Abuse can take on many forms, and one of the most complex types is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a type of abusive manipulation that can take a huge toll on a person’s mental health. Understanding what it is and how it works can make it easier for you to break free from gaslighting behavior.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a psychological term to describe a specific type of emotional abuse. This technique involves one person trying to make another person doubt their ability to remember or accurately perceive things. The goal of gaslighting is to make a victim question their own sanity or competence. Gaslighting comes in many forms, and it shows up in all sorts of problematic relationships.
This term gets its name from the film called “Gaslight,” which is about a conman husband tricking his wife into thinking she is insane. In the movie, the villain does things like cause gaslights to flicker and then pretends he does not notice the lighting change. In many real world cases, gaslighting can be similar to the plot of the film. Though rare, some abusers may purposefully plot to try to make their victim believe they are insane. It can eventually develop into domestic abuse.
However, most of the time, gaslighting is more subtle. It does not necessarily have to involve the abuser tampering with their victim’s possessions or surroundings. Instead, it can be a verbal form of abuse. A gaslighter may repeatedly deny that they said certain things or repeatedly recount a past event in an inaccurate way. Some gaslighters work alone while others may manipulate others to unintentionally participate in the gaslighting.
Common Gaslighting Tactics
The end goal of gaslighting is usually to make the victim question their ability to accurately judge reality. To achieve this goal, gaslighters may try many tactics, including:
- Lying: Almost all gaslighters will use this as some point. They may tell you something didn’t actually happen, or they may state blatant falsehoods.
- Exaggerating: A gaslighter might try to avoid notice by not stating obvious untruths. However, they may still exaggerate things entirely, such as saying your behavior bothered everyone at a party or telling you no one else cares for you at all.
- Repetition: Gaslighting is a repeated pattern of behavior. An abuser will not just gaslight you in one situation. Instead, it is their ability to repeat lies over and over that ends up wearing down a victim.
- Overreaction: Gaslighters often tell their victims that they are being irrational, emotional, or overreacting. However, overreacting is actually a behavior that the abuser is doing instead. Many gaslighters are set off by very small things like minor disagreements or petty jealousies.
- Intimidation: Gaslighters try to coerce their victims into agreeing with whatever the gaslighter is saying. They may use things like physical strength or financial reliance to make the victim feel like they will be harmed by not going along with the gaslighter’s claims.
- Tampering: Some gaslighters may tamper with their victim’s belongings or surroundings. This can include things like hiding a pair of eyeglasses, adjusting the thermostat, or moving car keys.
- Stereotyping: Many gaslighters select victims who are women, people of color, or other traditionally oppressed and minority groups. They do this because they can use stereotypes like women being irrational as a method for making their victims doubt themselves.
Examples of Gaslighting
Since gaslighting is such a broad topic, it can be helpful to look at some concrete examples of how gaslighting works. Seeing the sorts of situations that technically count as gaslighting can make it easier to understand or identify this form of abuse.
Gaslighting is most common in romantic relationships. For example, a husband who cheats may gaslight his wife. He may tell her she is overreacting and paranoid after she spots a suspicious message on his phone. Despite obvious signs of infidelity, the cheater may insist the other person is just a friend. If their spouse persists in discussing the subject, the gaslighter might take it a step further and try to gaslight their victim into thinking they have to agree to an “open” relationship.
Gaslighting also occurs in familial relationships. A parent who was physically abusive to a young child may try to gaslight the child as they become a teen. The parent may tell the child they are misremembering the abuse and suggest that the child is blowing things out of proportion. Furthermore, they might insist that the child has to forgive them because the parent is the only one who will truly love and support the child.
Dysfunctional families and romantic relationships are the most common situations that lead to gaslighting. However, it can happen in a variety of environments, such as work. For example, an abusive boss might distort truths about who came up with a popular idea. After stealing credit for a successful concept, a boss may trivialize your frustration or assert their false facts with intense conviction.
Why Is Gaslighting so Dangerous?
There is a common misconception that abuse is only “serious” if it is physical. However, the reality is that gaslighting can be just as problematic as someone hitting a partner. You should never brush off gaslighting as relatively harmless. In the most severe cases, gaslighting can directly cause mental health problems. If a person has spent years being gaslit, they can completely lose their own sense of reality.
Gaslighting is never healthy in a relationship. It focuses on impacting a victim’s confidence, self esteem, and judgement. This leads to an unhealthy dynamic where one partner puts up with problematic situations because they are being gaslit into believing they have to do what their partner wants. If gaslighting is combined with other forms of abuse, such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, it makes it much harder for the victim to escape their situation.
In cases where a person already has anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or a substance use disorder, gaslighting is especially harmful. It makes it significantly harder to work on your mental health issues when someone else is trying to constantly chip away at your confidence. Being in a gaslighting situation can worsen symptoms of other mental health issues.
What Makes a Person Gaslight Someone?
The stereotypical image of a gaslighter is someone who is maliciously and purposefully manipulating their victim. While this does happen, it’s not actually the most common gaslighting situation. Instead, most gaslighters are just trying to control their victims and make things easier for themselves. Some people gaslight consciously while others may not even realize they are doing it at all. Abusers often gaslight because they want their victim to be weak, insecure, and dependent on them. They may also gaslight as a way of trying to ignore their own bad behavior or make themselves look better.
Gaslighting behavior can happen in any case where someone is abusive, but it is also closely linked to a few specific personality disorders. Those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may be more prone to gaslighting. This disorder makes it hard for a person to manage their emotions and interact with others in a healthy manner. If a person with BPD is abusive, they are particularly likely to use gaslighting as a tool. Gaslighting is common because it can be a way of deflecting from inappropriate behavior and mood swings. People with BPD may try to force those around them to accept their own version of reality instead of accepting the truth.
Another common personality disorder that can lead to gaslighting is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). This disorder causes a person to have an exaggerated sense of self importance and a lack of empathy for others. Due to their desires for self-promotion and attention, many people with NPD may try to gaslight others as a method of control. They may want to feel more important and powerful, and causing others to doubt themselves can be very appealing to someone with NPD.
How to Tell if You’re Being Gaslit
Many people who are gaslit do not even realize they are encountering this form of abuse. Since gaslighting makes it hard for you to recognize your own self worth and trust your perception of things, it is very easy to ignore the problem. However, it is essential to be able to recognize gaslighting behavior. This can help you seek appropriate care and break the cycle of abuse.
- You constantly feel like you are being oversensitive and overdramatic.
- Your relationship makes you second-guess your ability to care for yourself or others.
- After conversations with the person, you feel confused or even crazy.
- You spend a lot of time apologizing even when there is no need to apologize.
- Even if you have proof of a lie, the other person insists their lie is still the truth.
- Your relationship makes you feel unhappy and stressed for a reason you cannot put your finger on.
- It seems like everything you do is wrong.
- You no longer recognize the person you used to be and do not enjoy things you used to like.
- In conflicts and unpleasant situations, you always feel at fault.
- Your relationship is isolating you from friends or family members.
What to Do If You Suspect You Are Being Gaslighted
Recognizing you are a victim of gaslighting is just the first step. Once you realize your relationship has these problems, there are a few strategies available. First of all, it can be helpful to just gather proof of the gaslighting. Since so much of gaslighting involves making you doubt yourself, the reassurance can be very comforting. Some people may keep records of conversations or find a trusted friend who can confirm memories for them.
Next, it is a good idea to speak to a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist. This type of trained counselor can assist you with recovering from the gaslighting. In some situations, it may be possible to recover alongside your partner. Some gaslighters may be unconscious of this problematic behavior and might not be malicious. If they are willing to work with a doctor and control their gaslighting, your relationship may recover.
However, in many situations, the gaslighter is too caught up in their negative behavior to change. It is never healthy to stay with someone who keeps gaslighting and will not change. No matter how much you care for them, it might be necessary to take some time apart. Healing from gaslighting can take a lot of time and work. Though it can be challenging to gradually recover from the abuse and restore your self confidence, the end result is definitely worth it. When you are free from a gaslighting relationship, you have the ability to live a happier, healthier life.
At Granite Recovery Centers, we provide time for you to focus on your own mental and physical health. At our peaceful, New England recovery facilities, you get a customized treatment plan. Whether you are dealing with mental health problems or substance abuse issues, our team is here to help. Contact us now to learn more about our services.