Have you ever experienced second-guessing yourself, your feelings, your perceptions, and your memories because of a manipulative person? If you have, then you’re probably a victim of what psychologists call gaslighting. It is a term used to describe the controlling and toxic actions that manipulative people use, which is emotionally abusive to other people.
If you want to further know about what it is and how to tell if someone is gaslighting you, you’re in the right place. Today, we are going to talk about the meaning of gaslighting and the signs that you need to look out for.
What Does Gaslighting Mean?
Gaslighting is a kind of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group stealthily scatters seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group. These actions can make people question their own memory, perception, and judgment. It is a tactic done by an individual or group of people in order to gain more power, and it works much better than you may think.
Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique used by abusers, cult leaders, dictators, and narcissists. They do it slowly so that the victim will not realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.
One example of this is the movie called “Gaslight” which was shown in the 1940s. The story revolved around a manipulative husband who tried to make his wife think that she’s losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, such as slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. Aside from disrupting her environment and making her believe that she is insane, the husband also abuses and controls her, which led to cutting her off from her friends and family. With these, the wife started to constantly second-guess herself and her perceptions, even her memories. Aside from that, she also feels hyper-sensitive, neurotic, and out of control, which is the goal of gaslighting.
Gaslighting usually occurs in dating and married relationships, but it can also occur in controlling friendships and as well as among family members.
Strategies Used in Gaslighting
After you communicate with a person who’s gaslighting you, you will often be left feeling dazed and wondering what is wrong with you. It can make you feel confused, which can lead to you questioning your sanity. To give you a further and clearer idea, here are the different tactics or strategies used in gaslighting.
People who engage in gaslighting are habitual and compulsive liars. These are individuals who will unashamedly lie to your face and will not back down or change their stories even when they are called out or even if you provide proof of their dishonesty. Lying is the foundation of these people’s destructive behavior. These people, even when you know they are lying, can be very convincing. In the end, you will start second-guessing yourself.
Spreading rumors about you
Another tactic used by gaslighters is spreading rumors and gossips about you to other people. As they do this, they pretend to be worried about you while telling other people that you are crazy or emotionally unstable. This can be very effective, and a lot of people may side with the abuser without knowing the full story. Aside from these, the abuser may also lie to you and tell you that people think you are crazy. These people may never say anything bad about you, but the abuser will make every attempt to make you believe they do.
Putting the blame on you
When you call out a gaslighter for something that they did or said, what they would mostly do is change the subject by asking a question instead of answering the issue. They may also lie about the situation and instead blame you by saying things like, “You are making things up.” Blame-shifting is their common tactic.
Every discussion with them is somehow twisted where you are to blame for something that happened. Even when you attempt to discuss how their behavior makes you feel, they can twist the conversation and end up blaming you. In other words, gaslighters manipulate the situation in a way that you’ll believe you’re the cause of their bad behavior. They will tell you that if only you acted differently, they wouldn’t have treated you the way they did.
Minimizing your thoughts and feelings
Gaslighters can also underestimate your emotions, which enables them to gain power over you. They might tell you that you are overreacting or sensitive, which minimizes how you are feeling or what you are thinking, which can lead to you believing that you are wrong.
When you are with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, you will start to question them yourself. In addition to that, you will also never feel understood or validated, which is tremendously difficult to cope with.
Using compassionate words
There are times that when a gaslighter is called out, he or she will use kind and loving words to smooth over the situation. They can say something like, “You know that I love you so much and would never hurt you on purpose,” which are words you want to hear, but they are not authentic, especially if the situation has been repeated over and over. Therefore, it’s more important to pay close attention to people’s behaviors or actions rather than words.
Twisting and reframing past events
When you discuss a past event with a gaslighter, they may twist the story in their favor. For example, if in the past your partner pushed you to the wall and you are discussing it later, he may twist the story and say that you stumbled and he tried to steady you, which made you fall into the wall. When this story is constantly retold in favor of the gaslighter, you will start to doubt your memory of what truly happened, which is exactly their goal.
Signs of Being a Gaslighting Victim
People who are subject to gaslighting usually have anxiety and depression. Most of the time, it has also been connected to panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. With this, it is very important that you know how to recognize if you are being gaslighted. Here are some of the signs that you need to look out for:
- Doubting your feelings and reality: You are a victim of gaslighting if you always try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or if you think that you are too sensitive.
- Doubting your perceptions and judgment:Another sign of being gaslighted is when you are afraid of speaking up or expressing your emotions. If you think that sharing your opinion will only make you feel worse in the end. That’s why you opt to stay silent instead.
- Feeling insecure and vulnerable:Most of the time, you feel on edge, and you lack self-esteem around your partner, friend, or family member.
- Feeling alone and powerless:Being gaslighted will convince you that everyone around you thinks you are crazy or strange, just like the person who’s gaslighting you says you are. This can make you feel trapped or isolated.
- Feeling stupid and crazy: The gaslighter’s words make you feel like you are always wrong or insane. You even find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
- Being disappointed in yourself:When you feel like you are weak and passive, and you used to be stronger.
- Feeling confused: The behavior of the gaslighter makes you feel confused.
- Thinking that you’re too sensitive:If you are hurt but think immediately that you are just too sensitive, just like what the gaslighter told you before.
- Always apologizing: If you feel that you always need to apologize for everything that you do or for who you are.
- Feeling inadequate:If you feel that you are not good enough, and if you always try to live up to the expectations of others, even if those expectations are unreasonable.
- Second-guessing yourself: You always wonder if you remember the details of the past events correctly. Or if you cannot share what you remember because you’re afraid it might be wrong.
- Thinking that others are disappointed in you: If you assume that people are disappointed in you or you have made a mistake.
- Wondering what’s wrong with yourself: If you always wonder if there’s something wrong with you fundamentally. You might worry that you might be truly crazy.
- Finding it difficult to make decisions:If you distrust yourself and would rather allow your partner, friend, or family member to make the decisions for you. Or if you totally avoid decision-making.
Gaslighting is indeed a very serious issue that should be talked about, as it can cause huge psychological damage to a person. Therefore, the more aware you are of the techniques and tactics used by gaslighters, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into their trap.
If ever you can identify with the signs we mentioned above, it is important that you seek professional help, as a counselor is equipped to help you process and deal with your situation. And if you are a victim of gaslighting, you need to remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. The one to blame is the person gaslighting you because he or she is the one making a choice to behave that way. Remember, you are not the one who caused it, and you did not bring it upon yourself.
We hope the information we shared here helped you in further understanding what gaslighting is.