What It Means To Be Gaslighted And How To Deal With It
Have you ever been in a situation where you are made to doubt your thoughts and your actions, even though you are quite sure of them? Do people or someone close to you or around you, be it a family member, friend or a colleague make you feel bad, doubt yourself, undermine you and feign innocence, making you take the fall or even feel guilty for thinking that they are exploiting you or taking you for granted? Do they often appear cold and mean to you but when you are about to react, they tend to act the opposite, i.e., suddenly acting all nice to you or to people around you and make you to wonder if you’re not just exaggerating? If you or anyone you know has ever felt this way, then either of you has been gaslighted!
Gaslighting according to Huizen (2020), is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone or people question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories, thereby making people having such an experience to often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. Victims of gaslighting are often oblivious of the fact that they are being gaslighted, due to the conflicting behaviour from the gaslighter, whom they trust and love. This explains the reason victims of this concept are often those in intimate relationships or people who are unduly loyal to friends and family, who often feel that they cannot do without their significant other or that their significant other can do no wrong.
The term never existed until 1938, during a British play titled, “gaslight”. It depicts the manipulation of a wife by her husband, to make her doubt her sanity, such as turning off lights and insisting that nothing has changed about the light among other things. The aim of the man was to convince his wife that she is insane so that she can be whisked off to a mental health institution while the man in question will then have the full opportunity to continue with his evil quest of looking for belongings of a woman he murdered.
The surprising thing about this phenomenon is that sometimes, third parties tend to be more aware of it and even point it out to the victim, but the victim remains oblivious of the situation and may even go as far as intimating their victimizers on that, who in turn can make them sever ties with such concerned people thereby making the victims feel isolated and lonely.
More interesting about this psychological phenomenon is that its perpetrators, tend to have psychological issues which they often project unto their victims for power and control. A good number of them are often sociopaths and narcissists (Greenberg, 2018), who are often selfish, very good at lying and committing crime while using their charm to convince people otherwise, which their victims often believe. It tends to be more common among the latter (narcissists) whose behaviours are often characterised by self-aggrandizement, difficulty in accepting and responding to criticisms, using people for their personal gain, and expecting special consideration and treatment while dealing with people (York, 2017). With such negative attributes, it is no surprise that such people tend to gaslight.
Characteristics of Gaslighters
Gaslighters have similar characteristics that can easily be identified, which can help people to be wary of them, some of these according to the United States National domestic hotline include:
- Countering: This is a situation whereby a gaslighter constantly questions or challenges someone’s memory or behaviour to an extent that the victim(s) starts wondering if something is actually wrong with him/her.
- Trivializing: This has to do with dismissing important issues raised by someone or treating it as if it doesn’t matter so much, thereby making someone feel that they are being too insensitive. The funny thing is that the point raised by their victims may be salient, but in order not to give them credit for that will simply dismiss it.
- Withholding: Gaslighters also engage in this form of gaslighting technique, where the victimizer deliberately refuses to engage in discussion with someone or pretend they don’t know what someone is talking about.
- Denial: Gaslighters are very fond of this as well. They pretend not to have any idea or knowledge of what someone is talking about. They may blatantly deny what they said or saw and instead accuse someone of making things up.
- Diverting: Gaslighters may dismiss what someone said or is saying as being irrelevant thereby changing the focus of discussion and making their victims focus on them or their idea instead.
According to the United States (NDVH), gaslighting occurs because someone wants to gain control over someone else. It is a behavior someone is not born with but adopts in the course of their interaction with people, in order to control them and feel in charge. An abusive person may feel that they are entitled to control other people, or that their feelings or opinions matter the most. Though not yet established, gaslighting could be a form of defence mechanism whereby the victimizer in order not to reveal their weak and vulnerable sides, adopt such psychological manipulation on people to feel good and powerful.
Gaslighting being a form of psychological manipulation, can actually make victims to experience a wide array of psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem (Huizen, 2020). This is because the victims not being aware of what the gaslighters are doing, may start thinking that something is indeed wrong with them while in actual sense there isn’t and because some of the victimizers go as far as making them severe ties with close friends, colleagues and family, they get withdrawn and depressed. Others may experience low self-esteem and may also feel that they cannot do without their abusers because they already think less of themselves and have been with their abuser(s) for quite some time. Some of the victims of gaslighting according to United States NDVH may experience any or all of the following;
- Feel confused and constantly second-guess themselves
- Find it difficult to make simple decisions
- Frequently question if they are too sensitive
- Become withdrawn or unsociable
- Constantly apologize to the abusive person
- Defend the abusive person’s behavior
- Lie to family and friends to avoid having to make excuses for them thereby feeling hopeless, joyless, worthless, or incompetent.
How can a victim of gaslighting seek help?
Gaslighting is a terrible form of psychological manipulation and depicts weakness on the part of the perpetrator. The impact it has on individuals or groups who are victims of it can have devastating consequences as earlier mentioned. There is need for victims and even the perpetrators to seek help. The reason for extending help to the latter is not far from the fact that sometimes, they may not be aware that gaslighting is a function of a disturbed mind that needs help so as to avoid hurting people. Their quest for power which makes them to feel entitled to control people and impose their opinions on them makes them prone to this. There is also a need for families and friends of both abusers and victims to suggest help for both parties so that the former, can understand how wrong it is and desist from it, while the later on the other hand, understands that he/she is in bondage and untie him/herself from the apron strings of such toxic people.
In order to help victims of gaslighting to get their sanity back and be in a better position to handle their victimizers, they may have to adopt some of these measures;
- Keeping records: Due to the fact that gaslighters love denying their misdeeds and manipulative tendencies, it may be necessary to keep evidence of one’s interaction with them, especially when it becomes evident that they are constantly turning tables on their victims. This will go a long way in bringing to fore their manipulative tendencies.
- Seeking help from a mental health professional: The psychological consequences of gaslighting can be devastating. As a result of this, it is necessary for victims to seek help from a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, who can help them walk through their fears doubts and equally help them to adopt coping skills that can help them to deal effectively with the situation (York., 2017)
As earlier stated, gaslighting is a terrible form of psychological manipulation, which some people mainly narcissists adopt in order to control their victims and feel powerful for their selfish gains. They adopt various strategies to gaslight their victims which the victims and third parties should be wary of and enable both parties to seek help through appropriate quarters.
Calef, V., & Wenshel E. (1981). Some Clinical consequences of Introjection: Gaslighting. Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 50(1): 44-66. doi:10.1080/21674086.1981.11926942 ISSN 0033-2828.PMID 7465707.
Greenberg., E. (2018). Are you being Gaslighted by the Narcissists in your life? Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Huizen., H. (2020). Gaslighting. www.medicalnewstoday.com>articles>gaslighting.
Stern., R. (2007). The gaslight effect. How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others use to Control your Life. New York: Morgan Road Books. ISBN 978-0767 924450.0 CLC 85766223. Retrieved 2014-01-06
Stout., M. (2006). The sociopath next door. Random House Digital. Pg 94-95. ISBN 978-0-7679-1582-3
York., S. (2017). How to recognize Gaslighting and get help. www.healthline.com>health>gaslighting.