With various debates regarding a range of topics from unhealthy relationships to politics, gaslighting is a frequently-used term in online discussions and social media. This article will provide a basic definition of gaslighting and explain how it can be dangerous.
Gaslighting, put simply, refers to a form of manipulation and emotional abuse where a manipulator tries to convince someone to question their reality, memory and experiences (NBC News). The manipulator will tirelessly deny, contradict, point the other person in the wrong direction, and lie to effectively persuade the victim they are in the wrong (Metro).
The term gaslighting originated from the 1944 film Gaslight (adapted from a 1938 play) in which a man isolates his wife from the world, convinces her that she is imagining odd occurrences around the house, such as gaslights (hence the name) flickering, and manipulates her to the point of insanity (Vox). Most modern gaslighting isn’t typically as melodramatic as the example seen in this film; however, it is still a widely used form of manipulation and is generally used by manipulative partners in toxic relationships. Some common examples of modern gaslighting include, but are not limited to, denying things they’ve said to you, lying about the way you witness an event unfold and making you feel as though you’re overreacting when you’re offended by their actions. This behaviour can continuously make you doubt yourself.
Are you confused about whether you’re being gaslighted? Here are a few examples of what these manipulators may say to you:
“I never said that you’re lying” (Even though they said it to you)
“You’re remembering it differently; it didn’t happen like that” (Even though you remember precisely how it went)
“You’re too sensitive, no one else would get annoyed about this” (Even though they’ve done something hurtful to you or disrespected your boundaries)
“You’re being crazy, it’s really not a big deal” (Making you feel wrong for being hurt and disregarding your feelings)
As with most forms of manipulation, the main goal of gaslighting is to have control over the victim. Gaslighting is a common occurrence in toxic and abusive relationships, with many toxic partners using it as a tactic to break their significant other down mentally or to cause them to feel incredibly vulnerable; therefore, making them less likely to leave the relationship. Commonly, abusers and toxic partners seek to force their partners to become isolated from other support systems and entirely dependent on the abuser. Gaslighting is also a tactic used to skew power dynamics in the relationship, elevating the toxic partner to a state of dominance over their partner.
Romantic relationships are not the only type of relationship where gaslighting can occur; it can occur between friends, family, co-workers and other social dynamics with unequal power. It can manifest in small instances or larger instances such as racial gaslighting. Racial gaslighting is similar to the aforementioned gaslighting but mainly aimed towards the BIPOC community. It serves explicitly to make the sufferer question their judgement on matters relating to racism, through microaggressions or brushing someone who feels they have experienced discrimination. It often minimises and undermines the feelings and experiences of the person. Racial gaslighting can happen in everyday interactions as well as in a widespread manner via news outlets. This practice is depressingly common and contributes to/upholds the ever-present issue of substantial systemic racism within society.
Gaslighting is an incredibly dangerous manipulation tactic as it can significantly damage your self-esteem, sense of self-worth and your mental health the longer it goes on. It can also leave you questioning your own thoughts, feelings and experiences, having you constantly question whether you are overreacting in situations. You will likely feel more and more as though everything you do, and everything that you feel is wrong. It’s common to lose confidence in yourself, and you may find yourself always apologising to the person gaslighting you.
If you or someone you know are/is experiencing these behaviours and dynamics, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member or any organisation specialising in mental health or domestic abuse.
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