Have you ever been in a situation where someone said certain things to you that made you question your self-worth or even your sanity? Where the power of their words made you doubt your reality and your value as a person, employee, parent, and so on?. This is what “gaslighting” feels like.
WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Gaslighting is a tactical form of emotional and psychological abuse wherein a person uses another person’s emotions as leverage to manipulate them into thinking they are losing their mind or they are not good enough.
Gaslighters target their victim’s self-confidence and deflate it gradually until they are left teetering between reality and confusion. The victim begins to wonder if they are living reality or are wrapped up in an illusion. And to what advantage you may ask? the motive is quite clear, people gaslight to gain power, influence, and control.
The gaslighter tactically implants seeds of doubt in their victim’s mind, until they are able to exert partial or complete control on their actions and behavior. The more confused and disoriented their victim is, the more they are able to manipulate them into doing their bidding. Talk about a redefined and subtle form of emotional blackmail!
And the worst part? Gaslighters appear to be everywhere: parents, colleagues at work, friends, social media users, politicians, celebrities, neighbors and even your spouse whom you hold very dear to your heart. And the insidious part? In many cases, the victim doesn’t even recognize they are being the subject of emotional manipulation.
Gaslighting is not a new trend as it dates back to the 20th century. The term itself was coined from a 1994 movie titled “Gaslight” by Patrick Hamilton. In the movie, a crafty man plots to take over his wife’s inheritance to add to his own by convincing her she was going insane.
He moves and hides household items in their house and when she takes note of it, he convinces her that she lost the items or moved them herself and could not remember. In one of the scenes, he cunningly puts his wristwatch in her purse and convinces her she stole it through pickpocketing.
He drove her to a point of severe confusion that when she sees the gas lights in her room going off, she is convinced by her husband that it is not really happening and she is just losing her mind.
Decades after this phenomenal movie, gaslighting has become a vile trend in the world today. It is now a common theme for all sorts of relationships, personal or not. From workplaces to the cozy corners of our home, to the streets of social media, gaslighting abounds.
THE MANY FACES OF GASLIGHTING
Sexual relationships are where gaslighting tends to rear it’s ugly head the most. It gives a delusion of a picture-perfect relationship while in reality, it is nothing close to being perfect. People in relationships where gaslighting holds sway often deny the reality of the relationship. The gaslighter often begins to manipulate their partner right from the beginning of the romantic rendezvous.
The gaslighter may also spin wheels when they notice their victim is starting to suspect the mind games being played. Instead of attempting to mislead and confuse the victim as always, the perp might paint a picture that makes the victim believe that he or she may be the defaulter and reversedly play the classic victim card.
In the workplace, for instance, people hide behind the manipulative tools of gaslighting to get promotions, undermine the efforts of a colleague who may be equally or more qualified.
Gaslighters also make you believe you are imagining things. They don’t just manipulate your memory, they try to get into your mind in order to keep you in check. They say things like “it’s all in your head” or “you are imagining things” and “stop being so delusional” to mention but a few.
THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF GASLIGHTING
Gaslighting can impair the mental health of a person to a large extent. The feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem and constant confusion between reality and delusion can drive one over the edge. Gaslighting can also affect a person’s relationship with others.
They may isolate themselves from their loved ones thinking that they may be mentally unstable or hard to love. All of these can form the basis for chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. Their constant self-doubt and confusion can induce anxiety.
Feelings of low self-esteem, frustration and despondency can cause depression. The effects of gaslighting can still persist even after the person has left the toxic relationship or environment, hence they are prone to post-traumatic stress disorder.
SAYING NO TO GASLIGHTING
To protect yourself against gaslighting and it’s harmful effects, you need to know when you are being manipulated. It is sometimes difficult to tear yourself away from a gaslighter especially in emotional relationships, however, one can make efforts to talk to someone trustworthy about these situations in order to get an unbiased view.
If you think you are being gaslighted, taking the following steps may help you break free from the abuse.
- Learn to take what you hear with a pinch of salt, especially when it’s targeted towards making you feel bad or confused. Own your memory and your reality. You remember what you remembered, it didn’t happen otherwise.
- Avoid unhealthy conversations, do not indulge in arguments
- Apply the “silence is golden” rule here. Your silence doesn’t mean you accept other’s opinion about yourself, arguments most often empower the perpetrator
- Report any form of abuse to the law
- Talk to a therapist about your fears, worries, and concerns if you suspect you are being gaslighted. A therapist can help you figure out the situation and provide you with all the necessary help you need to recover and break free from abuse.