Are you in a relationship where you feel your words are constantly being twisted? Do you apologize for things you don’t remember saying or doing? Do you often second guess yourself and feel as though you are losing your mind? If so, you may be a victim of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the gaslighter plays mind games with you to keep you off-balance. He or she will get you to question your feelings and your perceptions of events by constantly minimizing and invalidating you. The gaslighter will plant seeds of doubt in your mind that confuse you and leave you second-guessing yourself. You may wonder if you’re losing your grip on reality.
The signs of gaslighting may at first seem harmless or difficult to identify because they start so subtly and insidiously, but they gradually ramp up over time.
The term gaslight comes from the 1938 thriller, Gas Light, written by British novelist and playwright, Patrick Hamilton. In the story, a husband slowly manipulates his wife’s reality. He gets her to believe she’s losing her mind by slowly dimming the gas lights in her room.
When she notices them flickering, he invalidates her. He further disorients her by hiding and moving things around their home and telling her she must have lost them or moved them herself.
Gaslighting, however, is a tactic as old as the Garden of Eden. The chief gaslighter of them all, Satan, planted seeds of uncertainty into Eve’s mind to get her to doubt the reality of what she knew to be true. He convinced her that her perception of God’s instruction was wrong (Genesis 3:1-4).
How do I know if I’m being gaslit?
The more of these signs ring true with you, the more likely it is that you are a victim of gaslighting.
- You feel voiceless in the relationship.
- You question your self-worth.
- You wonder if you’re being too sensitive or overreacting.
- You constantly second-guess yourself.
- You feel confused and wonder if what the other person says is true.
- You’re always apologizing.
- You don’t trust yourself to make decisions.
- You feel powerless and alone.
- You keep making excuses for the other person’s behavior to your friends and family.
- You wonder if you’re losing your sanity.
- You feel like everything is always your fault.
- You feel as though you are constantly walking on eggshells.
- You wonder if you’re a good enough spouse/friend/employee.
- You know something is wrong, but you can’t express it.
Signs of Gaslighting
Lying. Gaslighters will tell you blatant lies to get you to question yourself and doubt your sanity.
Denying. When you confront the gaslighter about something, he or she will deny ever saying or doing it and accuse you of making it up even when you have proof of the truth.
Dismissing your feelings. When you bring up a concern, the gaslighter may pretend not to understand what you’re talking about. He or she may accuse you of being the one trying to confuse things and convince you that you’re overreacting or that you’re imagining things.
Refusing to listen to you. Gaslighters constantly cut you off when you’re trying to get a point across so you can never get a word in.
Countering. Gaslighters will question your memory and insist things didn’t happen the way you claim they did. They may even twist the event and add details that never happened to get you to doubt your recollection.
Lack of empathy. Gaslighters are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions and have no sense of remorse or empathy. Instead of apologizing when you express hurt, they will convince you that what you are thinking or feeling is wrong and that you’re being oversensitive.
Diverting. When a conflict arises, gaslighters may blame their actions on outside factors, or something you have done, and/or accuse you of being oversensitive.
Trivializing. Gaslighters will belittle your feelings, accuse you of overreacting, and make you feel as though you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
Discrediting. Gaslighters will suggest to other people that you are crazy, irrational, and/or are having trouble remembering things correctly.
Isolating. Gaslighters will try to isolate you by convincing you other people are liars and can’t be trusted, and that they’re the only person you can rely on to tell you the truth.
Confusion. Gaslighters will confuse you to keep you in an unbalanced state. Their goal is to get you to question everything and rely on them to explain what is real to you.
Conflicting behavior. Gaslighters will attempt to keep you off kilter by occasionally throwing in small acts of kindness or false remorse to get you to question the reality of the relationship and think maybe you were mistaken.
Why do people gaslight?
Sometimes gaslighting happens unintentionally. For example, someone may try to deflect responsibility for a mistake. However, most often people who gaslight do so to gain power or control over another person. They need to dominate and be right about everything. They will do whatever they can to erode your independence and free will.
Some common traits of people who gaslight are low self-esteem, insecurity, a need to be in control, manipulation, and narcissistic tendencies.
Among those most likely to engage in gaslighting are people with mental health conditions such as antisocial, borderline, or narcissistic personality disorders. People with these disorders have a distorted view of themselves and others, and are prone to lie and manipulate people to get what they want.
What to do if you’re experiencing gaslighting.
Collect evidence. Take pictures, save texts and e-mails, and document your interactions. When the gaslighter denies something took place, you can verify the truth by going back and fact-checking the evidence.
Write things down. Keep a journal and write things out as they happen, including the date and time.
Avoid getting defensive. Gaslighters thrive on being able to rattle you. They will twist your words and use anything you say against you so they can call you crazy when you get upset. Instead of reacting, stay calm and unemotional.
Don’t debate. As much as you may want to prove your point, it’s best not to try. Gaslighters will use anything you say against you. When you refuse to argue, you take away their ammunition.
Remain confident in your version of events. Communicate clearly, firmly, and calmly. Show the gaslighter any proof you have of signs of gaslighting. Don’t let him or her try to belittle you or convince you that your memory is flawed. Refusing to discuss the matter any further helps you maintain control over the situation.
Stand your ground. If a gaslighter feels you’ve got the upper hand, he or she will try to change the subject. Stand your ground and circle back to the issue, letting him or her know you’re not going to talk about anything else.
Disengage. The best way to outsmart a gaslighter is to disengage yourself and leave the conversation with your perception intact.
Don’t be fooled by love-bombing. When you stop reacting to the gaslighter and disengage, he or she is likely to shower you with attention or affection and promise to change his or her ways. This is a manipulative tactic to try and rope you back in. If you fall for it, he or she will soon revert to his or her old ways.
Build a support system. Spend time with trusted friends or family members who validate your reality.
Be willing to seek help. A trained mental health professional can help you gain perspective on your situation, validate your reality, and teach you techniques for avoiding emotional triggers.
If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment, please give us a call.
“Put on a Happy Face”, Courtesy of Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cork Board”, Courtesy of Volodymyr Hryshchenko, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Therapy”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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