Gaslighting… so what is it?

 In Know the Line

It’s not me, it’s you – Ever heard of the term gaslighting?

I’m sure right now many of you are confused as to why I may be talking about ‘gaslighting’, as last time you checked this wasn’t a campaign about gas ovens or gas lamps. The term ‘gaslighting’ that we’re talking about is a dangerously powerful science and trait that can be seen within abusive relationships.

I only recently came across this term and was instantly fascinated by it, but I was also quite annoyed at myself for not knowing about it sooner when it’s affected and destroyed people’s lives. It had me wondering, “if I’ve only just discovered it, how many other people have never heard of it?”, and after spending my afternoon reading all about it, I understand that it’s too big of an issue to just sweep under the carpet. You may want to shift a few things around in your memory to create space for this one, because it’s too important to forget.

The history of Gaslighting

‘Gaslighting’ has been going on for decades. The term is taken from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play called, of course, ‘Gas Light’ with the meaning “a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception”. In the play, the Husband does multiple things to make his wife question him like flirting with the servants, and random disappearances from the house with no explanation. This causes his wife a lot of anxiety and worry and it becomes clear that his intention is to convince her she is going insane and imagining all of these scenarios – he even assures her that she’s imagining the gas light in the house dimming when really it’s him doing it all along.

Okay, I get that… but what actually is it?

Definition: To manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that slowly alters your perception and eats away your judgements to the point where you believe that it’s you in the wrong and you’re imagining scenarios. A gaslighter will often point the finger at you by calling you ‘paranoid’ or that you’re ‘overreacting’, or even that you’re ‘mentally unstable’ when really you’re absolutely fine. Eventually you’ll begin to believe the labels you are being given which will cause you to doubt yourself enormously.

But how can I tell if someone is a gaslighter?

They say love is blind, and that can be the case when it comes to being in a relationship. But when you take a step back and try using your ears, there are a few traits of a gaslighter you can recognise. They include;

  • Discrediting you – feeding other people lies about you so you come off crazy or unstable to them. This can also make them look like they’re the one suffering in the relationship and gain sympathy from others…they’d never suspect a thing, and probably believe them!
  • Wearing a mask of confidence – Being extremely confident that you ‘have it all wrong’ or that you’re ‘not remembering that right’ to the point where you start to have self-doubt and believe their version of what happened. Chances are you are not the first person they have done this to, so they’ve had plenty of practice.
  • Ignoring your feelings – They may say things like “you’re being too sensitive” or “you’re overreacting, stop being silly”. Remember no one else has a say as to whether something hurts you or not – if you feel it, you feel it.

How can I tell if I’m being gaslighted?

Gaslighting can add to all the other stresses we have going on in our lives and can bring on anxiety and even depression. It is so important that we notice the tell-tale signs to save us from falling into that trap which can feel impossible to be released from. It is crucial that we look out for others, as well as our selves – if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.

  • You find yourself second-guessing every detail of events leaving you feel psychologically powerless
  • You worry about how they portray you to their friends and family
  • You notice yourself not knowing where you stand with someone, they might switch how they treat you
  • You find it hard to trust your own judgement
  • You may have become isolated from friends or family due to them not wanting you to leave them
  • You feel completely dependent on them
  • You feel like you can’t leave their side without them getting upset or angry
  • You feel trapped and worried, like the slightest action you take could anger them
  • You feel threatened and on-edge around them or in public
  • You feel like you’re the worst partner ever and that you’ll never be good enough
  • You begin to feel like there actually could be something wrong with you
  • You feel like an empty shell, like you’ve lost who you once where
  • You’ve become afraid of speaking up or expressing how you feel so you just stay silent
  • You feel like you can’t leave the relationship, even though you want to

If you should ever find yourself in situation where you feel like you are being gaslighted, there are ways in which you can support yourself once you realise it’s not your fault. Gaslighting doesn’t just happen in relationships, it can also happen in the workplace, or within your family. Consider the two main things:

  • Firstly you must realise when, how and who is gaslighting you in order to be able to handle it. If you have any doubts or need clarification, talk to someone who isn’t involved in the situation. Fresh eyes and ears can help massively.
  • Decide whether it’s continuing the relationship or not. It may just be a case of miscommunication, or being lost in translation, but if you’re finding it’s changing your outlook, changing you, and making your life worse, it’s important to get away from that toxic person immediately.

Here are a few stories I came across when researching gaslighting which have been written from the perspective of the victim themselves. If you can identify with any part of these stories, it’s important to seek help straight away and leave the gaslighter that is in your life.

“Gaslighting: The ‘perfect’ romance that became a nightmare”

‘He wasn’t happy until he had me all to himself’

Also, confessions of a gaslighter themselves (written from a self-confessed gaslighter’s perspective):

“Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter”

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