Are you being gaslighted? What are the warning signs to look for:
Do you feel lost and unable to make judgments? You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself? Compared to how you are now, you once seemed more confident, fun-loving, and relaxed. You are constantly apologizing for no apparent mistake of yours. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
Then chances are that you could be a victim of "gaslighting”. In that case, someone in your life might be manipulating your mind in order to gain power over you by distorting your reality and forcing you to question your own judgment and intuition. Consequently, you suffer from shattered self-esteem. And this enables them to control and condition you to be dependent on them. Take the example of Nia. Nia is a confident, friendly bubbly girl, but her boyfriend Sam is insecure of their relationship. When Nia steps out, she doesn’t mind smiling and helping others out. Her friendly gestures make Nia popular making Sam further insecure. To keep Nia under control. Sam constantly criticizes Nia's way of dealing with people and accuses her of being flirtatious. At first, she laughs off her boyfriend’s complaints. Hey! I’m friendly. I have always been like this. He was just asking for direction. I don’t know what’s a big deal about it.
But once the relentless criticism continued for weeks and months. She started doubting herself. “Am I really doing it? Are people reeling and laughing at me because I am a fun-loving, easy-going person?” Oh, my partner feels terrible!
Are my actions flirtatious? How can I do this to him? He loves me. I should not talk to other people. I might be rubbing my boyfriend’s nose - what a terrible way to treat the man who loves you! I should better do what he wants me to do. But I don’t know how to behave now. It’s not me. Eventually, when Nia walks down the street, she can’t decide how to behave. She wants to give her warm and friendly approach to the world—but now, she is also worried about what Sam would think.
What is Gaslighting?
"Gaslighting—a type of psychological abuse aimed at making victims seem or feel “crazy,” creating a “surreal” interpersonal environment"-The Sociology of Gaslighting, by Paige L. Sweet.
A form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in your mind. By doing so, they feed false information into your mind that makes you question your own reality, perception, sense of self, beliefs, capabilities, and your relationships. You even start doubting your memory and sanity. You begin to question yourself: “Am I wrong?” “Can I even do this?” “Is my family a well-wisher?” Over time the manipulation becomes so intricate that you completely fail to see what is really going on, making you feel less confident and less valuable.
No matter what area of your life you are in, gaslighting can take place anywhere: your personal life, professional life, anyplace. You see, politicians and cult leaders use this technique to brainwash people regularly. However, gaslighting in a close relationship has a detrimental impact on your well-being, which results in toxicity, anxiety, isolation, confusion, and depression.
Origin of the word Gaslighting:
The term gaslighting comes from the movie Gaslight, which was an adaptation of the 1938 play Angel Street. In this movie, a felonious husband tries to steal her wife’s wealth. To achieve his goal, he manipulates his wife to convince her that she is going insane. When she points out that the light in her house is dimming, he rebuffs her claim and accuses her of imagining it. He makes her question her own reality, memory and judgment. She gradually begins to doubt her own memories, perceptions, and starts moving towards insanity by believing what she is witnessing is incorrect.
Merriam-Webster has just chosen "gaslighting" as its word of the year 2022.
Gaslighting in a personal relationship:
The first signs of gaslighting go unnoticed. Since it’s done tactfully, you won’t even know that you have been manipulated. You would fail to recognize the subtle and covert types of control and emotional abuse you undergo on a daily basis.
You would be constantly brainwashed with lies, omissions, and negations that you would start believing in what they tell you. Especially when it comes from your romantic partner. Your need for love and attention from them overpowers your sense of judgment. As your need grows for their attention, approval and love, you refuse to doubt their intention instead starting to doubt your own.
You stay stuck. While they showered you with occasional love to keep you hooked, and they retain the sense of power and bolster their own sense of self by crushing yours. They exert power and try to gain control over you, anyhow.
Gaslighting in the workplace:
A person might use gaslighting as a tactic in the professional context to avoid admitting their mistakes or to take credit unfairly for a well-done job.
Mia, a smart, intelligent professional, feels that something is wrong but couldn’t figure out what. She sees her boss is undermining her credibility, hindering her projects, but she couldn’t believe that her boss is actually gaslighting her. Her boss insists that he really cares about her and that any concerns she has are because she’s paranoid. Since her career is at stake, Mia starts to doubt her own perceptions and adapt to her boss' ways.
Amy feels that her boss touched her inappropriately, but when she raised this issue, people in her organization made her feel that she is overreacting, remembering wrong, or misinterpreting. Such a situation is also known as “whistle-blower gaslighting.”
How to know if you are Gaslighted:
When someone gaslights you, you become anxious and confused. You start losing sense of what is actually happening, what is right and what is wrong. You doubt yourself and start believing everything the other person is saying. Although, it makes you wonder why what they say doesn't fit with what you believe and feel, but you start blaming yourself for all that is going wrong. These are some of the ways they manipulate you:
By sowing doubt in your mind about yourself or people close to you. Making you doubt your own perceptions, memory or sense or realty.
Using love or favors as coercive tools.
Painting a wrong picture in your mind that you start believing in
Using your own ideals against you
Invoke your other troubled relationships
1. You are being separated from your friends and family who might recognize your gaslighting abuse symptoms.
2. They minimize their hurtful behaviors or words by saying something like, “It was just a joke” or “You’re way too sensitive”
3. Twisting a story to minimize their abusive behavior
4. Insisting that an event or behavior you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong
How Gaslighting impacts your wellbeing:
Gaslighting slowly starts seeping deep into your mind. Making you question your self-worth. And you start losing trust in yourself and your capabilities. Capitulating you to succumb to mental health issues.
In the book ‘The Gaslight Effect’, the prominent therapist Dr. Robin Stern shows how the Gaslight Effect works. She says that “Gaslighting tends to work in stages. At first, it may be relatively minor— indeed, you may not even notice it. Eventually, though, gaslighting becomes a bigger part of your life, preoccupying your thoughts and overwhelming your feelings. Finally, you’re mired in full-scale depression, hopeless and joyless, unable even to remember the person you once were, with your own point of view and your own sense of self.” [
She further breaks down gaslighting in three different stages:
Disbelief: At this initial stage, you are in a state of shock. You think that you have been misunderstood, or they were joking. You feel confused, frustrated, and anxious.
Defense: At this stage, you try to defend yourself and look for evidence to prove the gas lighter was wrong. Also, desperately trying to win their approval.
Depression: At this stage you are exhausted and gave up on what you believe instead you believe that your gas lighter is right, and you should do things how they want to get their approval.
What to do if someone is gaslighting you:
When you feel any sort of manipulation in your relationship where the person tries to create doubt in your mind, then instead of blindly believing what they tell you, question it with reasoning.
Don't let anyone shatter your self-esteem
Create healthy boundaries
Avoid indulging in people pleasing acts
Remember, it's not your fault. Their actions are not your responsibility.
Try to reason and see clearly what you have been told.
Show compassion to your self
Persistent exposure to gaslighting leads to chronic stress and severe emotional distress that can ruin your mental health. So, if you think you're being gaslighted, take the necessary steps. You should discuss your concerns with someone impartial, such as a friend or counselor.
Let us know your experience by leaving comment below. Share with people who need to know about gaslighting.
Top posts straight to your inbox. Get Must Reads by signing up. Like this column? Sign up and you'll never miss a post.