What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological or emotional abuse that involves manipulating another person into doubting or disbelieving their own experiences, feelings, perceptions of reality, or even their sanity. It often involves outright lying and denying the individual’s visible known facts and experiences.
Most commonly, it is frequently disagreeing with someone, or refusing to listen to their point of view. Many of us might be guilty of some mild form of gaslighting from time to time – refusing to hear what our partner has to say, even if they’re right! It’s mostly harmless, a form of pettiness – an unwillingness to be proven wrong. However, in more extreme cases, it can be a real form of abuse. When it’s done repeatedly, over a long period of time, it can have the effect of making someone doubt their own ideas about things – or even question their sanity.
What are the signs?
- They shift blame away from themselves and put it onto you
- They put you down one minute and praise you the next
- Their words don’t match their actions
- Compulsively worrying you are interpreting things wrong or being too sensitive
- Thinking everything is your fault
- Feeling confused or uncertain about your memory
- Finding it increasingly more difficult to make decisions
- Saying things to you like “you’re crazy”, “you’re way too sensitive/dramatic”, “You always make a big deal out of nothing”, “you’re remembering wrong/twisting the situation”, “I didn’t say that you heard me wrong”, “why can’t you just let that go?”, “I would never do that to you. Do you really think that little of me?”
What are the effects?
- Can impact you in both the short and long term
- Become increasingly self-critical
- Question yourself and your identity
- Difficulty making or sticking to decisions
- Anxiety over decision-making and in general
- Second-guessing your reality or experiences
- Lack of self-trust and intuition
- Decreased self-confidence and increased self-doubt
- Constantly apologising and people-pleasing
- Feeling like everything you do is wrong and everything is your fault
- Eventually come to believe the person attacking you must be right
Why does gaslighting happen?
Sometimes, the person doesn’t even know they’re doing it. Often, it’s much to do with their insecurities about being wrong, or having less power in a relationship – which can be due to childhood, or previous relationship experiences. In other cases, it may be done deliberately to make you feel less confident and less likely to challenge them.
What can I do?
- The best thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation and distance yourself from the people or person gaslighting you.
- Take a step back from the situation and assess it: do you think that this is what’s happening? It might be useful to talk to family and friends – people who you trust who can give you an objective opinion on things. It can be a good idea to talk to more than one person: that way you can get a few different perspectives.
- The best ways to respond is for example “If you continue invalidating me, I will not continue the conversation”, “I hear you, but that isn’t how I experienced that”, “I am not going to argue with you about what I know I experienced”.
- Talk to someone you trust, a family member or a good friend.