The only way you can describe how you feel is that you feel minimized. You feel crushed and smothered. You’re constantly second-guessing yourself; your feelings, your perceptions, your memories, and a small, suffocated part inside of you wonders whether you are actually going crazy.
You feel neurotic, you feel hyper-sensitive and you feel an overwhelming sense of alienation.
What is wrong with you?
If you can identify with what I just wrote, you are most likely experiencing a sophisticated manipulation technique known as Gaslighting. This technique undermines your entire perception of reality and can slowly creep into your relationships, friendships, family life and work life.
Although you might feel crazy, although you might feel imbalanced and irrational, there is still hope.
What is Gaslighting?
Inspired by the 1940 and 1944 films “Gas Light,” where a husband systematically manipulates his wife in order to make her feel crazy, the term “Gaslighting” is now commonly used to describe behavior that is inherently manipulative.
Gaslighting, at its core, is a form of emotional abuse that slowly eats away at your ability to make judgments. Essentially, a Gaslighter spins their negative, harmful or destructive words and actions in their favor, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you. This is often done by making you feel “overly sensitive,” “paranoid,” “mentally unstable,” “silly,” “unhinged,” and many other sensations which cause you to doubt yourself.
Commonly adopted by psychopathic, sociopathic and narcissistic types of people, Gaslighting tends to eat away at you slowly until you realize that you’re a shell of the former person you were.
3 Examples of Gaslighting
Let’s take a look at some examples of Gaslighting.
In a family scenario: Andrew’s father is an angry, bitter man. Every day Andrew is afraid to “tip the balance” of his father’s mood because he often bursts out in fits of rage calling Andrew a “bastard” and a “worthless little loser,” among many other hurtful names. When Andrew confronts his father about this aggressive name-calling, Andrew’s father laughs and tells him “to stop being so sensitive.”
In a relationship scenario: Jade has been married for 5 years and has two small children with her husband Mike. For the past few months Jade has been trying to establish a small art shop, but when she asks for her husband’s assistance his mood darkens: “I can’t believe you’re spending so much time on this shop—don’t you care about me—don’t you care about your kids? You’re supposed to be mothering them!” he exclaims. Jade is shocked, “But I just wanted you to help me with setting up the store! And I haven’t been neglecting anyone!” Mike comes up very close to Jade’s face: “You see! Now you’re denying it. When I married you I thought you’d be there for your family. I should just take the kids and go already!” Mike storms off. Later, when Jade sits down to talk with Mike about his threat, Mike says, “Honey, you know you were overreacting, and you know that you’ve been obsessing over this shop too much. That makes the rest of us feel very ignored and excluded, I hope you understand that.”
At work scenario: Sophie has been working in her department for the past five years when she is given a promotion to migrate to another level of the company that pays a higher salary. However, Sophie has been given a trial period to determine whether she is capable of fulfilling her duties or not. Nervously, she meets with her new supervisor, Kelly. At first, Sophie likes her supervisor and fulfills all of her tasks on time. However, her supervisor begins to ask her to do belittling chores and favors here and there with increasing frequency. While Sophie is fine with helping out, she finds that Kelly is becoming more and more demanding. Finally, as Sophie’s work piles up to an unbearable level, she tells Kelly that she needs to focus on completing her work, but she can help another time. Later, in a staff meeting, Kelly introduces Sophie to everyone and says, “Although she’s not keeping up with us yet, I’m sure she’ll learn to embody our hard-working ethics soon!” Immediately, Sophie blushes and feels publicly insulted and humiliated, fearing for the security of her new job. Later when Sophie asks her supervisor why she thinks that “she is not embodying their hard-working ethic,” her supervisor says: “I think you misunderstood me. I just said that you’re not used to our pace of work so that other people can help you out.” From then on Sophie accepts all extra demands and chores, no matter how much work she has, or how demeaning the tasks are.
How to Know Whether Someone is Gaslighting You
Gaslighting is so harmful because it promotes anxiety, depression, and with enough frequency in our lives, can sometimes trigger nervous breakdowns. So the question now it: are you being gaslighted? How can you know whether you’re experiencing this subtle form of manipulation in your life? Review the following tell-tale signs:
- Something is “off” about your friend, partner, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, colleagues, boss, or other person in your life … but you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.
- You frequently second-guess your ability to remember the details of past events leaving you psychologically powerless.
- You feel confused and disorientated.
- You feel threatened and on-edge around this person, but you don’t know why.
- You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
- You never quite feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable or harm you in some way.
- You feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, e.g. you’re neurotic or are “losing it.”
- You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or are “too sensitive.”
- You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood and depressed.
- You find it hard to trust your own judgment, and given a choice, you choose to believe the judgment of the abuser.
- You feel scared and as though “something is terribly wrong,” but you don’t know what or why.
- You find it hard to make decisions because you distrust yourself.
- You feel as though you’re a much weaker version of yourself, and you were much more strong and confident in the past.
- You feel guilty for not feeling happy like you used to.
- You’ve become afraid of “speaking up” or expressing your emotions, so you stay silent instead.
Tactics Used by the Gaslighter
Gaslighters use a variety of subtle techniques to undermine your reality and portray you as the disturbed and messed up one. These include, for example:
- Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
- Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually, you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
- Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things—that never happened!” “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.” “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (family member/friend)?”
- Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you, e.g. “Why are you being so sensitive?” “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!” “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”
- Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more. For example, “I don’t remember that, you must have dreamt it!” “You’re lying, I never said that.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re changing the subject.”
- Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favor, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth. For example, “I didn’t say that, I said _____” “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head—that’s what all good fathers do.” “If you remember correctly, I was actually trying to help you.”
Healing the Wounds Ignited by Gaslighting
Gaslighting causes us to doubt our own memories, perceptions, and judgments, throwing us emotionally and psychologically off balance.
If you feel as though your self-esteem, confidence, and independence has withered under the flame of gaslighting you are not alone … and there certainly is hope!
Almost all of us, including myself, have experienced one form of Gaslighting or another throughout life. The problems arise when Gaslighting is a frequent shadow that trails behind our relationships and partnerships. The good news is that knowledge and awareness is the first step to healing your life and rebuilding the strong, perceptive person you are … and you have already taken it!
While it is true that in some situations we genuinely might be overreacting, or might genuinely be exhibiting irrational behavior, it is also important for you to listen to your instinct or intuition. Do you have a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach? Do you feel weighed down and oppressed? Do you feel depressed? These are signs that you have unconsciously picked up on deception and “foul play.” While we can consciously be fooled, unconsciously we can’t, and often we will have a lingering feeling that “something just isn’t right.” Make sure that you listen to this feeling and seek help, either professionally or socially (i.e. a trusted group of friends or a support network).
In summary, here are some ways to support yourself in the face of gaslighting:
- Firstly clarify to yourself how, when and who is gaslighting you. Think about what ways they make you feel unhinged and like you’re losing it. Write down whatever you can think of. You must be able to confirm that you’re being gaslighted before you can move on with your life.
- Pay attention to the signs of being gaslighted, like feeling confused, belittled, “crazy” or manipulated. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and center yourself. Set aside regular time for grounding each day through meditation or a mindfulness practice. These techniques will help you to stay objective even in difficult circumstances.
- Decide whether it’s worth continuing your friendship or relationship. If you’re in a working relationship, think about whether it’s worth staying in your job or not. If you want to stay, think about ways to minimize interaction with the gaslighter until you feel grounded and confident.
- Talk to trusted friends or loved ones about your problem. Alternatively, seek help from a mentor or therapist.
- Shift your perspective from being a victim to being a warrior/winner or whatever word feels the most empowering. You don’t have to remain a victim for the rest of your life, and by reclaiming your personal power, you’ll also be able to help others in similar circumstances.
- Read my emotional abuse article to deepen your understanding of this topic.
I hope these actions can help you regain a sense of personal clarity, confidence, and empowerment once again as you recover from the gaslighter’s mind games.