“You’re crazy, you know that?”

“What is wrong with you?”

“You’re imagining things.”

We’ve all said these things in one form or the other when we’ve lost our cool with our partner, friends, or family. Nothing wrong with letting off some steam, right?

Not at all, unless such things are told repeatedly and systematically to make you feel worthless or convince you that there’s something wrong with you. And sometimes not just through words, but also by maneuvering situations so that you start doubting yourself, your self-esteem takes a hit, and you wonder if you are indeed going insane.

Scary, huh? Well, that’s gaslighting for you. This fancy psychology term has been trending online in 2018 but what it refers to is a form of emotional abuse as old as the hills. The word gaslighting comes from Gas Light, the title of a 1938 play by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. In the play, a villainous husband psychologically manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane, to cover up a murder he has committed.

That is an extreme case, of course, and Bella Manningham from the play does manage to escape his clutches. But all around us are examples of similar emotionally abusive relationships and not every victim is as lucky as Bella.

Understanding Gaslighting Better

Like all forms of abuse, gaslighting is based on a person’s need for control, concealment, or some form of gain. Not surprisingly, it’s commonly practiced by cult leaders, dictators, con artists and even psychopaths to manipulate their followers (or rather, victims) to suit their end

There are some telltale signs that every perpetrator of gaslighting shows, which you can watch out for:

  • They tell blatant lies.
  • They point fingers back at you when you try to fight.
  • They deny having said things they did say.
  • They may appear sweet and kind, but end up making you confused or upset.
  • They use what is dear to you as ammunition against you.
  • They get to you slowly and steadily, over time.

Does All This Sound Familiar?

All of us have been in bad relationships, and we’re better off walking out of them. However, not all bad relationships are examples of gaslighting. Gaslighting involves not just plain old nastiness but a systematic approach with intent to cause you emotional damage.

Let’s look at some examples.

  • You’re wearing a new dress and are just ready to go out. Your BFF takes one look and says it’s hideous. Relax, she’s just performing her duties as your BFF! This isn’t gaslighting—perhaps the dress is hideous.
  • Your partner has been cheating on you. When you confront him, he first lies but then admits to it when you show him the evidence. The guy’s a douchebag, yes, but it’s not gaslighting.
  • You think your partner is having an affair. Every time you bring up the topic, he acts hurt and enraged. And then turns things around and accuses you of cheating. That’s a bad sign. Could be gaslighting.
  • Your reportee is lying to your face about her work and how much time she spends doing it. When you raise the matter, she plays the victim and goes around telling everyone she is being harassed. And continues to slack off and lie. Yes, a clear case of gaslighting. She needs help. So do you.
  • For months, your friend has been making snide remarks about your weight and passing them off as a joke. You tell her it’s not funny anymore, but she laughs and tells you not to be touchy. Yep, gaslighting. She should have stopped as soon as you voiced your discomfort.
  • You’re trying to get your fledgling business off the ground, but your partner misses no opportunity to tell you it’s a bad idea, why you’d never be good at it and how you’ll end up losing all your money. Gaslighting again. Perhaps he feels threatened by your independence?

The Impact Of Gaslighting And How To Fight Back

Some abusive relationships do go on forever, with the victim realizing very, very late that she’s been had. The longer you’ve been a victim, the harder it gets for you to recover from the effects. The first step, of course, is to recognize that you are in one.

The next is to understand what form of emotional abuse your friend/partner is using and why. Counseling often helps you come to grips with what’s happening and restore your sense of reality. Make sure you have a strong, sane support system to help you during this phase. There are several support groups available online as well, such as Codependents Anonymous, where you can find help and comfort.

Do you have a gaslighting experience of your own to share? Use the comment box below—we’d like to hear it. Also, we have put together some pointers here to help you handle gaslighting. 

By Gowri N. Kishore

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