Let’s start with reading a short fairytale love story which gives us a perfect example of what gaslighting is. Trying to collect the perspective of the gaslighter and victim both this short story may help you recognise what gaslighting is.
“He made little digs at my appearance all the time, and he shattered my once high self-confidence.”
When we first started dating, my boyfriend made me feel like I was a princess and complimented every aspect of my looks, down to my fingers and toes. As time went on, the flattery faded, and it was replaced with small criticisms. My clothes weren’t the right style; I should wax every part of my body, I should lose a few pounds… the list was endless. It wasn’t until a mutual friend asked what he liked about me and he was completely silent that I realised it had all been a facade. He didn’t like what I looked like or who I was; he liked what I had to offer. I walked away from the relationship, but the years of gaslighting me into believing that I was unattractive left my confidence at an all-time low.1
What is Gaslighting?
To gaslight is to manipulate another person into doubting his or her perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.2
Gaslighting is an emotional and psychological abuse done to anyone which makes them go through various kinds of unusual feelings at the same time. The victim often ends up being confused, with questioned self-worth, low self-esteem. It is like someone acting as a janitor and constantly trying to change your perception and memory while disconnecting you from reality.
Origin of the word Gaslighting
The term ‘Gaslight’ came from the 1938, British stage play, by Patrick Hamilton. The play was followed by a film in 1944.3 Where, a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fuelled lights and telling her she is hallucinating. Since the 1960’s the term has been used to refer to people who make covert attempts to manipulate people, particularly in abusive relationships.
How Gaslighting works
Beginning with a person first praising his/her companion and the shift from praising to criticising is gaslighting. The victims of gaslighting experiences absence of self worth, their memories, recent events and their perceptions as well. The victims of gaslighting often end up being confused about themselves and the gaslighter blames the victim and judges them for being too sensitive. There are many tactics you can see when the person is gaslighting you.
People who gaslight may pretend or show they care about you but they often end up bitching and disrespecting you. They end up making people believe that you’re crazy or you have some disorder. The people gaslighting you makes you believe bad about other people as well.
The gaslighter tends to shift the blame on you, questioning you constantly and making you realise that you are the one who must have done something wrong. Even when you try to communicate how the abuser’s behaviour makes you feel, they again shift the whole conversation to you. For ex: forcing you emotionally to behave in a certain manner to get the behaviour you deserve.
Not accepting their own doings
The abusers usually have a habit of denying or not accepting the harm they have caused someone emotionally. This habit of abusers creates a negative impact on the victim making them questioning their self worth and believing that something is wrong with them only. This tactic makes it very difficult for the victim to move ahead in their life. For ex: Cheating on someone and not accepting it, while shifting the blame to another person.
Habit of lying
The abusers have a habit of lying to you for silly and small things as well. They are pathological liars sometimes with narcissistic traits. Which makes you believe at a time that it is you who is judging or overreacting, even if you caught them or confront them with a proof, they puts it on you with sentences like: “you’re making this”, “such things never happened”, “you’re the one who is lying”.
Examples of Gaslighting
This refers to a person questioning someone’s memory and making them believe that something is wrong with them or they have a weak memory. Using statements like: “why do you never remember anything?”, “you have such a poor memory”, “are you sure, or you want to rethink?”.
In this the person uses the technique of not understanding what the victim is trying to convey in order to avoid having a conversation and getting confronted. Refusing to what the person is trying to say using statements like: “I’m not getting what you are trying to say”, “you’re not making any sense to me”.
The gaslighter may also end up using the victim’s age, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, caste, religion etc to control them and make negative impacts. For example: telling a male it is not ok to cry or express or using statements like: “you’re acting like a kid, grow up”, “don’t be a girl”.
This involves abusers to pretend to forget the events or incidents that occurred. They clearly deny saying or doing a thing that may have hurt another person. For example using statements like: “I do not remember doing that, you’re making this up”, “I never said that, you are overthinking”.
This is the technique of shifting the focus of communication or argument to the victim, basically diverting the topic of conversation. Using statements like: “stop getting new ideas from your friends”, “stop wasting your time on making up scenarios”.
This refers to when the person does on accept, validates and degrades the feelings of another person. They tend to manipulate the victim by denying their feelings and making a fuss about everything. For example using statements like: “why are you being over sensitive?”, “you’re overreacting”.
Signs of Gaslighting
Experiencing gaslighting makes you go through certain mixed emotions and many mental health problems like: depression, anxiety and other concerns. It is important to identify whether you are being gaslighted or not. To check that you should ask yourself certain questions that the given statements are relatable or not?
- You second guess yourself: Whenever it comes to individuality, you always end up second guessing yourself. Remembering past events, it gets difficult for you to share with others in fear of you assuming.
- You feel inadequate: You feel you are not good enough or you do not deserve anything good and no matter how hard you try or do things you will never be able to make people love and accept you.
- You feel worthless and question your feelings: Whenever you feel any positive or negative emotion, you question your feelings whether you are right or wrong, whether you should experience these emotions or not.
- You assume others’ feelings and thoughts towards yourself: You think that if you behave authentically or who you are, other people may judge you or may think you’re crazy. You’re always consciously thinking that other people are disappointed in you.
- You spend most of the time apologising: Most of the time, you end up apologising for normal behaviour thinking that you deserve to and you are grateful for having people in your life and you should take care of whatever you are getting.
- You distrust yourself and your decision making skills: You always make your family, friends or companions make decisions for you because you do not trust your decision making and doubting yourself that you will ruin it for yourself and others.
- You feel confused: In some incidents you get confused on how you should react, there are a lot of mixed feelings present that it gets difficult for you to acknowledge the real or first emotion you are going through.
- You judge yourself for not acting right: You judge yourself over silly things, you wonder whether you acted right or noty, whether the second person may get hurt or not with your behaviour, even when you are correct you blame yourself.
- You feel alone and powerless: The feeling of being alone and powerless is constant. You feel alone in your life journey and you do not deserve anyone’s support which is often reflected on the path you choose and you end up stuck in similar situations again and again.
- You doubt your feelings and reality: Accepting the reality gets difficult for you as mostly you find yourself questioning your own thoughts. You come to a point in your life where you do not even feel like expressing or confronting your real feelings and emotions with anyone.
- You feel insecure and vulnerable: While experiencing a certain emotion or going through a phase you feel insecure about yourself and you fear opening up about yourself in the fear of people judging you for being vulnerable. The absence of acceptance and validation is present.
How to respond to Gaslighting
Gaslighting is not an overnight process, it requires repetitive patterns. You need to identify certain patterns if you are being gaslighted.
Always remember your truth and trust yourself
If you are being gaslighted, remember to trust your memory and your instinct first. The gaslighter never focuses on your side of the story and constantly tries to shift the focus of communication. Try to be connected with yourself in order to be sane.
Recognise the warning signals
It is not as easy as it sounds but there are few things that may help you recognise that you are being gaslighted. This feeling of being gaslighted often leaves you confused and numb. Remember the focus always.
Do not second guess your feelings
Never lose trust in yourself, because if you do then it changes the game. Always remember it is about you and your feelings also matter, whenever you feel unheard or misunderstood try to focus on yourself rather than making them understand, leave.
Get an outsider’s perspective
Talking about your situation with an outsider like family or friend may help you look at a bigger picture and identify whether you are being gaslighted or not. This gives you an unbiased different perspective.
Save the evidence
If you feel you are being constantly gaslighted, start saving evidence for the events that have happened because being gaslighted may leave you confused and at a moment of time you may end up questioning yourself and find it difficult between distinguishing the reality and a made up story.
Listen to your gut and end the relationship
If things are getting too overwhelming for you, the gaslighting is rapidly increasing and getting out of your control, then end the relationship. It is difficult to end a relationship but if it is affecting you, it is the best way to stop any kind of abuse.
Tips for seeking help
Seeking help can be very difficult, because sometimes it gets very difficult for people to even realise that they are being gaslighted, even if they do gaslighting in some relationships the emotional dependency is too high it gets difficult to just leave. Gaslighting leaves you with a great sense of loss of personal identity. In order to seek help, go to a therapist and maybe try talking about it. Because sometimes you have to choose between being lonely and being crazy. 4
Living with a constant state of loss of self worth and interest leaves you with problems in even functioning properly sometimes. Online counselling is a great way to seek help from your own place.
A therapist offers you:
- A safe space to open up
- An unbiased perspective
- Helps you explore yourself
- Helps you bring back to reality and identify what is right or wrong
- Set healthy boundaries with the gaslighter
- Identify and work through mixed emotions.