Gaslighting: What is it and What are the Signs?

Gaslighting: What Is It and What are the Signs?

No one is ever going to love you like I do. The words echoed in the empty cave of my mind so loudly that I became dizzy. My friends swore that he was cheating. They had the texts to prove it and I saw the evidence with my own eyes. But I did not leave him. Then, when I would gain the courage to confront him about what I have seen, the blood in his veins would turn black and he would give me the same cold, gut-wrenching reply each time. “You’re crazy”. Eventually, he had me convinced that he was right. Maybe I was crazy. And if I left him, I probably would never find love again. So, I stayed. For four years.

I spent my high school years with someone who made me question my reality and my sanity. Slowly, he crept his way into my mind and with his pale, dry hands, he manipulated my perception. I spent my high school years being gaslighted.

“Gaslighting” is a tactic in which a person, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their sanity and refracts their reality. And it works a lot better than you probably think. Gaslighting is a common technique of abusers, narcissists, dictators, and cult leaders. The act of gaslighting is done slowly, so that the victim does not realize how much they have actually been brainwashed.  From my experience, and from speaking to others who have fallen victim to emotional abuse, I have gathered eight techniques that gaslighters typically use.

1. They look you dead in the face and tell you blatant lies.

You know what they are telling you is miles and miles from the truth. Yet, they look you dead in the eyes and blurt out this lie with a poker face. “I’m not cheating on you”. They are blatant in their lies because they are setting up a precedent. Once you know that they are lying to you, you question whether anything they say to you is true. Keeping you unsteady is the goal. It’s the first step they use toward manipulation.

2. They will deny and deny that you ever said something, even if you have proof.

They told you they were going to do something, they promised. You know you heard it, but they continue to deny ever making that promise. When they continually deny and deny, it makes you question your sanity. “Maybe he never did never promise that, maybe I am crazy”. The more that this is done, the more the victim begins to question their reality and starts accepting the gaslighters’.

3. They use what you hold near and dear to you as ammunition.

They know how important something is to you and they know how important your identity is to you. Therefore, they use those things in order to attack you. My gaslighter knew how sensitive I was to the issue of suicide since I had a member in my family attempt it. He would use this against me, as ammunition. If I ever got fed up enough to say I was going to leave him, he would threaten to kill himself if I did. Out of fear, I would stay and end up comforting him to make sure he did not hurt himself. He would cheat on me and I would end up trying to comfort him. Master manipulator, he was. He would then tell me that I would be a worthy person if only I did not have this long list of negative traits. He made me feel unworthy of love. This is what gaslighters intend to do. They attack the very foundation of your being.

4. Slowly, they wear you down over time.

The most disturbing thing about gaslighting is that it is done gradually over time. First, it’s a small lie, then another, then it’s degrading comments and snide remarks...and then it starts snowballing. If you have ever heard of the “boiling frog” analogy, that is exactly what gaslighting is like. If a frog is put suddenly in boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought slowly to a boil, it will not perceive the danger and will be boiled alive.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.

The very same person who continuously cuts you down, degrades you and tells you that you have no value, is now praising you. It makes the victim very uneasy and makes you think, “maybe they aren’t so bad”. Well, yes, they are. But they are using this praise attempt to keep you off-kilter, and again, you end up questioning your reality.

7. They project.

Gaslighters are often drug users or cheaters, yet they often accuse their victims of that. My gaslighter would constantly cheat on me, but as soon as I would talk to someone of the opposite sex, hell would freeze over. He would get defensive and accuse me of being the cheater. Then, I would be constantly trying to defend myself, which is the goal of the gaslighter. When you are busy trying to defend yourself, you are distracted from the behavior of the gaslighter.

8. They tell you or others that you are crazy.  

This is probably one of the most effective tools for the gaslighter because it is dismissive. When they are constantly questioning your sanity, people start to not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out-of-control. It’s a horrible, genius, effective technique.

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Gaslighting is serious. It is emotional abuse that wears on their victims self-esteem and self-worth. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting, it is that effective. It took me four years before I realized what was happening to me and got the courage to leave. Four years. But, I did it. If you or someone you know has fallen victim to emotional abuse, you are not alone and help is out there.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.7233

XO, A.