What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves a person, or group of people, causing you to question your memories, perceptions, decisions, or even your sanity. The person or people, involved are often distorting reality to make you feel like what you are feeling or seeing is not real.
The term gaslighting stems from the desire to control and manipulate. Gaslighting can occur in any relationship, including friendships, among family members, with co-workers, or with bosses. But it occurs most commonly in romantic relationships.
This form of abuse can show up in any relationship or environment. It is a form of control in which the abuser makes you question reality. This, in turn, can lead to feelings of confusion, insecurity, loss of self-esteem, and self-doubt.
How Gaslighting Works
Gaslighting works by enforcing an imbalance of power between the abuser and the person being gaslit. To create this imbalance of power, abusers often exploit vulnerabilities and/or stereotypes that are related to gender, race, class, and sexuality. By exploiting these vulnerabilities or stereotypes, the abuser is targeting characteristics or features that already lack confidence.
Techniques for gaslighting are used to second guess yourself and question your perception and mental health. These techniques often lead to feeling unsure about yourself or what occurred. Some of the tactics used in gaslighting are:
- Lying to you: Gaslighters gain control by avoiding, lying, or distorting facts and information. Even when faced with facts, gaslighters will continue to lie or say they “don’t remember.” Commonly, they will continue to stick to lies regardless of evidence or facts stating otherwise and will call you “crazy” when confronted. Lying and distorting are the cornerstones of gaslighting.
- Discrediting you: Gaslighting often involves the person discrediting you by telling people you can’t remember things, getting confused easily, or that you are constantly making things up.
- Minimizing your feelings: This is common for gaslighters and is a way for them to gain power over you. You will often hear statements like, “You’re being too sensitive”, “You’re overreacting”, or “Calm down.” Never having your feelings validated can be extremely isolating.
- Undermining you: To gain control over you, gaslighters will often use your insecurities against you. They may make backhanded comments or make fun of you in public. When confronted with their behavior, they will make you feel as though you are overreacting by saying they were “only joking.”
- Denying or distracting: When confronted with a question or concern about their behavior, the abusers will often deny their actions or use a distraction. This is done by following up with a question instead of answering yours.
- Withholding: This is done when the abuser brushes off your questions or concerns or attempts to have a discussion. They may also accuse you of trying to trick or confuse them.
These gaslighting tactics can have serious consequences on an individual’s mental and emotional health, as well as workplace productivity, and negatively impact other relationships.
Signs Of Gaslighting
It’s important to recognize the signs of gaslighting. This is because continued psychological abuse of this kind can result in decreased mental health. As with most forms of abuse, gaslighting can result in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and addiction. This is due to the confusion and self-doubt that is continually taking place. So some of the signs to look for are:
- Doubting reality and your feelings by convincing yourself that how you’re being treated is not that bad.
- Questioning your judgment and perceptions so you are afraid to speak up or express yourself and instead you stay silent.
- Feeling insecure, vulnerable, and powerless, especially around the person who is gaslighting you.
- You feel alone because you believe everyone thinks you’re “crazy”, “a liar”, or “unstable.
- You feel confused and worry you are too sensitive because the person gaslighting you minimizes hurtful behavior.
- You second-guess yourself and question whether you are accurately remembering things.
- You spend a lot of time apologizing for the things you do and for who you are.
- You struggle to make decisions due to fear of being wrong and therefore rely on other people to make decisions for you.
- You wonder what’s wrong with you and whether there is something fundamentally wrong with who you are.
If you are experiencing any of these signs and believe you are being gaslit, it is important to seek help and learn how to deal with it.
How To Deal With Gaslighting
It is important to learn how to deal with gaslighting before it leads to severe mental and emotional distress. Unfortunately, trying to reason with or confront the abuser is almost impossible as they will continue to gaslight. Ways to deal with gaslighting include:
- Identify the problem. Determine whether you are experiencing gaslighting or not. It can be difficult to identify this type of abuse, but look for whether the person’s words and behaviors are consistent, cause you self-doubt, and hurt your self-worth.
- Permit yourself to feel what you are feeling. Acknowledge that what you feel is what you feel and recognize that you are allowed to feel that way.
- Talk to a trusted person. Since gaslighting can make you feel alone and isolated, it’s important to lean on a support network. Talk to trusted individuals about what is going on and get a second opinion.
- Get distance. Sometimes it is important to step away from situations and get some distance to be able to see things more clearly. Spend some time away, even if it is just temporarily.
- Gather evidence. Keep a journal, take notes, keep voice memos, and/or take pictures. All of these things can help you take back control and will be evidence for you to determine what happened, did happen.
- Develop a safety plan. Having a safety plan is important to protect against abuse. List safe places you can go, emergency contact information, and self-care ideas for coping.
- Set boundaries. Creating boundaries is essential in all relationships, but especially with someone who is gaslighting you. Limit conversations or walk away if you are starting to doubt yourself.
- Leave the relationship. It may be difficult to end a relationship, but sometimes the best thing you can do in an abusive relationship is to leave.
Gaslighting can be extremely difficult to spot and understand, especially as the goal is to make you doubt yourself. The first step to getting out of this psychological and emotional abuse is to identify what is happening and then seek help.
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