What is gaslighting?
As previously mentioned, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in relationships - however it’s not only prevalent in romantic relationships, but can extend to the workplace and family domain too. Often overt, it’s a form of emotional abuse where the bully makes the target question their judgements and reality. They soon start to question if they’re going crazy.
How has gaslighting changed or developed over the years?
It’s interesting to note that despite it’s recent rise, gaslighting has existed for decades. The term even dates back to 1980 in academic journals about women’s socialisation where it was believed that women were trained to long and hunger for relationships and connection. This kind of social conditioning inevitably led to gaslighting as they were vulnerable to exploitation of their attachment.
The term has since been used to describe toxic relationships and the phrase itself is often used in relationships where there exists a very clear and visible power dynamic. This means that it’s not just confined to romantic relationships, but any relationship - work, sport, friendships, family - where one person is so important to another that they don’t want to risk the chance of upsetting or losing them. When there is unequal power and the target has given the gaslighting power and often respect, then the behaviour flourishes.
What are some gaslighting techniques?
At its core, a fundamental gaslighting technique involves undermining a partner’s emotions and feelings so as to deny their reality. Even if that partner is expressing how they feel rationally, a gaslighter will often prove these invalid by questioning, undermining or simply telling them such perceptions are wrong. By continually disbelieving and undermining someone in this way, the target then starts to believe (or at least imagine) that they might be “making up” these scenarios that don’t exist, even when the reality serves to point that these emotions are valid. It’s particularly problematic as it can lead them to feelings of low self-esteem, lack of self-worth and even the questioning of their sanity.
Common phrases you might hear from a gaslighter include, “You’re so sensitive,” “You know that’s just because you are insecure,”,”stop acting crazy”, “you are just paranoid,” “I was just joking,” and “You are making that up.”
Why do people gaslight?
Through manipulation, gaslighting is a way to control the moment in the relationship, deflect blame or criticism, avoid the need for apology or confrontation, and to ease some anxiety and stop conflict. By tearing down someone else, the gaslighter doesn’t need to address their own faults or admit defeat or wrong-doing.
How do you know if gaslighting is happening to you?
Typically feelings that arise in relationships that might involve gaslighting behaviour include feelings of confusion, questioning why you aren’t happier in the relationship (or in general), frequently making excuses for your partner’s behaviour, knowing something is wrong but you don’t know what, when you have trouble making simple decisions, find yourself always apologising, asking yourself “am I too sensitive?” at multiple times in the day, and wondering if you are good enough or worthy of love. As Vox does well to point out, “While all these symptoms can occur with anxiety disorders, depression or low self-esteem, the difference with gaslighting is the there is another person or group that’s actively engaged in trying to make you second-guess what you know is true. If you don’t typically experience these feelings with other people but do with one particular individual, then you might be a victim of gaslighting.”
What do you do if you’re getting gaslighted?
Though it can be a terribly tricky situation to pull yourself out of, by developing greater emotional awareness and self-regulation you can spot gaslighting behaviour and stop it - or at least walk away from it. By knowing how to identify the behaviour, those who are being gaslighted come to acknowledge that they don’t need anyone else to validate their reality and are instead confident in defining their own reality. But as many sources and experts will admit, those who have been gaslighted are victims of abuse, and need to manage the mindset and skills through therapy.
It’s helpful to give yourself permission to feel all your feelings to once again learn about your emotions and track your patterns, along with what triggers your feelings as you develop strategies to shift your mood. Rather than getting stuck on right and wrong, focus on feelings and above all, have compassion for yourself.