What is “Gaslighting”?
Gaslighting is an intentional behavior used by an abuser to make his or her victim question their own reality, memories, or experiences.
The term “gaslight” is relatively new term for a dynamic in personal relationships that involve the actions of manipulation and psychological control.
Gaslighting or emotional abuse can be harder to spot than physical or sexual abuse, but the abuse done to the victim is just as valid.
Gaslighting is an intentional behavior used by an abuser to make his or her victim question their own reality, memories, or experiences. The action of gaslighting is also malicious, since the abuser’s goal is to deny their victims reality for their own gain. Over time, this manipulation may cause a victim to find it difficult to see the truth.
Where does the name "Gaslighting" come from?
The term comes from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1944 film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman (who won best actress for her performance at the 17th Academy Awards), which focuses on a husband using manipulation and trickery to convince his own wife that she is mentally unwell so that he can steal from her. Being familiar with this beautifully produced black and white movie is helpful to remember the term. Gaslighting is intentional and the abuser’s intention is to make their victim question their own perception of reality.
It is important to identify a pattern to determine if your partner is gaslighting you.
The abuser will deny any wrongdoing.
Gaslighters are often habitual or pathological liars, perhaps also exhibiting narcissistic tendencies. Even when called out on their lies, possibly with proof of their deception, they will not back down. When confronted, they could use phrases like “You are making things up” or “You are crazy.”
They may lie about what they did or didn't do.
Gaslighters may also engage in rumors or gossip about you in order to isolate you from others. It is in a Gaslighter’s best interest that you do not have anyone to share your experiences with, so that the Gaslighter’s behavior is not found out.
Gaslighters need their victims, they want to gain something from the relationship such as money, sex, status, or affiliation. In some instances, gaslighters behave in certain ways to avoid a loss such as the loss of a job, status, or relationship. If your partner is isolating you from others, it could be because they don’t want others to find out their intentional bad behavior.
Another tactic of Gaslighters is the minimization of your thoughts and feelings. The ability to have a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings is the cornerstone of any relationship.
Trivializing how you feel is never acceptable and when an abuser does this, they gain power over you. The intention behind this is to invalidate your feelings and beliefs so that you may not feel understood, perhaps making you to feel isolated or ashamed.
They may minimize your feelings by saying “I was just joking”, “You can’t take a joke” or “I didn’t think you would cry about it.”
Some more signs of gaslighting are:
You doubt reality and your feelings
You question your judgment
You feel powerless
You are concerned you are too sensitive
Apologize very often
You struggle to make your own decisions and second-guess yourself
The person may twist or retell events to shift the blame onto you
The person may call you “crazy” or insist you are too sensitive
How To Recognize a "Gaslighting" Situation
There are certain instances when behaviors may not be gaslighting. It is important to look for patterns because single instances may not justify someone being a gaslighter.
For example, phrases such as “That’s not what I remember” or “What I said wasn’t so bad” could be taken as gaslighting, but clarification after the fact with an agreeable resolution from both parties would ensure this is not gaslighting.
Context is Key
In instances of an argument someone could be defending their own views or actions and not intentionally attempting to gaslight the other person. People tend to have different perceptions on their histories, needs, and behaviors so it is important to question if the person is explaining their view or gaslighting by denying your experiences or feelings.
It is important to remember that you are not at fault for what you are experiencing. The only person responsible for the action is the gaslighter who has made their choice in behavior, and nothing you did brought on this type of behavior from them.
Gaslighting is not exclusive to romantic relationships, it can occur with family, at a workplace, and even when seeking medical care. It is important to remember that your thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve to be acknowledged.
Don't go it alone. Sharing your emotions with loved ones might help you get over this. Isolation may increase stress, impair attention, and negatively impact your career, your family, relationships, and health. Don't be frightened to ask for assistance.
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