What is gaslighting and how do I combat it?
Gaslighting is a term that has gained prominence in recent years, shedding light on a form of psychological manipulation that can have profound and damaging effects on an individual’s mental well-being. Coined from the 1944 film Gaslight where a husband systematically manipulates his wife into questioning her reality, gaslighting has become a recognised phenomenon in interpersonal relationships, workplaces, and various social settings.
This article delves into the concept of gaslighting, explores its characteristics, and discusses ways to recognise and combat this disturbing form of manipulation.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse aimed at making a person doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. The person doing the gaslighting employs a range of tactics to undermine the victim’s confidence in their own thoughts and feelings creating a sense of confusion and self-doubt. This manipulation often occurs gradually with the victim becoming increasingly dependent on the ‘gaslighter’ for validation and guidance.
Characteristics of gaslighting
There are several characteristics to look out for in the person who you feel may be trying to manipulate and control you including:
Denial and contradiction
People who gaslight consistently deny their actions or alter the truth, causing the victim to question their own reality. They may say things like “that never happened” or “you’re imagining things” making it difficult for the victim to trust their own perceptions.
Even when you can prove that the behaviour did happen, they will stick to their guns and blatantly deny it anyway, or they’ll brush it off with a simple “okay” without apology or any real admittance.
When challenged on their behaviour, it is common for people who gaslight to change the subject to something you once did that made them unhappy, making you and your behaviour the topic of conversation instead.
People who gaslight will dismiss your feelings and tell you that you are being ‘over-sensitive’ or you are ‘over-reacting.’ They will ensure you feel that you are creating problems out of nothing when in fact you are reacting normally to their behaviour.
People who gaslight often project their own flaws, mistakes, or negative behaviours onto the victim. By doing so, they shift blame and make the victim feel guilty or responsible for these actions. For example, if they cheat, they will accuse the victim of cheating, if they lie they’ll call the victim a liar etc.
People who gaslight selectively withhold information, affection and support to maintain control and keep the victim wanting. This manipulation tactic is designed to make the victim constantly pursue them for closeness, time, or simply to be heard.
People who gaslight may show fake concern for you whilst telling others you are ‘going mad.’ This can have the effect of others believing the gaslighter as they gather people on their side and ensure others won’t listen to your concerns.
People who gaslight may isolate their victims from friends, family, or other support systems, making it easier to control or manipulate them. This isolation can further contribute to the victim’s vulnerability and dependence on the person gaslighting them.
People who gaslight can often tell you what you want to hear in order to manipulate you into letting go of the challenge you’ve brought to them. They may use words such as “you know I would never mean to hurt you” or they’ll tell you how wonderful you are, or make themselves seem ‘less than’ in comparison to you so you will feel sorry for them.
Recognising gaslighting – the effects
Being able to recognise the effects of gaslighting on your well-being is crucial to breaking free from its grip. Some signs that you may be experiencing gaslighting include:
Doubt and confusion
Gaslighting often leaves victims feeling confused, disoriented, and unsure about their own reality. If you frequently second-guess yourself or your memories in a particular relationship, it’s essential to examine the dynamics of that relationship.
Loss of confidence
Gaslighting can erode self-esteem and confidence. If you notice a significant decline in your self-assurance, it’s important to evaluate whether external manipulation is at play.
Feeling ‘on edge’
you will feel as though you are ‘walking on eggshells’ around someone who gaslights.
Because you are being told you’re overreacting etc you’ll find yourself explaining yourself or the situation in order to ensure the person you are speaking to understands your perspective when it is likely already obvious to the other person.
You’ll find yourself acting passively. You’ll feel it’s not worth raising your concerns anymore, it only leads to you feeling bad about upsetting the person who is gaslighting you. You feel you’re holding back your emotions and frustrations in order to keep the peace.
You may spend a great deal of time apologising for responding to the behaviour of the gaslighter in order to smooth things over.
Wondering what is wrong with you
You will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong with you, that you are the person creating the problems and that you need to change yourself to make things better.
You may struggle significantly with making decisions because you no longer trust yourself to get it right. You may offer full control to the other person in making all the decisions, leaving you simply following their lead.
To combat gaslighting you need to be prepared to make changes to how you respond to the person gaslighting you. This takes confidence which you may be lacking after a lengthy period of manipulation and control. You will need to be able to:
Trust your instincts
If something feels off, trust your instincts. People who gaslight aim to make you doubt yourself so paying attention to your gut feelings can help you maintain a sense of reality.
Reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional who can provide an external perspective and support. Building a strong support network can help counter the effects of gaslighting.
Establish clear boundaries with the person gaslighting you, and assertively communicate your needs. Maintain a sense of autonomy and protect yourself from further manipulation.
Document the manipulation
Keeping a record of instances where gaslighting occurs can be a powerful tool. This documentation can serve as a powerful reminder of the manipulation and help you regain confidence in your perceptions. Whether it’s writing in a journal or saving text messages, having a record can validate your experiences.
Understanding the tactics employed by people who gaslight is crucial in protecting yourself. Educate yourself further on the signs of gaslighting, read about the experiences of others who have overcome similar situations, and arm yourself with the knowledge to recognise and counteract manipulation.
Gaslighting can take a toll on your emotional well-being so it’s essential to prioritise self-care. Engage in activities that bring you joy, practice mindfulness, and focus on building resilience. Taking care of your mental health is an integral part of breaking free from the effects of gaslighting.
Establish healthy relationships
Surround yourself with people who respect and value you. Cultivate relationships with individuals who encourage open communication, empathy and mutual respect. Healthy relationships act as a protective shield against the detrimental effects of gaslighting.
Regaining a sense of empowerment is vital in overcoming gaslighting. Focus on your strengths, accomplishments, and positive attributes. Setting and achieving personal goals can contribute to rebuilding confidence and reclaiming your identity.
Seek professional help
If the gaslighting persists or escalates, seeking the assistance of a mental health professional can provide valuable support. Therapists can help you process your experiences, develop coping strategies, and work towards building your self-esteem.
Know when to walk away
In some cases, the most effective way to combat gaslighting is to distance yourself from the manipulator. Recognise when a relationship becomes toxic and, if efforts to set boundaries and seek support prove ineffective it may be necessary to prioritise your well-being and exit the situation.
Gaslighting is a pervasive and harmful form of manipulation that can leave lasting scars on an individual’s mental health. Recognising the signs, trusting your instincts, seeking support, and taking proactive steps to combat gaslighting is vital for reclaiming your sense of self and regaining control over your life.
If you are ready to seek someone to talk this through with, please reach out as soon as you can. You will be offered support from a therapist with vast experience in unhealthy relationship dynamics, confidence building, assertiveness, and boundary setting. You don’t have to go through this alone. You’ll be heard, you’ll be believed, and you will be offered everything you need to work through it and find clarity.