*To start off I would like to clarify that I am not a mental health professional, and everything stated in this article is based on research and personal experience*
Gaslight: a tactic in which a person or entity makes a victim question their reality in order to gain more power.
In other words, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is seen in abusive and toxic relationships, and it is always a serious problem. These relationships don’t have to be romantic and gaslighting can very well be seen in relationships with friends, colleagues, and even family members. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 43 million women and 38 million men will experience mental or emotional abuse in their lifetime, and gaslighting happens to be one of the several forms.
Almost everyone has heard the term gaslighting, but what you may not know is that the term actually derives from a movie called “Gaslight” (1944) in which a man is pictured manipulating his wife into thinking that she is losing her mind for his own personal gain. Because of this movie, many people began to label and identify this toxic and abusive tactic in their own lives, causing the phenomenon to gain a lot of credibility in recent years. Unfortunately, despite the attention it has received, many still fail to recognize the signs for what they are, and oftentimes fall victim to the toxic internal cycle of, “what if I am making everything up?”. So, how do you know if you are actually being gaslighted?
The Red Flags To Look Out For:
True gaslighting is a repeated pattern of manipulation. It is important to be able to differentiate between someone who is rude and sometimes out of line, to someone who is manipulating you into questioning your sense of self.
- The person in your life is repeatedly lying to you about things that you know to be true and making you question yourself and the validity of your perception.
- The person is continuously denying things they may have said or done and claim that you made it up or are pretending.
- The person is invalidating your thoughts, opinions, and emotions and making them seem dramatic or “too sensitive.”
- You are constantly apologizing to this person for your own thoughts and actions even if they don’t warrant an apology in order to appease them. Oftentimes the apologies become such second nature that you don’t realize what or why you are giving them.
- The person makes you look bad and or crazy to people around you. If they make you seem crazy to other people, they are trying to make not only you question your sanity but those around you to question it as well.
If you feel that these signs are present in a relationship in your life, then it is important to address the situation. A healthy relationship consists of honesty, trust, respect, and open communication between two people. Relationships take work and effort but they should never make you question yourself as a person. If you are making decisions with fear of retribution and retaliation from the other person, you need to seek help and address the issue. A gaslighter’s ultimate goal is to make you question yourself so much so that you are almost entirely dependent on them. Power and control are their driving forces.
The Three D’s of Gaslighting
“The process of gaslighting happens in stages – although the stages are not always linear and do overlap at times, they reflect very different emotional and psychological states of mind,” writes psychoanalyst Robin Stern in Psychology Today.
- Disbelief: This is the stage in which you may be shocked at the person’s narcissistic and out-of-pocket behavior. You may be taken aback and even confused by what is happening, or you may brush off the behavior as a lapse in judgment or a foul mood.
- Defense: This is when the gaslighter’s repeat behavior has begun to make you feel as if you are the one to blame. You find your self-worth being continuously degraded by this person. You have been broken down and questioned so much that you begin to think the person has a point.
- Depression: Finally, you begin to believe all of the negative criticism and degrading words that the person has thrown your way, and the feelings of insecurity are greater than ever. You get to the point where you no longer trust yourself to make independent decisions and have little to no self-confidence.
So, How Should You Address a Gaslighter?
Once you have identified the issue and know that you are a victim, it is important to face the reality of what is going on.
- Do not justify or rationalize this person’s behavior for the sake of saving your “relationship,” because they do not give you that same level of respect.
- It is important to be honest with yourself and face what is happening in order to see that this person is no good for you or your mental health.
- Acknowledge what this person is making you feel so that you can better determine the right steps to heal and get out of the toxic situation.
- Ask friends and family for their opinions and advice. It is always better to get an unbiased perspective when your own is unclear and distorted.
- Give yourself permission to take space from the person and sort through your feelings
- Confront the person about their behavior (if you are comfortable doing so) in order to show them that you don’t accept their behavior.
- Finally, seek professional support because sometimes confronting the issue alone is not enough, and emotionally abusive relationships can’t be resolved or escaped by just acknowledging that there is an issue. Gaslighting has a tendency to isolate you from the ones you love. Don’t let it.
Whether you are a victim of gaslighting or emotional abuse in general, never forget that your feelings are always valid and should always be taken seriously. There are always ways for you to seek help even if you feel helplessly alone and out of control. Don’t allow yourself to be silenced by someone else’s oppressive and controlling behavior. Know your worth and love yourself above all.