Understanding Gaslighting

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Health Assured team

05 April 2024

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is psychological and emotional abuse in which abusers utilizes manipulation tactics to question the sanity and validity of a victim or victims. Gaslighting is a repeated cycle of manipulative behaviour that makes victims doubt themselves, their conversations, and situations for the abuser to gain power and control.

It’s often associated with abusive romantic relationships, but anyone can experience gaslighting within any relationship, be that friends, family, or colleagues.

Interestingly, the term derived from a 1938 British play called ‘Gas Light,’ where the plot is based around a husband who emotionally and mentally manipulates his wife and convinces her that she is insane.

What is gaslighting someone?

An abuser will use gaslighting tactics to gain power and control, often at the expense of a victim or victims. Through gaslighting tactics, abusers can change and control the narrative, past conversations, and the memory of victims to have control and authority over that person or a situation.

Gaslighting can be a learned experience, so some abusers may have learned gaslighting tactics from their parents or primary care giver during childhood.

What is an example of gaslighting?

10 signs of Gaslighting

1. Blatant lies and denial

People who gaslight might also tell lies to control the narrative and make the victim doubt themselves and their memory.

Denial is also a very common tactic that is similar to lying. Abusers use denial to refuse and reject, further questioning the victim’s reality.

2. Withholding

Abusers who gaslight withhold their knowledge of certain things and deny information to gain control. Abusers may actively pretend they are unaware of a situation or that they do not understand something as a means to confuse the victim. The victim then questions their memory and their idea of reality, making them feel as though they are losing their sanity.

3. Minimizing or trivialising

An abuser minimizes, trivialises, and demeans the victims’ experiences to make them feel as though their feelings and emotions are invalid. This could make the victim feel as though their problems are insignificant and that they are too sensitive, reducing the victims’ self-confidence.

They may use phrases like:

“You’re so thin-skinned”.

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

“Stop taking everything so seriously.”

4. Countering

Abusers use countering to contradict victim’s reliability, reality, and memory of events and conversations. This leaves the victim questioning their memory of reality and can cause them to believe the abuser over their own memory.

5. Deflecting and misdirecting

Abusers deflect situations or conversations to change the focus to suit their needs. Deflection helps the abuser avoid criticism and responsibility from true events or conversations, further invalidating victim’s experiences.

6. Stereotypes

Abusers may use negative stereotypes against the victim. In a 2019 article, researchers suggest that abusers might discriminate against someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to manipulate and control a situation or conversation. For instance, an abuser may suggest that a women won’t get a job because of their gender.

7. Erosion and Doubt

An abuser will slowly destroy and erode the confidence and sanity of the victim. This can be particularly harmful to the victims as it destroys self-confidence and intensifies doubting their own mental health and memory.

Abusers may use phrases such as:

“It’s all in your head”

“That never happened”

“I’m sorry you think I hurt you”

8. Proxy

Abusers may recruit others to validate their false claims and strengthening doubt in the victim’s mind. This can be particularly harmful to the victim as it encourages isolation and loneliness.

9. You can feel isolated from loved ones

Gaslighting will prevent you from sharing your experiences. This can happen through isolation from people that may want to interrupt what is occurring in a situation.

10. Lies are often told to you

Caring for someone in a relationship can make you look small lies. Advocate for yourself when you recognize you are being lied to.

Effects on victims

There are many emotional and psychological effects that harm victims of gaslighting. They can feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves and others after repeated gaslighting attempts.

Abusers who use gaslighting tactics will force the victim to question their mental stability and recollection of events. Often, victims of gaslighting will experience significant poor mental health and emotional wellbeing depending on the severity of the gaslighting.

Abusers may even use other people to validate the gaslighting, increasing the feeling of loneliness and isolation for the victim.

Common effects on victims:

  • Poor mental health
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Low-se-esteem
  • Confusion
  • Inability to trust oneself

How to respond to gaslighting

1. Make sure it’s gaslighting

It’s important to clearly know if someone is gaslighting you or not before you respond. It can be difficult to recognise gaslighting. For that reason, it can be hard to confirm when someone’s behaviour is actually gaslighting or not.

Use the common gaslighting tactics above to help identify whether you are dealing with a manipulator and relate it to your experiences. You could collect evidence of their gaslighting behaviour to further strengthen your understanding of the situation.

2. Speak to a counsellor

Speaking about challenges and problems is extremely beneficial for mental wellbeing and clarity. Many people find it easier to speak to a stranger from fear of judgement, making it easier to open up and be transparent about your struggles.

Counsellors can also offer different perspectives. They may even be able to help someone identify and understand if they are dealing with gaslighting behaviour or not.

3. Collect evidence

Collecting evidence is a great way to keep yourself confident and sure of your own memory, experiences, and conversations.

If you are dealing with an abuser who uses gaslighting tactics or aims to wear down your mental health, collecting evidence can prevent you from believing their manipulation and safeguard your confidence. If you feel confident in yourself, you’re more likely to diminish the abuse and manipulation.

4. Remain confident

Most abusers want to erode the victim’s confidence, especially if they use gaslighting tactics. It’s important to remain confident in your version of events, experiences, and conversations that you have had with the abuser.

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