What Exactly Is Gaslighting?

A little while back, I read The Girl on The Train and I was introduced to gaslighting. After reading it, I couldn’t believe gaslighting was a real thing or that it could actually happen to someone. I thought it must’ve been created or made up for the plot twist in the book. But recently, I’ve been seeing posts on social media spreading awareness about gaslighting. It’s pretty heavy stuff. So what exactly is gaslighting? Gaslighting is when someone manipulates another person or group so that they question their own sanity, memories, and perception. The term gaslighting comes from a playwright that became a movie in 1944 called Gaslight. In the film, a husband convinces his wife that she is losing her mind, in order to get his hands on her inheritance. In one scene he manipulates her by causing the gaslights in the house to flicker and when she mentions it to him he pretends that it’s all in her head.

Much like the film that inspired the term, when someone is gaslighting you they’ll lie or withhold the truth. It’s also common for gaslighters to deny something they said or did in an attempt to convince you that it never happened. They’ll often try to convince you that you have a bad memory or that you are crazy. Another tactic is projecting. According to Phycology TodayThey are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter’s own behavior.”

Gaslighters will also divert blame by saying things like:

-You’re crazy.

-You’re too sensitive.

-You’re paranoid.

-That never happened.

-You’re making that up.

According to psychoanalyst, Robin Stern, “…the gaslighter is typically a man and the gaslightee is typically a woman. In my clinical experience, many women are socialized to doubt themselves and continually apologize for disagreeing or upsetting their partners. Men are not.”

We discussed the techniques that gaslighters use, but how does someone become a gaslighter? According to an article on The Vox, ” People aren’t born gaslighters like they are born introverts or extroverts. A gaslighter is a student of social learning. They witness it, feel the effects of it, or stumble upon it and see that it is a potent tool. It’s a cognitive strategy for self-regulation and co-regulation. To be frank, it works. The gaslighter may not even know he is doing anything strategic or manipulative. He lacks self-awareness and may just think he is expressing himself directly, or is prone to unflinching honesty, saying it “like it is.”

People can gaslight others with out realizing what they are doing while others are fully aware of what they’re doing. When it’s written out in black and white, it seems so devious and obvious that most of us think this can never happen to us. Or perhaps that we are not guilty of gaslighting anyone ourselves. But I encourage you to keep an open mind and to be aware of the signs so you can identify gaslighting in your life, whether someone is gaslighting you or if you’re unintentionally gaslighting someone else.

What about the victims of gaslighting? It’s important to understand that gaslighting can happen in any relationship. Someone can be gaslighted by their parents, boss, friends, family members, or their spouse. Someone who is being gaslighted will often feel confused, like they need to walk on eggshells, find themselves constantly apologizing, have low self-esteem, and question themselves often. They worry if they are being too sensitive, think everything is their fault, and often feel like everything they do is wrong.

Personally, after diving into this topic, I have realized that I have been on both sides of this. Yep, I’ve been the gaslighter and the gaslightee, and I think it’s more common than we let on. Now that I’m aware of it, I have been checking myself—things I’ve done and said and how I handle things now. During my childhood I picked up on some ugly and deceptive fighting techniques. I was taught to win, not to come to a solution and sometimes that creates the perfect storm for gaslighting. I think up until my early twenties, I may have used gaslighting to my advantage with out realizing it. I would divert arguments and try to downplay other people’s feelings as a way to not accept blame for some of my own actions.

On the other hand, I also I grew up always questioning myself and not believing in my abilities or strengths. I always doubted myself, which made me susceptible to being gaslighted by others now and again. It’s a complicated mess I think most of us have been in but aren’t aware of.

There are ways to get through gaslighting, regardless of which end your are on and I encourage you to seek help and to open up to those around you. Don’t feel ashamed if this has happened or is happening to you, know that you can turn things around.

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