Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where a person makes you doubt yourself, question your version or events or even question your sanity. A gaslighter uses emotionally manipulative strategies to gain power over you by controlling your sense of reality. The more anxious and confused you get, the more you doubt yourself and believe the abuser, giving them power.
The term gaslighting originates from the 1944 movie, Gaslight, in which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into believing she is crazy. Gaslighting is often associated with abusive romantic relationships but can also occur in working relationships and friendships too.
Gaslighting is very harmful and can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Here are a few signs to look out for if you think you might be getting gaslighted.
1. You are second-guessing your memory
You are constantly told that what you remember never happened or you have a ‘selective memory.’ You may even be told you are ‘making things up’ to your own benefit or it is ‘all in your head’ so that you wonder if you are going crazy. You begin to question your reality and accept the gaslighters.
2. You are being told you are overreacting or “too sensitive”
Your feelings are dismissed. You are told that what you are concerned about is actually normal and that you are ‘making a big deal out of nothing’. You learn not to trust yourself and have trouble making your own decisions or being assertive about your needs and feelings.
3. It’s always your fault
No matter what issues you raise, the argument gets turned around so you are to blame. The blame game is the gaslighter’s favourite weapon. When you are busy defending yourself, the focus is off them and you forget it was you who had the complaint in the first place. As a result, you find yourself apologising all the time when you are being gaslighted.
4. You make excuses for the abuser
You start keeping certain details about the relationship to yourself and hiding things from the important people in your life. You think the gaslighter’s behaviour would be seen as unacceptable but you are unsure or feel you yourself are to blame and so you are ashamed to expose the dynamics of the relationship to outsiders.
5. They lie and don’t take responsibility
The gaslighter doesn’t admit their flaws, they are quick to blame others, play the victim, make excuses, even deny the accusation all together. Common narcissistic qualities. Since you’re never fully sure if anything they say is true, and they lie so easily, they keep you off-kilter. As a result you start to question what you know to be true, forget that their words and their actions don’t match up, and start to blindly accept the gaslighter’s reality.
6. They blow hot and cold
The gaslighter can be very charming and occasionally acts kindly or generously to confuse you and keep you engaged in the relationship. You may even find yourself feeling guilty that you are second-guessing this individual. Just keep in mind, often the praise you get from them is for something that benefits the gaslighter!
7. They involve others against you
Gaslighters can criticise the people you love, tell you that other people think you are crazy and wrong, tell you that other people are liars and actually tell the people in your life that you are crazy and align them against you. In doing this they cause you to doubt your other relationships, make it difficult for you to get external support and cause you to rely solely on them as a result.
The more you are aware of these warning signs, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into the gaslighter's trap. If you think you are already being gaslighted then be sure to speak out to a friend or family member. Seeking professional support of a psychologist can also help you to regain your self esteem and extract yourself from this toxic relationship.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au In an emergency, call 000.