Gaslighting

“you’re crazy - that never happened”

“you’re so sensitive”

“you’re overreacting”

“just calm down”

“I never said that”

“what are you talking about?”

 

The definition of gaslighting is “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt”in another “making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity”.

The term originates from Gas Light, a 1930s play in which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane. He leads her into believing she’s stealing things without realising, and hearing noises which aren’t really there until she questions her own reality. It's a clever piece of drama in which the power of the human mind is played out for us.

The term was used a lot (both correctly and incorrectly) in the press during 2016, mainly in reference to Donald Trump, the presidential campaign and manipulation of information.

We've all seen it in films. We’ve also seen a classic example in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ where antagonist Iago manipulates Othello into thinking his wife has committed adultery, he uses methods of questioning and challenging Othello’s memory which eventually make Othello fall into a distressing psychological mess. Which is where, of course, the famous quote “O Beware my lord, of jealousy;/ it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” comes from.

 

But this is a real thing, and it happens within many relationships and friendships, and I’m sure we have all experienced it in some way, shape or form.

Recently, I’ve been watching ITV2’s Love Island, just like basically every other young person in the UK - it is quality entertainment I must say. It’s all fun and games until you begin spotting borderline dangerous qualities in personalities on a show which is meant to be lighthearted entertainment. Michael, who recently dumped Amber on the show (sorry - spoiler alert for those who may be behind!) started using light methods of gaslighting, calling Amber and other girls on the show 'pathetic' repeatedly, and questioning people’s memory, and it drew my attention to this subject.

In the ‘people also searched for’ section of Google when you search up ‘gaslighting’, ’hypnosis’, ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘physical abuse’ are found. Yeah, I know Michael throwing around some petty comments on Love Island doesn’t really connect to these serious methods of manipulation and exploitation, but showing abilities of manipulating people’s perceptions can be the very seeds of a more serious issue of gaslighting.

It certainly can make victims feel weak, and question their own sanity and perceptions.

I came across an interesting BBC article the other week on the subject named ‘Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter’ in which a 28 year old Canadian lawyer, who has had 11 serious relationships, confesses that each of those relationships ended with infidelity on his part, and severe self-doubt on the part of the women involved. He is a self-confessed ‘gaslighter’.

He speaks out in this article to give insight into the mind of a gaslighter personality, and to warn women of the tell-tale signs of this form of manipulation.

“I deliberately used demeaning language to make her lose confidence in her reading of the situation, of my infidelity - she was ‘paranoid’, she was ‘crazy’, she was ‘full of drama’.”

Gaslighting can happen in any form of relationship, personal or not. Many have discussed examples of it in the workplace, and others have explored what it feels like to have a family member who is a gaslighter.

The following are signs that you may be a victim of gas lighting according to David Wolfe:

  1. Second guessing yourself
  2. Too sensitive? - start to question if you are too sensitive 
  3. Feeling confused and have a hard time making simple decisions
  4. Constantly apologising 
  5. Can’t understand why you're feeling unhappy
  6. You often make excuses for the other person’s actions
  7. Feeling inadequate / low self esteem
  8. Having a sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person
  9. You find yourself withholding information from other friends and family so you don't have to explain things

 

Gaslighting is serious and even the most confident, self-aware and intelligent people can fall victim to this form of emotional abuse. Within the context of a relationship, it is often a slow-burner; happening over a long period of time and it escalates. If you think you may be a victim to this method of manipulation or spot signs of it in others, please do be self aware and take some action:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/

Exeter University Student Nightline: https://www.exeterguild.org/Exeternightline/

 

It is important to educate yourself and others about these signs.