What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting was first made public in the 1983 play by Patrick Hamilton play of the same name. It is a term that describes a process where, through the use of psychological manipulation, a person seeks to sow doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Techniques that are used to achieve this are persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying. Gaslighting involves attempts to destabilise the victim and de-legitimise the victim's belief.

These techniques are often used by abusers and individuals that wish to cause harm, and there are different ways in which you can recognise that you may be the victim of gaslighting.

  • A person tells you obvious lies. Everyone tells lies, as its primary use is a defence mechanism. However, what is really crucial is what people lie about. The main thing to consider is if you are an individual who persistently lies throughout your relationship with them, are they likely because are not very confident, or are they lying because they are deliberately orchestrating a situation that keeps you off-kilter and guessing all the time; if you’re in a situation when you are constantly guessing, then you are not identifying them as a potential threat, and they can get away with a lot more. 
  • A person who persistently makes you feel like you've made a mistake. This is a very common trick used by people gaslight; the idea is to fill you with the ideas you may have made a mistake, and then started about your own belief, even if that belief is contrary to reality.

Divide and conquer is a premise that has been utilised for centuries, and one of the tricks the gaslighters and abusers also like to use. What they will do with your nearest and dearest will be to separate you from them. They may do this physically or emotionally. If an individual wishes you to be separated physically, they may insist that you don’t see your mother as much, or that you are a daddy’s boy, or something with a negative connotation that makes you part from your family and friends. Gaslighters may go a step further, especially if you have children, saying that you're an unfit parent and you shouldn’t have them. The outcomes for adopting this strategy is that they divide you for your child, and they also make you doubt if you are a good parent.

Projection is also a common tool it is utilised by these people. In these instances, what you will see is a situation whereby they will use a negative connotation, and even these negative traits they may have themselves. When the project them onto you, what they are doing is getting you to focus upon the problem rather than the issue that they are the source of the confusion or negative factors. These individuals understand the fundamental power of confusion and what it has in keeping people in a neutral state, meaning that they are not attacking their behaviour, but having their victim attacking themselves.

Even the most positive of acts, which is sometimes referred to as a 'charm offensive', is used by the gaslighters to create that imbalance. They may do the odd positive act and get the individual who they are preying upon to think about them in a certain way, such as 'maybe they’re not that bad'. This is a deliberate attempt to keep you off balance, because you will be on a seesaw of emotion between self-doubt and positivity, and this feeds the confusion and allows the abuser to remain hidden from view.

One of the most obvious traits of these individuals is that, if their rhetoric does not match their actions, then they are most likely an individual that does not mean you well. For example, an individual who promises to take care of you through sickness and in health, and then a few days after your wedding attempts to run you over with their car, may be a person who fits into this category. A genuine individual will say something and will keep to their word, and those who are dishonest will not.

Therapy can be a fantastic way to gain a neutral point of view. This is good when trying to determine whether you’re being subjected to gaslighting techniques, and also allow you to have a space in which to heal. It is also worth noting that any individual that is complicit in such actions will never change. Their personality mindset will be forever locked in an abusive mindset, and as a direct consequence of their condition. They cannot change, nor do they wish to change. Therefore, the best thing to do is to distance yourself from these individuals and surround yourself with people who care for you and allow you to blossom and succeed in life.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Brian Turner BA (Hons.) MNCS Snr Accred / Supervisor. (Prof. Dip PsyC)

I am a psychotherapist that works with anxiety depression and suicidal issues. I use a diverse and wide spectrum of techniques to ensure that my clients feel empowered and confident, so they are able to achieve what they wish to achieve when presenting with a broad range of issues.… Read more

Written by Brian Turner BA (Hons.) MNCS Snr Accred / Supervisor. (Prof. Dip PsyC)

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