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What Is Gaslighting and how it affects you

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser seeks to instil self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. You don’t have to be someone’s romantic partner to be a victim of gaslighting. It can be your boss, your lover or even your best friend. While Gaslighting is most common in romantic relationships, it can also occur within family or workplace relationships.

According to Wikipedia, Gaslighting is a tactic for manipulating someone in a way that makes them question their own reality.  The term derives from the title of the 1944 American film Gaslight, which was based on the 1938 British theatre play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, though the term did not gain popular currency in English until the mid-2010s.

Set in the Victorian era, it portrays a husband using trickery to convince his wife that she is mentally unwell so he can steal from her. The title refers to the gas lighting of the house, which seems to waver whenever the husband leaves his wife alone at home. The term “gaslighting” itself is neither in the screenplay nor mentioned in the movie in any context.

A gaslighters main focus is to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition.  Is this sounding familiar to you?

How to Tell If Someone Is Gaslighting You

Gaslighting is a topic that is now widely discussed within the younger generations as the openness to explore their mental health is more commonplace. Social media has certainly given a greater voice to the conversation.  If you’re wondering how to tell if someone is gaslighting you, consider whether someone has exhibited any of the following behaviours within your romantic, family, or work relationships:

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting can happen in a variety of ways. Some examples include the following:

  • Countering: This is when someone questions a person’s memory. They may say things such as, “Are you sure about that? You have a bad memory,” or “I think you are forgetting what really happened.” Insisting that an event or behaviour you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong
  • Withholding: This involves someone pretending they do not understand the conversation, or refusing to listen, to make a person doubt themselves. For example, they might say, “Now you are just confusing me,” or “I do not know what you are talking about.”
  • Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards how someone else feels. They may accuse them of being “too sensitive” or overreacting in response to valid and reasonable concerns.  Minimizing their hurtful behaviours or words by saying something like, “It was just a joke” or “You’re way too sensitive”
  • Denial: Denial involves a person refusing to take responsibility for their actions. They may do this by pretending to forget what happened, saying they did not do it, or blaming their behaviour on someone else. Lying about or denying something and refusing to admit the lie even when you show them proof
  • Diverting: With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion by questioning the other person’s credibility. For example, they might say, “That is just nonsense you read on the internet. It is not real.” Changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behaviour
  • Separating you from friends and family who might recognize your gaslighting abuse symptoms.
  • Changing their tone: Trying to smooth things over with loving words that don’t match their actions
  • Spreading rumours at work: Spreading rumours and gossip about you, or telling you that other people are gossiping about you
  • Relationships: Blame shifting in relationships—saying that if you acted differently, they wouldn’t treat you like this, so it’s really your fault
  • Stereotyping: An article in the American Sociological Review says that a person may intentionally use negative stereotypes about someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to gaslight them. For example, they may say that no one will believe a woman if she reports abuse.

Any of these signs of gaslighting in a relationship are cause for concern and indicate that the connection is unhealthy and may be causing severe mental health repercussions for the person being gaslit.

Can Gaslighting Happen at Work?

Gaslighting can go on in the workplace as well as in the home from a boss to an employee and even between colleagues.  Seemingly very subtle but undeniably powerful in its intensity and volume. The result is conflict.  Gaslighting is often used as a tactic to avoid owning up to a mistake someone has made.

A gaslighter might try to deny their colleagues’ experiences or identities or even deny them entirely when perpetrated against marginalised groups.  I recall an incident many years back when I was a serving police officer and a senior officer called me into the locker room. She said there were rumours I had a knife in my locker. She also went on to say I was overheard talking about the knife to another colleague.

I frantically tried to recall if I did, and why I did and found myself scrambling for information in my brain to justify this whilst experiencing sheer panic.  The story goes on but in its simplicity, it was a knife I had used previously for an apple which I brought in my lunch box and forgotten about.  At that moment as a very young defenceless woman, I couldn’t think.  I shut down, seeking answers whilst covering my tracks.  Confused, blinded by my own self-doubt – I was being gaslighted!!! This wasn’t the first time I had experienced something similar with the same individual.

Mental Health and the abuse Gaslighting brings

Victims can experience a multitude of emotions:

  • Powerless
  • Isolated
  • Engage in co-dependent relationships
  • Question their own reality
  • Have low self-esteem & self-doubt
  • Disorientation
  • High risk for anxiety & depression & suicidal thoughts
  • Increased physical symptoms

Bear in mind that the perpetrators of gaslighting typically suffer from mental health issues which could be a response to childhood trauma, the result of Narcissistic Personality Disorder or another psychological condition.

How can I tell if someone is gaslighting me?

Here are some really good examples:

  • You begin to doubt your own memory and begin to believe you are ‘losing your mind’.
  • Find yourself apologising all the time & blaming yourself for being too sensitive
  • Covering your tracks and walking on eggshells
  • Not having a voice or opinion
  • Feeling lonely or trapped
  • Convincing yourself you must deserve it

Is there a legal term for gaslighting?

When the law is involved, gaslighting is often referred to as intimidation, psychological or ambient abuse. However, ‘gaslighting’ itself is emerging more and more as a term within the court of law.

How do I stop being the victim of gaslighting?

The first step is the recognition that this is happening to you, despite everything you are feeling and going through.  The next step is to remove yourself from that relationship, no matter what form it takes and talk to others about what you are experiencing. Gather some ‘healthy’ troops together and build your support system

Focus on taking positive actions and don’t allow the perpetrator to suck you in with nice gentle or caring words that make you feel supported in that moment. You have to make the change and not rely on them to make false promises – again. Work on trusting yourself and your instincts once again.

Remind yourself that it is not your fault – it was about the gaslighter’s attempts to control and manipulate you. Don’t argue with a gaslighter as they will not respond to logic or admit to their own selfish motivation.

How do I finally overcome this?

Therapy can help you to rationalise what has really taken place and allow you the secure, confidential space to work through your feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and often a sense of loss too.  Anyone who has experienced gaslighting will know that this can be a painful experience. Get in touch with us now and begin that journey.  UK Counselling Network is here to support you.

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