Lifting the lid on gaslighting
Now more than ever, with an exponential rise in domestic abuse calls, enforced isolation and restrictions in movement due to the global pandemic, awareness and lifting the lid on gaslighting is more important now than it ever has been.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow the seeds of doubt and uncertainty in an individual to gain power or control over them. This makes that individual question their own memory, perception, and sanity. The term is derived from the play Gaslight (1938) which features a husband’s systematic psychological manipulation of his wife, which eventually leads to her questioning her own sanity.
When a person discovers they have been a victim of gaslighting or consider that their ex-partner/spouse/parent/friend/boss may have gaslighting traits and behaviours, it can come as a bit of a shock and add to the already existing feelings of turmoil, doubt and mistrust – who do you believe? The idea of having to enter into conversation or negotiations with that person, whether it be as part of a separation or divorce, relationship issues or matters relating to finances or children, can be an overwhelmingly daunting prospect.
To think that this concept was projected onto our screens over 85 years ago and is still very prevalent in many relationships today (and with little awareness or knowledge) is somewhat alarming.
What are the signs of gaslighting?
Working with clients and through my own experiences, the consequences of being in a gaslighting relationship are demonstrated frequently by the following:
- You do not trust your own judgement, looking to others for answers.
- You cannot make decisions for yourself for fear of getting it wrong.
- You constantly seek the approval of others.
- You doubt your own thoughts and feelings, never quite sure if what you are thinking, or feeling is accurate or appropriate.
- You doubt that your recollection of memories and past experiences are true and accept other people’s opinions as your truth.
- You tie yourself up in knots trying to work out what is true. You spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to replay events from your own perspective and what you are being told by the gaslighter not knowing which is accurate.
- You can feel like you are going mad or ‘losing it’.
- You become afraid of speaking up or expressing emotion, choosing to stay silent for fear of reprisal even when with trusted friends or family.
The first step is to understand that it is their structure of manipulation and to completely know that it is not you; it is them. Often, gaslighters are completely unaware of the consequences of their behaviours. Examples such as:
- Trivialising your thoughts and feelings.
- Making you out to be a liar.
- Causing confusion by twisting and reframing what you have said or done.
- Using what is most precious to you as a weapon against you as a form of control.
- Using their perceived superiority to edit and delete facts about money and events to undermine you or cause doubt.
How to move on from gaslighting
In ideal circumstances, the best option is to completely cut ties with the gaslighter, as communication is a well-trodden path where you have learnt to be accepting of the gaslighter's truth over your own. In many cases, this is nigh impossible, or not until certain practical matters are resolved.
Minimising contact and making sure that conversations are witnessed or documented can go a long way towards the victim realising that they were probably right most of the time. Being able to reliably recall accurate events from chronological notes will firmly demonstrate the manipulative behaviours and put the responsibility back where it belongs; with the person who is attempting to control the situation by gaslighting.
Remember, the gaslighter comes from a place of believing the stories they concoct in their own head, and are often woefully unaware of their behaviours or the consequences of them.
It is also of note that gaslighting is not limited to intimate relationships. It can be found in the workplace, friendships or a parent/child relationship.
After you have succeeded in distancing yourself from the gaslighter, one of the major hurdles to recovering and beginning to be able to trust yourself, your judgement, and others, and being able to move forward in maintaining healthy relationships is the ability to trust one’s own judgement.
The gaslighter has done an amazing job at teaching you, through manipulation, that you are ‘no good’. They make you believe that you are ‘flawed’ or ‘broken’ somehow, that you are not capable of making decisions, are weak and need the ‘gaslighter’ to take care of you and you will be lost without them.
If you believe that you have been affected by this, or other psychological manipulation and would like to get impartial support, help or advice, then please either contact me or one of the many support organisations that are available. These include but are not limited to:
Refuge - for women and children, against domestic violence. Call 0808 2000 247 for free.
Victim Support - call 08 08 16 89 111 for free.