The term “gaslighting” comes from the name of a 1938 play and 1944 film, Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness.
What is Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves, thus impacting their mental health.
Who Are Gaslighters & What Causes This Behaviour
It’s basic and anyone can engage in this kind of behavior. Those who employ this tactic often have a personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy chief among them. Other than that,
- a consistent need for admiration and attention
- a belief that they are better than everyone else or special in some way
- a lack of empathy
Signs of Gaslighting
Lying To You
Unfortunately people who engage in gaslighting are habitual and pathological liars and tend to exhibit narcissistic tendencies. They will plainly lie and stick to it even if you call them out. In response they’d blame you for making things or say something like “it never happened” or “you’re crazy.”
People who gaslight spread rumors and gossip about you to others and in a way turn others against you. They may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or “crazy.” Unfortunately, this tactic can be extremely effective and many people side with the abuser or bully without knowing the full story.
Additionally, someone who engages in gaslighting may lie to you and tell you that other people also think this about you. These people may have never said a bad thing about you, but the person who is gaslighting you will make every attempt to get you to believe they do to make you feel miserable about yourself.
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.”
Minimizing Your Thoughts & Feelings
Trivializing your emotions allows the person who is gaslighting you to gain power over you. That’s the whole idea behind this abusive move. They might make statements like: “Calm down,” “You’re overreacting,” or “Why are you so sensitive?” All of these statements minimize how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking and communicate that you’re wrong.
When you deal with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, you may begin to question them yourself. What’s more, you may never feel validated or understood, which can be extremely isolating, shaming, and difficult to cope with.
Blame-shifting is another common gaslighting tactic. Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that occurred. Even when you try to discuss how the abuser’s behavior makes you feel, they’re able to twist the conversation so that you end up questioning if you are the cause of their bad behavior. For example, they may claim that if only you behaved differently, they would not treat you the way that they do in order to emotionally mess you up!
Denying They Did Anything Wrong
People who engage in bullying and emotional abuse are notorious for denying that they did anything wrong. They do this to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices. This denial can leave the victim of gaslighting feeling unseen, unheard, and as though the impact on them is of no importance. This tactic also makes it very hard for the victim to move on or to heal from the bullying or abusive behaviour.
A gaslighter will always narrate stories that make them look like the hero and you a senseless. You may begin to doubt your memory of what happened. Encouraging confusion or second-guessing on your part is exactly the intention. For eg. if they pushed you, they will tell the story like “he/she stumbled and I helped them balance.”
Using Inauthentic Words As Weapons
Gaslighters will always try to smooth things over by using sweet and kind words when they are quested. They might say something like, “You know how much I love you. I would never hurt you on purpose.”
These words may be what you want to hear, but they are inauthentic, especially if the same behavior is repeated. That said, they may be just enough to convince you to let them off the hook, which allows the person to escape responsibility or consequences for their hurtful behavior.
Changing Your Environment
They might begin to change your surroundings in a range of ways. It might be that some of your valued items are inexplicably damaged, or some of your favourite things disappear altogether. Things may appear to be missing for a while, and then magically reappear where you thought they were all along.
When To Seek Help
Anyone who believes they are experiencing abuse of any kind should seek support. Over time, emotional abuse may escalate into physical violence. Even if the abuse does not become physical, gaslighting and similar behaviors can significantly undermine a person’s self-esteem and mental health.