|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on September 7, 2022 at 10:15 PM|
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the bully or abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality.1 Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to feel unsure about their perceptions of the world and even wonder if they are losing their sanity.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is "psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, the uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator."2
Gaslighting primarily occurs in romantic relationships, but it's not uncommon in controlling friendships or among family members as well. People who gaslight others may have mental health disorders. They use this type of emotional abuse to exert power over others to manipulate friends, family members, or even co-workers.3
10 Red Flags in Relationships
How Gaslighting Works
Gaslighting is a technique that undermines a person's perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you may second-guess yourself, your memories, recent events, and perceptions. After communicating with the person gaslighting you, you may be left feeling dazed and wondering if there is something wrong with you. You may be encouraged to think you are actually to blame for something or that you're just being too sensitive.1
Gaslighting can confuse you and cause you to question your judgment, memory, self-worth, and overall mental health. It may help to know more about the tactics a person who is gaslighting you might use.4
Lying to You
People who engage in gaslighting are often habitual and pathological liars and frequently exhibit narcissistic tendencies. It is typical for them to blatantly lie and never back down or change their stories, even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. They may say something like: "You're making things up," "That never happened," or "You're crazy."3
Lying and distortion are the cornerstones of gaslighting behavior. Even when you know they are not telling the truth, they can be very convincing. In the end, you start to second-guess yourself.3
People who gaslight spread rumors and gossip about you to others. They may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or "crazy." Unfortunately, this tactic can be extremely effective and many people side with the abuser or bully without knowing the full story.3
Additionally, someone who engages in gaslighting may lie to you and tell you that other people also think this about you. These people may have never said a bad thing about you, but the person who is gaslighting you will make every attempt to get you to believe they do.3
When you ask a someone who gaslights a question or call them out for something they did or said, they may change the subject by asking a question instead of responding to the issue at hand. This not only throws off your train of thought but causes you to question the need to press a matter when they don't feel the need to respond.5
Minimizing Your Thoughts and Feelings
Trivializing your emotions allows the person who is gaslighting you to gain power over you. They might make statements like: "Calm down," "You're overreacting," or "Why are you so sensitive?" All of these statements minimize how you're feeling or what you're thinking and communicate that you're wrong.5
When you deal with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, you may begin to question them yourself. What's more, you may never feel validated or understood, which can be extremely isolating, shaming, and difficult to cope with.5
Why It's Important to Have High Self-Esteem
Blame-shifting is another common gaslighting tactic. Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that occurred. Even when you try to discuss how the abuser's behavior makes you feel, they're able to twist the conversation so that you end up questioning if you are the cause of their bad behavior. For example, they may claim that if only you behaved differently, they would not treat you the way that they do.5
People who engage in bullying and emotional abuse are notorious for denying that they did anything wrong. They do this to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices. This denial can leave the victim of gaslighting feeling unseen, unheard, and as though the impact on them is of no importance. This tactic also makes it very hard for the victim to move on or to heal from the bullying or abusiveness.6
Using Compassionate Words as Weapons
Sometimes, when called out or questioned, a person who gaslights will use kind and loving words to try to smooth over the situation.4 They might say something like, "You know how much I love you. I would never hurt you on purpose."
These words may be what you want to hear, but they are inauthentic, especially if the same behavior is repeated. That said, they may be just enough to convince you to let them off the hook, which allows the person to escape responsibility or consequences for their hurtful behavior.1
A person who gaslights tends to retell stories in ways that are in their favor. For instance, if your partner shoved you against the wall and you are discussing it later, they may twist the story and say you stumbled and they tried to steady you, which is what caused you to fall into the wall.
You may begin to doubt your memory of what happened. Encouraging confusion or second-guessing on your part is exactly the intention.4
Gaslighting can include a range of tactics including lying, distracting, minimizing, denying, and blaming. When you are dealing with someone who uses gaslighting as a manipulation tool, pay close attention to what they do, not the words they choose.4
If you need help, please reach out to us. We have Mental Health resources.
Garnette Mccracken, LCSW
Pamela Roberts, LCSW