Gaslighting is the act of manipulating an individual by forcing them to question their memories, thoughts, and the events occurring around them.
The term is derived from the 1944 film ”Gaslight,” in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question her reality and herself.
The man would consistently turn the lights dimmer and dimmer in their home, however, he denied that it was dimmer and pretended that the light was normal – and the woman started to doubt her own senses. Over time, the woman went insane.
Moreover, the term has resurfaced recently in some online publications to describe President Donald Trump.
According to Dr Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect:
”Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”
”The Gaslight Effect happens when you find yourself second guessing your own reality, confused and uncertain of what you think, because you have allowed another to define reality and tell you what you think — and who you are.”
Basically, gaslighting is an abusive tactic that happens whenever someone claims nothing unusual has happened even though they know full well it did.
Gaslighting can come from a romantic partner, a friend, a boss, or anyone else. But, this tactic is usually employed by narcissists, cult leaders, Machiavellians, control freaks, and dictators. The manipulator can also be a sociopath, especially if gaslighting is used to cover up a crime or premeditated acts.
Gaslighting typically occurs when the victim has the utmost trust in the manipulator and due to their supposed closeness, they would never expect to be used so maliciously.
The goal of gaslighting is to make the victim question their own grasp on reality, reducing their self-esteem and self-confidence and thus their capacity to resist their offender. Ultimately, the sufferer of gaslighting starts to wonder if they are going crazy.
Some common phrases you might hear from a gaslighter are:
- It’s all in your head.
- I know what you’re thinking.
- You are always so dramatic.
- You get angry so easily.
- Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.
- You’re overreacting.
- I only do it because I love you.
- I never said that. You’re making things up again.
- You’re imagining things.
- Can you hear yourself?
- You’re too sensitive.
- It’s no big deal.
- You know I’m right.
- You are making that up.
- It didn’t happen that way.
- You need to learn to communicate better.
- I was just joking!
- Where did you get that crazy idea?
- You just love trying to throw me off track.
- You remember it wrong.
- You are just paranoid.
- We talked about this. Don’t you remember?
Individuals who gaslight someone tend to use specific techniques to convince them they are confused. Some of these techniques include:
- misrepresenting reality – a gaslighter enjoys confusing people and creating misunderstandings between others;
- belittling your say – ”Your opinion doesn’t matter. You are too emotional…”;
- passive-aggressive revenge – when you need him, a gaslighter pushes you aside. Even if you ask him something, he may not speak to you;
- redirection – the manipulator insinuates that the target’s feelings are invalid as they derive from some alternate source;
- destroying your self-esteem – the abuser is not constructive in his criticism; he only tries to highlight defects;
- shaking your reality – ”I am sure you are just imagining it…”;
- eradicating your willpower – the abuser will seek to sow doubt in order for you to remain under his “protection.”
Examples of gaslighting include:
- the abuser said they were excited about an event you are both attending, however, when you mention it, they tell you they never wanted to go;
- they accuse you of doing something you definitely didn’t do;
- they blame you for causing them to be late when, actually, it was their fault;
- you suggest a Thai restaurant because your partner said a month ago that they like Thai food, but when you bring it up, they say they hate Thai;
- they promised you a raise over lunch one day a few months ago; when you ask about the raise again, they totally deny ever proposing that;
- you agreed to meet your partner on a certain day, however, they insist you said a different one.
Signs You’re a Victim of Gaslighting
One of the best ways to stop gaslighting is by simply knowing what to watch out for. According to psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting can include:
- you have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more fun-loving, more confident, more relaxed;
- you are constantly second-guessing yourself;
- your partner playing the victim and putting the blame on you when you try to bring to light their abusive behavior;
- you have trouble making simple decisions;
- you start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists;
- you have to think twice before bringing up a topic of conversation with your partner;
- you know something is terribly wrong, however, you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself;
- your partner outrightly denying that certain things happened when you are sure that they did;
- your partner tells others that you are crazy – abusers will drive wedges between you and other people in all sorts of clever methods;
- you find yourself withholding information from family and friends so you don’t have to make excuses;
- you frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to family and friends;
- you can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier;
- you’re always apologizing to your father, mother, boss, or partner;
- your partner will try to ensure you look to them for the truth. For instance, they may tell you that your brother thinks you are useless or your friend from childhood actually hates you;
- you are constantly questioning the validity of your experiences and memories;
- you frequently feel confused and even crazy at work;
- you ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.