Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that makes the victim question/doubt their own beliefs and perception of reality.
Britannica defines it as ” an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period”.
In time, the victim is unsure of their own opinions, constantly doubts themselves, is unable to distinguish truth for falsehood.Self worth is replaced by a dependency on the abuser who is being seeked out for validation, reassurance and emotional support.
The term is derived from the title of a 1938 British stage play, Gas Light, which was subsequently produced as a film, Gaslight in the United Kingdom (1940) and the United States (1944).Gaslighting is associated with narcissistic personality disorder and often referred to as narcissistic supply.
The abuser seeks control of the victim by constantly challenging their memories, reality and judgment.
Gaslighting can be really difficult to spot, as the victim tends to question every thought they have, being in a constant state of confusion.
Here are some stem sentences often used in gaslighting:
You are imagining things.
Here we go again.
There is always something with you.
I never said that.
You bring all the drama.
You are upset over nothing.
You have issues.
You are so sensitive.
You are remembering things wrong.
I was joking.
You are overreacting.
I do not have time for this.
Not this again.
There is something wrong with you.
You are so dramatic.
The abuse is often subtle at first and develops as time goes by.It may start as the victim shares some information and the abuser may challenge a small detail (“I was walking down the High Street when this…-the abuser might change it to :”It was not the High Street thought, it was Main Street). The victim may admit they were wrong on a detail, then move on. The next time, the abuser may use that past “victory” to discredit the person further, perhaps by questioning the person’s memory :”I always keep you on the straight and narrow, dont I?’
Talking about your own feelings tends to be denied or cut short with “Here we go again” being introduced quickly in the conversation as a way to insert authority and make one feel small and inadequate.
“I never said that” tends to be followed by “Show me proof” and when you cant, deniability flourishes with “See, always an issue with you” almost cementing the idea that you are remembering things wrong, therefore you have no validity to query or question the gaslighter.
By projecting their own insecurities on the victim, the gaslighter often uses the target’s “mistakes” and “overreactions” to cast themselves as the victim. Often, the true victim will end up apologising for their behaviour even though they have absolutely nothing to apologise for.
Gaslighting has huge psychological effects on the victim-it affects confidence, self worth, can bring anxiety and depression, co-dependency and post traumatic stress.Some survivors will struggle to trust other people, and always be suspicious in new relationships.Defence mechanisms will include a lack of interest in forming new relationships, always being on guard and lacking vulnerability with others.At the other end of the spectrum, other survivors will only seek relationships where they can be submissive and develop people pleasing behaviours.
Often the first step to protect yourself from gaslighting is recognise it and decide you want to do something about it. When you are able to see that you are being manipulated, you can understand and see your own reality with more ease.
Here are some helpful ways to keep yourself safe:
Do not take responsibility for someone else’s feelings.
Do not sacrifice your own feelings-they are valid.
Remember your own experience and truth.
Prioritise your safety and wellbeing.
Look for help in your friends and family if possible.