Have you ever felt like you are struggling in a relationship with someone? Do they make you doubt yourself? Do you feel you are being isolated from a group but can’t quite put your finger on why? Or that someone’s behaviour towards you isn’t quite ‘right’ but you can’t identify what is making you feel that way?
If so, you could be experiencing Gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. Gaslighting, a tactic used by someone in order to gain more power, makes a person question their reality. It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, cult leaders and narcissists and is a behaviour which is done slowly so the person doesn’t realise how much they have been brainwashed. It can happen to anyone.
The term Gaslighting was taken from a 1938 play entitled ‘Gas light’. The female lead marries the male lead and then mysterious things start to happen to her. Her husband convinces her she is imagining things, when actually it is him all along. In the 1944 movie, Gaslight, a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.
Gaslighting is described as ‘subtle but unhealthy manipulative behaviour.’ Typically, someone experiencing Gaslighting will feel undermined, insecure and vulnerable. They will start to feel a lack of trust towards others and slowly but surely both their confidence and their effectiveness / productivity will suffer.
What are the Signs of Gaslighting?
- They lie to you. You know it’s a lie so why are they so blatant? They are setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a lie, you can never be sure of anything they say. This has the impact of keeping you unsteady and off-kilter.
- They deny saying something to you – even though you know they did. This makes you feel uncertain and start to question yourself. The more they do this, the more you feel uncertain and doubt yourself.
- They use what means a lot to you as ammunition. They know how important your family is to you. They know your identity is important to you. These may be the first things they attack. They will tell you that you should never have had children. That you have a long list of negative faults. They attack the very core of your being.
- They wear you down. One of the most insidious things about Gaslighting is that it is done ‘over time’. A snide comment every now and then, a lie here, a lie there, criticism -all over time, wearing you down.
- They will appear to praise you, both to yourself and to others. This confuses you and again throws you off-kilter. It also makes the behaviour more covert to others.
- Gaslighters know confusion weakens people. They know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. As it’s natural for humans to look to the person that will help them feel more stable, you will do this – and that happens to be the gaslighter.
- They will try to align others against you. This makes you feel isolated and excluded. Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and they will use these people against you. They will make comments such as, ‘This person knows you’re useless too.’ Remember, it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic, it makes you feel like you don’t know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. And that’s exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control.
- They will often accuse you of things they have done themselves to distract you from their own behaviour.
- They tell you or other people that you are crazy. This is one of the most significant parts of Gaslighting behaviour because it is dismissive towards you. The gaslighter knows if you then speak out against them people will doubt your words.
- They tell you everyone else is a liar. In doing so it makes you reliant and dependent upon them and them alone. It isolates you from friends and family. It’s another manipulation tactic.
What can you do if you think you are experiencing Gaslighting?
- Try and get yourself some space from the situation. Go for a walk, clear your head, excuse yourself from the situation and allow yourself sometime to calm down.
- Document evidence of the behaviour. Take screenshots or photos, keep a journal to log events. Use your phone to record a voice-note to yourself of what has happened.
- Speak up. If they try and make a comment and pass it off as ‘just joking, speak up against it.
- Be confident. Believe in yourself and have faith in your version of events.
- Look after yourself. Practice some self-care. Look after your mental health. Go for a run, practice some yoga or take time out with a friend. Whatever makes you feel stronger and happier – do that.
- Tell someone. A colleague, a friend, someone you trust. But tell someone.
- Seek professional support. Contact us if you need help dealing with any of the issues identified in this article so that we can support you in this.
- This is bullying. This is not your fault. Seek support.