Gaslighting 101: Understanding, Identifying, And Overcoming Manipulation
If you've ever found yourself questioning your own memory or perception in a personal or professional relationship, you may have experienced gaslighting. It's a manipulative tactic that can leave you feeling confused and isolated. In this blog post, we'll dive into what gaslighting is, how to identify it, and most importantly, how to overcome it. Whether you are currently dealing with gaslighting or want to be better prepared for the future, this post will give you the tools and knowledge you need to protect your mental health. Get ready for Gaslighting 101
"Words and truth – are they even a thing anymore?
I found myself pondering this as I tuned into News Night last week. There was this conservative guy desperately trying to convince everyone that his party was blameless for the country's mess...... He swears it's all Labour's fault.
His most convincing arguments included -
Brexit benefits have been denied to us by Remainers
Public sector pay increases are inflationary, but those in the private sector are not.
We can’t tax big oil more because then they won’t invest in green technologies.
As I watched, it became clear that they'd stopped trying altogether. In the past, they would at least make an effort to tell a convincing lie....... Now, it feels like we're witnessing the most blatant attempt at gaslighting the political arena has ever seen.
Since I frequently discuss gaslighting with my clients, I decided I would share what I know about it subject so In this blog, we'll delve into the world of this manipulation technique. We'll explore what gaslighting is, its impact, and strategies for prevention........... So, if this topic piques your interest, you're in the right place!
What Is Gaslighting?
The Act Or Practice Of Grossly Misleading Someone Especially For One's Own Advantage
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse where the perpetrator consistently undermines their partner's perceptions, memory, judgement, and even sanity.
Their goal is to gain power and control over the other person through a pattern of controlling behaviour (Hightower, 2017). While it mainly occurs within relationships, it can also happen between friends, coworkers, and even within families.
Unlike a typical relationship disagreement, gaslighting involves continual denial and criticism of the other person's perception of reality. The victim may be told that their perceptions, experiences, or feelings are wrong, irrational, or imagined. The perpetrator may even go as far as to convince the victim that they are the cause of problems in the relationship.
Over time, this emotional manipulation can lead to confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. The victim may start to question their own thoughts and reactions, ultimately losing confidence in themselves.
Gaslighting Examples And Patterns
Gaslighting can affect anyone, regardless of their background or the setting in which it occurs—whether in relationships, among friends, or within the workplace. What's consistent in these situations is the presence of an imbalance of power, where one person holds more control over the other, a fundamental element in the dynamics of gaslighting.
From personal experiences, I've come to realize that gaslighting is exceptionally challenging to detect. Its absurdity can make us question our own sanity, leaving us wondering if there's any truth to the manipulation. This is the first stage in gaslighting.... the subtle introduction of an idea or thought that makes us question ourselves.
The next stage is when we start to defend ourselves. In those conversations, the person starts to deflect and shift the blame onto us reinforcing the idea that we are to blame. Their responses will always revolve around how we are too erratic, emotional or paranoid.... slowly picking away at our own sense of who we are.
This behaviour is continuously repeated, gradually leading to the erosion of our sense of reality and understanding of the truth. By chipping away at our beliefs and memories through denials, contradictions, and blame-shifting, the gaslighter gains control over our emotions and clarity of thought, making us feel powerless and dependent on them. It's at this final stage where the direct abuse can start.
Gaslighting is a straightforward yet potent method of control and abuse that can often escape a person's notice. That's why the aim of this chapter is to now provide you with an extensive understanding of what gaslighting looks like and how to recognize its signs.
We'll start by exploring some of the most common techniques used by the gaslighter to introduce doubt and submission to gain control.
Denying Reality: The gaslighter consistently denies things that have happened, even when there's clear evidence to the contrary. They make you doubt your own perceptions.
Trivializing Feelings: Gaslighters belittle your emotions, making you feel like you're overreacting or being irrational about your feelings.
Shifting Blame: They deflect blame onto you, turning situations around so that it becomes your fault, even when it's not.
Withholding Information: Gaslighters keep you in the dark or tell half-truths to maintain control over the situation or keep you guessing.
Isolation: In some cases, gaslighters might attempt to isolate you from friends, family, or anyone who could provide a reality check, making you more dependent on them.
Projection: Gaslighters often project their own negative traits or actions onto you. They accuse you of behaviours or actions they're actually guilty of.
Countering Your Reality: They undermine your perception by saying your memory is unreliable. This can make you doubt your own memory and judgment.
Control Over Finances: Some gaslighters maintain control over financial aspects, making you financially dependent and beholden to them.
Silent Treatment: Using the silent treatment as a form of control and punishment. They may stop talking to you for extended periods to make you feel guilty.
Double Standards: Gaslighters might hold you to one set of rules while they have a different set of rules for themselves. They apply different standards to your actions and theirs.
Joking About Concerns: Gaslighters might downplay or mock your legitimate concerns, making it seem like you're overly sensitive or humorously dismissing your worries.
Undermining Your Self-Esteem: They may constantly criticize you, making you doubt your self-worth and creating a dependency on their approval.
Deflecting the Conversation: When you try to address an issue, they change the subject or avoid discussing the topic altogether.
The idea of using these techniques on a person is to illicit a certain response in order to confuse, manipulate and control them. (Klein, Wood, & Bartz,2023) Unfortunately however sometimes these behaviours are hard to spot..... especially when relationships and love are involved.
Another way to spot the presence of abuse is by observing its impact on the individual (Sodoma, 2022). Gaslighting can leave a person feeling bewildered, distressed, and exasperated, often reacting in the following ways - (Verywellmind)
You doubt your feelings and reality: You try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or that you are too sensitive.
You question your judgment and perceptions: You are afraid of speaking up or expressing your emotions. You have learned that sharing your opinion usually makes you feel worse in the end, so you stay silent instead.
You feel vulnerable and insecure: You often feel like you "walk on eggshells" around your partner, friend, or family member. You also feel on edge and lack self-esteem.
You feel alone and powerless: You are convinced that everyone around you thinks you are "strange," "crazy," or "unstable," just like the person who is gaslighting you says you are. This makes you feel trapped and isolated.
You wonder if you are what they say you are: The person who gaslights you says words that make you feel like you are wrong, unintelligent, inadequate, or insane. Sometimes, you even find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
You are disappointed in yourself and who you have become: For instance, you feel like you are weak and passive, and that you used to be stronger and more assertive.
You feel confused: The behaviour of the person gaslighting you confuses you, almost as if they are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
You worry that you are too sensitive: The person minimizes hurtful behaviours or words by saying “I was just joking" or "You need thicker skin."
You have a sense of impending doom: You feel like something terrible is about to happen when you are around this person. This may include feeling threatened and on edge without knowing why.
You spend a lot of time apologizing: You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
You feel inadequate: You feel like you are never "good enough." You try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable.
You second-guess yourself: You frequently wonder if you accurately remember the details of past events. You may have even stopped trying to share what you remember for fear that it is wrong.
You assume others are disappointed in you: You apologize all the time for what you do or who you are, assuming people are let down by you or that you have somehow made a mistake.
You wonder what's wrong with you: You wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. In other words, you worry that you are not well mentally.
You struggle to make decisions because you distrust yourself: You would rather allow your partner, friend, or family member to make decisions for you and avoid decision-making altogether.
The most effective defence against this kind of abuse is to cultivate self-awareness, both about ourselves and the behaviours of others. When we have a clear understanding of others' actions and how they impact us, we can implement strategies to prevent such manipulation.
In this context, knowledge truly becomes a source of empowerment.
Preventing Gaslighting: The Top 10 Things You Need To Know
Gaslighting is a subtle yet destructive manipulation tactic utilized by certain individuals to gain dominance and control over their partners or loved ones. Understanding how to effectively respond to this form of abuse is crucial for safeguarding oneself from the harm it can inflict (Sarkis, S2018).
Below, I've compiled a list of what I consider the top 10 ways to effectively address gaslighting.
Educate Yourself: Gaslighting often thrives in ignorance. By learning about gaslighting and its tactics, you become better equipped to recognize when it's happening to you or someone you care about. Knowledge is your first line of defence.
Trust Your Memories and Perceptions: Gaslighters aim to distort your reality, causing self-doubt. In these moments, remind yourself of the facts as you know them. Trust your own experiences and emotions.
Seek Outside Perspectives: Gaslighters thrive on isolation. Talk to friends and family to gain an outsider's perspective on the situation. They can provide valuable insights and help you see things more clearly.
Document Everything: Maintain your clarity of thought by documenting details of conversations and events. This record can serve as a concrete reminder of what transpired, aiding your understanding and defence.
Set Boundaries: Communicate and establish clear boundaries with the gaslighter. Make it known what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. This helps protect your emotional well-being.
Stay Calm and Assertive: Gaslighters often provoke heated arguments. Instead of engaging in confrontations or accusations, calmly state your perspective and stand your ground. Maintain composure.
Learn to Say "NO": Be assertive and learn to say "NO" to things you're not willing to engage in or accept. This establishes your autonomy and reinforces your boundaries.
Recognize Your Limits: Understand that you can't change someone's behaviour, and you're not responsible for it either. You can only control your reactions and choices.
Be Open to Walking Away: In cases of severe or persistent gaslighting, be open to the idea of walking away from the relationship. Your well-being is paramount, and sometimes, distance is the healthiest option.
Focus on Self-Reflection and Empowerment: Reconnect with your sense of self. Self-reflection and self-empowerment are vital for regaining control over your life. Discover who you are, your values, and your strengths.
Finally, If you find yourself facing someone attempting to gaslight you, it's crucial to remember that you're not alone. Offer yourself love and self-compassion, use these techniques and if all else fails, recognize when it's time to disengage or seek assistance from a professional.
As we conclude our exploration of gaslighting, I'd like to leave you with a final piece of advice: no matter what you're going through, including dealing with gaslighting, the most powerful tool at your disposal is staying connected — both with yourself and with others.
Gaslighting often thrives in the shadows, attempting to silence and isolate us. But when we maintain strong connections with our authentic selves and the people in our lives, these connections become our safety nets, ready to catch us if we start to fall.
Until next time x
More More More
Invisible Scars - The Invisible Scars blog is dedicated to raising awareness about emotional abuse and gaslighting.
Survivor Stories - Various survivor-focused blogs and websites share personal stories and support for those who have experienced gaslighting and abuse.
Narcissist Abuse Support - This blog offers information on narcissistic abuse, which often includes gaslighting behaviour.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - This organization provides resources and information about gaslighting, especially in the context of domestic abuse.