Gaslighting is a term taken from the 1940’s stage play and later film, Gas Light. In the story, the husband convinces his wife, and those around them, that she is insane by changing things in their environment and convincing her that she is mistaken or has misremembered things. One of the things is convincing her that she is wrong when she notices to him that the gaslights in their apartment have been dimming. In reality he is in the flat above looking for jewellery of a woman that he murdered, and his use of the lights up there causes the lights in their flat to dim.
Gaslighting therefore, is a term to describe an abuser’s attempt to control and undermine someone’s perception of reality. It would be classed as emotional abuse.
What gaslighting does then, is to lead victims to second-guess themselves, not trusting their instinct or the facts they KNOW they know.
Gaslighting occurs in all kinds of relationships, I think the most prominent and obvious ones are marital or romantic partnerships, parent and child, and bully and victim. It’s even been used to describe certain politicians who deny facts or their own words when presented with them, and even statements they’ve clearly made via social media or in interview.
An example of gaslighting might be a child remembering an event which doesn’t show the parent in a favourable light. If the parent has pathological narcissistic tendencies, they may outright deny the event, blaming a child’s youth as a reason for misremembering, or even suggest the child is fabricating the entire story for attention.
Another might be a cheating partner caught out by texts, and instead of owning his or her behaviour will turn it back on the other partner, and suggest they are overreacting and oversensitive, or even imagining the whole thing.
Signs within us that we are being gaslighted are:
1. The inability to make decisions
2. Second-guessing what we know to be true about events both past and present.
3. Feeling confused and at the edge of reality.
4. Apologizing for things that we have no need to apologise for.
5. Feeling misunderstood.
6. Referring to the abuser for clarification/understanding/validation of your emotional response.
7. Feeling afraid to express your emotions for fear they will be dismissed/mocked/used against you.
Tactics a Gaslighter might use:
1. Minimising – suggesting you are over sensitive, over reacting, and taking things too seriously.
2. Denial – Acting like things either didn’t happen, or you must have imagined it.
3. Avoidance – By refusing to discuss the subject, moving conversation away from the things you’ve raised until you’re talking about the supermarket shop and not the fact s/he’s cheated on you.
4. Confidence – By brazening out and acting so sure of their truth and opinion that it makes you question yours.
5. Discrediting – Suggesting to others you’re over emotional, irrational, crazy, paranoid, psychotic.
6. Twisting – Again, suggesting you’re over reacting ‘I barely touched you’ when in fact you’re in hospital from the beating. Or that you’ve remembered things wrong; and you’re wrong not them.
So how do we fight back against gas lighting? It seems so flippant and dismissive to say ‘trust what you know’, but that’s what there is. Look for evidence, how do you know you’re right? How do you know you’re wrong even?
Pay attention. Look to see who is making you feel confused etc. It’s so subtle that you may have to look hard for the evidence. You’ll possibly have noticed it well the first couple of times, but have stopped questioning it as it’s worn you down. Talk to someone you trust. Try and disassociate from the gaslighter.
As ever, trust your instinct. If something feels off, it probably is.
(Picture copyright of Liberation Therapy)