In the past year or so, the term gaslighting has received an increase in attention and use. So what exactly is it?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that creates doubt in the person who is the recipient of the abuse. The term itself is rooted in a 1940s film called “Gaslight,” which was about a husband who manipulated his wife to make her feel crazy. Since then, the term gaslighting has become a common way of describing this behavior that is incredibly manipulative.
Gaslighting is a highly malicious and hidden form of emotional and mental abuse that is designed to lead to self doubt and questioning your reality. Gaslighting is rooted in the need for power and control. It can be motivated by the perpetrator’s desire to hide actions that are inappropriate, threatening, or disturbing. A gaslighter will manipulate their harmful, distractive, and negative words and actions in their own favor while simultaneously deflecting the blame for their abuse and pointing the finger at the victim. This is often done by labeling the victim as being paranoid, unstable, ridiculous, sensitive, crazy, etc.
Usually the recipient is a targeted individual, such as a spouse, child, other family member, coworker, or subordinate. Gaslighting is not only restricted to intimate relationships, but can take place with family members and in professional relationships. Many times, gaslighting is centered around issues of money, infidelity, control, and power. Gaslighting eventually leads the recipient to question their own memory, perception, and ultimately, their sanity.
How It happens
In most cases, the perpetrator does not initially come across as being manipulative or deliberately trying to confuse you. Rather, they are often charming and friendly and will communicate their concerns and disputes in a gentle and kind way. This can lead the recipient of the gaslighting to even feel guilty when they question the perpetrator. Likewise, the perpetrator may even act offended, hurt, or play the role of the victim if you challenge or question them.
The key is that gaslighting usually begins (and continues) as a covert behavior and is not necessarily apparent in an overt way. This is why the recipient is often unaware it is happening, and why gas lighting may gradually begin to affect how a person thinks and feels about themselves.
Five signs you’re being gaslighted
- You start second-guessing yourself. If you notice that you have started to second-guess if you remembered something correctly, saw something correctly, heard something correctly, this is an indication that you may be in a situation with a gaslighter. You may start second-guessing your decision due to lack of self trust.
You start questioning your judgment. It starts with being told “that was a bad idea,” “that was stupid,” “what were you thinking?,” or being repeatedly told that there’s a better way to do something. Eventually, you find it hard to trust your own judgment and will ultimately go along with the judgment of the abuser.
Your overall confidence declines. Gaslighting can be incredibly destructive to self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem. This is because the victim begins to lose trust in them self, question their reality, and question whether their perceptions are accurate. Additionally in the process of gaslighting, many gaslighters often criticize or put down their victims, which only exacerbates the victim’s declining self-confidence.
You feel like you are walking on egg shells. Perhaps you have become afraid to express your thoughts, emotions, and generally speak up, so you stay silent. You might feel threatened and restless around the abuser but not be able to figure out why. Likewise, you might have a sense that something is wrong but have difficulty putting your finger on it. This could lead you to apologizing often, even when you have objectively done nothing wrong.
You feel all sorts of confusing and uncomfortable emotions. You may have initially felt like you were on the defense, but this eventually gives way to feeling confused, disoriented, and guilty. The victim often begins to apologize frequently for things they do (or even don’t do), or even for who they are, and can begin to feel as though they are never “good enough.”
How to Overcome Gaslighting
- Label it what is. Identify the person who is gaslighting you, identify the specific behaviors and statements that are gaslighting, and ultimately confirm to yourself that this is happening. This is the first step to being able to move forward with your life.
- Decide if you want this person in your life. If you ultimately decide that the relationship is more toxic than healthy, it may be a better decision to end the relationship. If it is not possible for you to end the relationship because it is a work contact or you are in a situation where leaving may create much larger issues in your life, consider ways you can lessen the frequency of interactions until you can work on your awareness, yourself, and your confidence.
- If you decide to stay in the relationship, choose to no longer be victim to the gaslighter’s actions. To overcome gaslighting, it is important to increase your awareness of what is happening. If you are aware of the fact that the perpetrator is intentionally trying to confuse or disorient you, it is less likely that they will be able to do so. For example, if you know you turned off the TV, only to find the TV is back on, don’t allow the perpetrator to confuse you by telling you they didn’t turn it on “so it must have been you.”
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is an important skill that can help you to be more aware in the present moment and increase your confidence in the things you did or did not see, you did or did not hear, and you did or did not do. Mindfulness can also help keep you grounded and allow you to be more objective in these situations.
- Utilize support systems. Talk with a mental health professional or a trusted friend or loved one about what is happening.
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