck 😊
Gaslighting Abuse – What It Is & How To Handle It | BetterHelp