Blog Short #158: The Dangers of Gaslighting
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Gaslighting is, at best, upsetting and, at worst, damaging if you’re on the receiving end of it often or regularly. Under those circumstances, you can feel like you’re losing your mind because you can’t get a grip on reality.
Today, I’m taking you through the processes and tools a gaslighter uses, as well as the effects and some strategies you can use to deal with it.
We’ll begin with a definition.
What is Gaslighting?
It’s a type of emotional abuse that makes you question the validity of your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories. Gaslighting challenges your sense of reality, leaving you confused and unsure of yourself. You might feel a bit crazy and frequently second-guess yourself.
In short, gaslighting is a tool used by someone who seeks to gain power and control.
It’s a type of manipulation, but it’s more insidious and damaging to its victims than mild manipulation. We’re all guilty of manipulation occasionally, but the gaslighter aims to consistently erode your confidence, sense of self, and relationships with others. It’s disorienting, isolating, and creates dependency.
The Gaslighter’s Methods
Lying is the primary tool used by someone who gaslights. Sometimes, it shows up as denial.
“I never said that. You make things up in your head!”
Or they might counterattack when you catch them in a lie.
“Why would I do that? Are you nuts? You always look for the worst in me.”
Even though you remember what transpired, their denial is so vehement that you question what you know and shy away from confrontation. They rewrite history, and in their version, they’re always the good guy.
They embellish, distort, and create alternative narratives that make your head swim.
Gaslighters use projection to shift blame for their infractions to avoid the consequences of their behavior.
Let’s say you’re distressed because they didn’t show up for an important appointment you scheduled at their request. They respond by twisting the facts so that you’re to blame. You didn’t remind them, or they told you they couldn’t come on that day, but you forgot.
Gaslighters are great at twisting facts into narratives where they’re the victim. Sometimes, the blame is blatant:
“If you didn’t treat me this way, I wouldn’t get so angry! You’re the reason I have a temper.”
The gaslighter plays down your feelings as exaggerated or misplaced.
“You’re being too sensitive.” Or “It’s not a big deal. Why do you always blow things out of proportion?”
They belittle and chastise you for not attending to their feelings, which are always more important than yours.
Gaslighters are pros at distracting away from issues to avoid dealing with them. You ask about something they did, and they change the subject abruptly, often by engaging you in an argument or sometimes the opposite – being overly sweet and concerned. Both approaches catch you off guard and shift your attention away from the subject.
This one’s less direct but can be very damaging.
While acting abusively to you in private, in public, gaslighters present themselves with charm and wit.
Behind your back, they talk about your problems:
You seem distraught lately, confused, unable to make decisions, depressed, and overly anxious. You’re having mental health problems and seem unable to function well.
They may go so far as to enlist others, like family members, to assist in validating the lies they’re telling.
You may feel confused, depressed, and anxious and have difficulty making decisions, but it’s because of the chronic emotional twisting you’re experiencing from chronic gaslighting.
Gaslighting occurs most often in close, intimate relationships. Romantic relationships are prominent arenas, but also close friends, family members, and even co-workers. Unfortunately, gaslighting is often a tool used in cases of child abuse.
Serial gaslighters often have Narcissistic, Borderline, or Sociopathic Personality Disorders.
Effects on the Victim
The effects are varied from person to person, but the following list covers the most prominent effects.
- Doubting the validity of your feelings and perceptions
- Questioning your judgment and view of what’s real
- Feeling confused, isolated, and powerless
- Lacking confidence and trust in yourself
- Thinking you’re overly sensitive and reactive
- Feeling inadequate
- Apologizing often and profusely
- Worrying that others are disappointed in you
- Feeling mentally ill and pondering what’s wrong with you
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Experiencing increased mood disturbances and anxiety
Chronic gaslighting creates trauma that assaults your very sense of self and confidence.
How to Handle It
Let’s start with two strategies that counteract the gaslighter’s intent to confuse and isolate you.
1. Question their motivation.
When you think of all the behaviors we’ve just described that characterize gaslighting, the obvious question is, “What motivates them?”
If you ask yourself this question for each incident, you’ll always come up with the same answer: The gaslighter is seeking to hide from their negative behavior, self-image, or inadequacy, and the method used is to make you question yourself.
The gaslighter’s deceptive behavior is never motivated by concern for you. There’s no love, consideration, or caring behind it. They seek to hide, control, isolate, and make you feel dependent upon them.
If you see this, you’ll know that you can’t believe the lies, denials, and twists of reality they dish up because the motivation is to challenge your sanity. The intent is to undermine you and exert control.
2. Stay connected to the outside world.
Successful gaslighting requires that you become isolated. That way, there’s no input except from the gaslighter.
Do the opposite. Stay in touch with other people you trust, who know and love you, respect you, and will support you. These can be family members, friends, and professionals. Input from this circle of people helps validate what you see and know, and counteracts the effects of gaslighting on your perceptual abilities.
If you’re intimately involved with the gaslighter, the effects are more potent, so you need more outside support to counteract that.
3. A third strategy is to “opt out.”
Not all people who gaslight do it chronically or regularly. Any of us might occasionally use it without malintent in order to defend ourselves against something we don’t want to look at or own up to.
In those cases, it’s a defensive maneuver, but if we see we’re harming someone, eventually, our conscience takes over, and we recognize what we’re doing and stop it.
When gaslighting is chronic and used knowingly to deceive and control, you might decide to opt out of the relationship because you see no prospects for permanent change.
When you do that, the gaslighter may change their tune long enough to get you back and then return to their usual behavior.
4. Other strategies you can use are:
- Set boundaries and stick to them. Lay out your expectations and deal-breakers explicitly, and then follow up.
- Keep a journal that documents your experiences, along with texts, emails, or any written information you can use to remind yourself of what happened in various situations so that when your memory is challenged, you can verify your perceptions.
- In work situations, make sure your interactions with the gaslighter are all documented in writing.
- Seek therapy if you can’t sort out what’s happening.
- Keep up with your self-care like sleep, eating well, meditation, exercise, and any relaxation tools or activities you use.
- Also, it’s important to maintain your interests, work, goals, and social contacts. Isolation is your enemy in this circumstance.
Whether or not you find yourself involved with someone who fits the description of a gaslighter, it’s always important to note when someone’s dishonest and distorts reality consistently. A single out-of-character incident is something you can work with, but any chronic display of those behaviors is problematic and something to take note of.
That’s all for today!
As always, I hope you have a great week!
All my best,