People who gaslight
What is gaslighting? Examples and how to respond
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves.
The term “gaslighting” comes from the name of a 1938 play and 1944 film, Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness.
In this article, we look at gaslighting, including common examples, signs, and causes. We also discuss how a person can respond to this behavior and how to seek help.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting can happen in a variety of ways. Some examples include:
- Countering: This is when someone questions a person’s memory. They may say things such as, “Are you sure about that? You have a bad memory,” or “I think you are forgetting what really happened. ”
- Withholding: This involves someone pretending they do not understand the conversation, or refusing to listen, to make a person doubt themselves. For example, they might say, “Now you are just confusing me,” or “I do not know what you are talking about.”
- Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards how someone else feels. They may accuse them of being “too sensitive” or overreacting in response to valid and reasonable concerns.
- Denial: Denial involves a person refusing to take responsibility for their actions. They may do this by pretending to forget what happened, saying they did not do it, or blaming their behavior on someone else.
- Diverting: With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion by questioning the other person’s credibility. For example, they might say, “That is just nonsense you read on the internet. It is not real.”
- Stereotyping: An article in the American Sociological Review says that a person may intentionally use negative stereotypes about someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to gaslight them. For example, they may say that no one will believe a woman if she reports abuse.
Gaslighting is a method of gaining control over someone else. It works by breaking down a person’s trust in themselves while increasing how much they trust or depend on the abusive person.
In relationships, gaslighting often begins gradually. The abusive person gains their partner’s trust, sometimes with an initial “honeymoon period” in which there is no abusive behavior. Then the person begins suggesting that their partner is not reliable, that they are forgetful, or that they are mentally unstable.
Over time, this can cause people to question if their partner is right. The more this happens, the more power and influence the abusive person has.
Unable to trust themselves, the person may start to rely heavily on their partner to recall memories or make decisions. They may also feel they cannot leave.
Gaslighting can occur in any type of interaction, but it is especially common in:
In relationships, an abusive person may use gaslighting to isolate their partner, undermine their confidence, and make them easier to control. For example, they might tell someone they are irrational until the person starts to think it must be true.
Abusive parents or caregivers may gaslight children to undermine them. For example, when a child cries, they may say they are “too sensitive” to shame them and make them stop.
According to the CPTSD Foundation, medical gaslighting is when a medical professional dismisses a person’s health concerns as being the product of their imagination. They may tell the person their symptoms are “in their head” or label them a hypochondriac.
According to an article in Politics, Group, and Identities, racial gaslighting is when people apply gaslighting techniques to an entire racial or ethnic group in order to discredit them. For example, a person or institution may say that an activist campaigning for change is irrational or “crazy.”
Political gaslighting occurs when a political group or figure lies or manipulates information to control people, according to an article in the Buffalo Law Review.
For example, the person or political party may downplay things their administration has done, discredit their opponents, imply that critics are mentally unstable, or use controversy to deflect attention away from their mistakes.
Institutional gaslighting occurs within a company, organization, or institution, such as a hospital. For example, they may portray whistleblowers who report problems as irrational or incompetent, or deceive employees about their rights.
People who experience gaslighting can find it difficult to recognize the signs. They may trust the abusive person or believe that they truly do have a poor memory.
However, if a person often feels unsure, second-guesses themselves, or relies on someone else to confirm their memories or help them make simple decisions, this may be due to gaslighting.
Some potential signs that someone is experiencing gaslighting include:
- feeling uncertain of their perceptions
- frequently questioning if they are remembering things correctly
- believing they are irrational or “crazy”
- feeling incompetent, unconfident, or worthless
- constantly apologizing to the abusive person
- defending the abusive person’s behavior to others
- becoming withdrawn or isolated from others
Gaslighting may contribute to anxiety, depression, and psychological trauma, especially if it is part of a wider pattern of abuse.
Learn more about trauma symptoms and treatments.
Gaslighting is a behavior that people learn by watching others. A person who uses this tactic may have learned it is an effective way of obtaining what they want or controlling people. They may feel entitled to have things their way or that the wants and needs of others do not matter.
Sometimes, people with personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) exhibit abusive behavior. A 2020 article states that people with NPD have:
- a consistent need for admiration and attention
- a belief that they are better than everyone else or special in some way
- a lack of empathy
This combination of symptoms can lead to unhealthy relationships. However, gaslighting is not always due to a mental health condition. Anyone can engage in this behavior.
Gaslighting also operates on a broader scale as a feature of systemic oppression. People in power sometimes use it to damage the credibility of a person or group, which disempowers them.
Gaslighting has a significant impact on mental health, so people who experience it need to make sure they look after theirs. There are several ways to protect oneself from this form of abuse.
Gathering evidence of events may help someone prove to themselves that they are not imagining or forgetting things. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests:
- Keeping a secret diary: In a diary or journal, a person can record the date, time, and details of what happened soon after they experience it, and they can refer back to it later.
- Talking to someone trustworthy: Confiding in a friend, family member, or counselor may help someone gain perspective on their situation. The person can also act as a witness to events.
- Taking pictures: Photographs can also help someone “fact check” their memories.
- Keeping voice memos: A device that can record sound can work as a quick way for someone to describe events in their own words.
This type of evidence can also be useful if a person decides to pursue legal action against the abusive person or organization. However, check state laws on recordings before using them in court.
It is vital to make sure any proof that a person gathers of the abusive behavior remains private, particularly if they share a home or workspace with the perpetrator. A person can try:
- regularly erasing their search history
- storing evidence in a hidden or locked place
- keeping devices locked away
- buying a second phone or a cheap voice recorder
- sending copies of records to a trusted friend, as this allows a person to delete their own copies
Safety plans are tools people can use to protect themselves from abuse. Depending on the situation, they may include:
- a list of safe places to go
- escape routes so a person can flee
- emergency contact details
- ideas for self-care to help a person cope
- a plan to safely leave the relationship, home, or situation
Anyone who believes they are experiencing abuse of any kind should seek support. Over time, emotional abuse may escalate into physical violence.
Even if the abuse does not become physical, gaslighting and similar behaviors can significantly undermine a person’s self-esteem and mental health.
Contact a domestic abuse organization for advice and help with creating a safety plan. To address the mental impact of gaslighting, a person may find it helpful to talk confidentially to a therapist who has experience helping people in abusive relationships.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help. Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via:
- phone, at 800-799-7233
- live chat, at thehotline.org
- text, by texting LOVEIS to 22522
Many other resources are available, including helplines, in-person support, and temporary housing. People can find local resources and others classified by demographics, such as support specifically for People of Color, here:
- The Office on Women’s Health
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Gaslighting is not a new phenomenon. People have used gaslighting and other types of psychological abuse for many years. But the term “gaslighting” itself is relatively new.
It comes from the title of a 1938 play and 1944 film, Gaslight. In the story, a husband conceals his search for his wife’s aunt’s missing jewels by making his wife doubt herself. He tells her that the sounds in the attic she hears, and the dimming gas lights around their home, are imaginary.
The term “gaslighting” came to represent the type of manipulation the characters portray in the film.
Gaslighting is a type of abuse that causes someone to doubt their perceptions or sanity. It can take place in any kind of relationship but often involves an imbalance of power.
People who experience gaslighting may feel confused or as though they cannot do anything right. They may question their memories or worry that they have a mental illness. They may also defend the abusive person’s behavior and feel reliant on them.
Finding safe ways to document events, create a safety plan, or leave a relationship are important ways to protect oneself from gaslighting, as well as other forms of emotional abuse. If a person is concerned that their partner is gaslighting them, a domestic abuse organization or mental health professional can help.
What Is It And Why Do People Do It?
People who gaslight play dangerous mind games to gain control over others. Understanding what triggers your gaslighter can be one of the first steps in stopping the gaslighting and taking control of your own life.
Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN
Medical ReviewerJean Kim, MD
(Photo: Unsplash, Michael Browning)
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse wherein a person uses verbal and behavioral tricks to convince another person they are losing their mind or—at the very least—cannot trust their own judgment. Why? To gain control.
“Gaslighters are master manipulators,” says Tampa-based psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, LMHC, author of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People—and Break Free. “They lie or withhold information, pit people against each other, and always place blame elsewhere, all the while gaining control over those they are gaslighting.”
According to the American Psychological Association, the term "once referred to manipulation so extreme as to induce mental illness or to justify commitment of the gaslighted person to a psychiatric institution but is now used more generally."
The term gaslight comes from the play Gas Light, by Patrick Hamilton. The play tells the story of a cunning man who attempts to convince his devoted wife she is going insane. He hides and moves various articles in their home and, when she notices, tells her she either lost the items or moved them herself but can’t remember. The husband’s goal is to secretly increase his own fortune by stealing his wife’s inheritances. When she sees the gas lights in her room fading and is led to believe it’s not really happening, she starts to question her own sanity. ¹
Gaslighters need control and power. In a relationship, they need to be in charge, and they need to be right about everything, routinely imposing their judgments on you. A gaslighter’s tactics—constantly criticizing, blaming, making verbally abusive statements, intimidation, denial of responsibility, minimizing abusive behavior, and proclaiming dissatisfaction with a relationship—may be subtle at first.
You may not sense something is deeply wrong until you find yourself existing in a never-ending state of confusion and self-doubt. Gaslighters are blamers, using lines like, “You made me do it” or “I did it because you wouldn’t listen to me.” They may accuse you of having issues or needs that they actually have, such as suggesting you’re not being honest with yourself. They may find ways to take credit for your accomplishments. When a gaslighter gives a compliment or apology, it is often backhanded: “You look almost as good as you did when I first met you” or “_I’m sorry you feel that wa_y.”
Gaslighting is used to manipulate people because of their race, gender identity, age, mental instability, or physical or emotional vulnerability. ²˒³ It is the same behavior, whether it is used during the torture of political prisoners or to gain control in an intimate relationship, in which case gaslighting has been referred to as a form of “romantic terrorism.” ⁴˒⁵
When a parent tries to turn their child against the other parent or consistently treats one child as a scapegoat, that’s gaslighting. World leaders have been accused of gaslighting their citizens, telling them something is or isn’t true when all evidence clearly points to the opposite. You may have a gaslighter in your family, friend group, or workplace. (That’s the one who convinces the boss that a coworker should be fired from their job.)
The goal is always to weaken resistance, break spirits, appear blameless, and create chaos and confusion in the mind of the "gaslight-tee." Gaslighting isn’t an isolated or occasional event. It’s an insidious and persistent pattern of behavior that keeps you questioning yourself and those around you while slowly eroding your self-esteem and even your identity.
“There are two main reasons why a gaslighter behaves as they do,” Sarkis explains. “It is either a planned effort to gain control and power over another person, or it because someone was raised by a parent or parents who were gaslighters, and they learned these behaviors as a survival mechanism.”
Children learn from a gaslighting parent that they are the golden child who can do no wrong or the scapegoat who is blamed for doing everything wrong, Sarkis adds. That teaches the child a false belief that people operate in absolutes, that people are either all good or all bad, without any gray areas, and so they start to behave towards others as if this is true.
Reasons for Gaslighting
It bears repeating that gaslighting is an unhealthy form of control arising from a need to dominate others.
Certain mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder lend themselves to gaslighting as those illnesses give people a distorted view of themselves and others and a propensity toward manipulating others for their own ends by any means necessary, as well as never acknowledging their own culpability or faults and projecting that onto others.
Persistent gaslighting can be catastrophic for the mental health of the person on the receiving end causing him/her to believe they deserve the abuse. The impact can last long after the gaslighter is out of the victim's life and very often leads to a lifetime of self-doubt and difficulty making decisions.
An example: Gaslighters can often find people who support them under any and all circumstances, and will use those people against you with comments like “I’m not the only one who thinks you’re wrong,” or “Even so-and-so thinks you’re [insert negative trait, such as “a bad parent” or “unreliable”].” These may be lies or exaggerations, but they serve the gaslighter’s purpose: If you start to believe everyone you know is against you, you won’t trust any of them, and you won’t go to any of them for help. That keeps you isolated from family or friends and gives the gaslighter more control over you.
Gaslighting and Mental Health
Gaslighting causes chronic stress and severe emotional distress. The constant barrage of verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults eventually wears away your sense of identity, self-worth, and self-confidence while also eating away at your sanity. You may be more vulnerable to gaslighting if you suffer from any mental health issues that weaken your resistance, such as a history of abuse or trauma, low self-esteem or depression, for example.
Answers provided by Robin Stern, PhD, co-founder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life and Michelle Riba, MD, MS clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
Can gaslighting cause mental illness?
Gaslighting can lead to increased anxiety and depression, says Stern. “Gaslighting may not be the only factor leading to mental illness but the same factors that leave a person vulnerable to gaslighting may result in lower self-esteem, uncertainty about their own reality, anxiety, and ultimately depression,” she says. “Over time, you begin to believe that there is something wrong with you because one of the most important people in your life is telling you this.” Dr. Riba adds that gaslighting can escalate and become chronic. "It can affect a person's functioning in terms of work, school, and socialization," Dr. Riba explains.
What causes a person to gaslight?
People are not born gaslighters. Rather, it is socially learned, Stern says. You may witness gaslighting, be a target of gaslighting, or happen into it, she explains. For some, it then becomes an automatic response to feeling off-balance in an argument, and a way to deflect responsibility, and gain control.
A gaslighter is determined to exert control over someone, Stern says. They engage in and want to win a power struggle, and in gaslighting relationships, the gaslighter seems to have unlimited stamina to undermine the gaslight-tee. They realize that gaslighting is a powerful way to destabilize their partner, Stern explains.
What is an example of gaslighting?
Here is a typical scenario of how gaslighting occurs, Stern explains. A couple may be at odds as soon as they leave the house and walk down the street because the woman likes to say hello and stop and chat with acquaintances, while the man does not. He prefers to ignore those around him and becomes upset when she occasionally engages with others. Then he gets angry and accuses her of looking ridiculous in public because she is ignoring him.
She defends herself, saying she is friendly and wants to greet the people she knows. But he grows angrier and accuses her of both ignoring him and looking like a fool. He repeatedly tells her that she thinks that other people want to engage with her but that really they probably think she has serious problems because she is ignoring the person she is walking with preferring to engage with them instead. At first, she thinks he is just being difficult, but over time, she begins to think: is he right? Do I have mental problems?
In that way, she grows confused and unsure of herself.
How can you be smarter than a gaslighter?
“Standing in your own reality is the surest way to stop and prevent gaslighting,” Stern says. “This is not easy to do and requires the support of others and practice over time.” Practice paying attention to what you think and feel. Notice when the conversation veers away from a back-and-forth discussion to a “blaming you” session. In some situations, you could even be in danger if gaslighting escalates in terms of physical abuse, Riba adds. “If you are feeling emotionally manipulated and threatened, seek help from trusted friends and family, and consider professional treatment from a mental health professional,” she advises.
It is important to examine your relationship with the gaslighter. If you feel like your gaslighter is in power all the time, you may want to consider whether or not you really want to stay or leave the relationship. “If you stay, you need to ask if you can be strong enough to stand in your reality,” Stern says.
How do I talk to a gaslighter?
Talking to a gaslighter means paying close attention to where the conversation pivots. Stern says. If a power struggle ensues, tell the gaslighter that since the two of you are just going back and forth in the same conversation, that you want to stop the conversation. Explain that you can talk more when the conversation is not so heated. Or just say that you are not willing to discuss a particular subject any longer, and that the two of you are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Stern advises.
What are gaslighting tactics?
“The person with the power—the gaslighter—will wear you down over time with his insistence and certainty about his reality,” Stern explains. Gradually, the effect of this gaslighting is to undermine your sense of yourself and destroy your ability to trust your perception of yourself and the world around you.
“When you are the gaslight-tee, it is as if you are listening to an old-fashioned radio and you can only turn the dial to one station,” Stern adds. “You begin to believe the gaslighter. You can’t turn the knob on the radio to any other station.” But, she says, when you recognize the gaslighting and get the support you need, you can take steps to stop the gaslighting. “You can begin to listen to those other channels, including your own.”
If you suspect you are being gaslighted, here’s some advice:
Pay attention to what the person does, not what they say. Gaslighters say one thing, but their actions say another.
Don’t listen to someone who constantly tells you “you’re crazy” or makes similar comments that make you routinely question yourself.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that others, especially your family and/or friends, agree with them and not you. Gaslighters will often use those closest to you as ammunition.
Remember that it’s not you; the gaslighter is 100% responsible for their behavior.
Present incontrovertible evidence and be direct with the gaslighter when they try to deny or evade the truth, as long as you are in a position of safety when doing so.
“Gaslighters do not respect boundaries, and they tend to lash out when you try to enforce them,” Sarkis warns. “Staying in a relationship where there is emotional abuse like gaslighting makes it more likely you will also be the victim of life-threatening or deadly physical abuse, and that’s one big reason why it’s so important to establish distance.”
NOTE: If you are concerned for your safety, contact your local domestic violence shelter or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7333.
- Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslighting. The Lancet Psychiatry. February 1, 2018; 5(2): 117-118. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30024-5/fulltext. Accessed June 17, 2019.
- Davis AM, Ernst R. Racial gaslighting. Politics, Groups, and Identities. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21565503.2017.1403934. Accessed June 17, 2019.
- Wozolek B. Gaslighting queerness: schooling as a place of violent assemblages. Journal of LGBT Youth. 2018; 115 (4). Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19361653.2018.1484839. Accessed June 17, 2019.
- Gaslighting betrayal and the boogeyman: Personal reflections on the American Psychological Association, PENS and the involvement of psychologist in torture. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. June 2017; 14 (2): 125-1332. Available at: https://www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aps.1520. Accessed June 17, 2019.
- Hayes S, Jeffries S. Romantic Terrorism: An Auto-Ethnography of Domestic Violence, Victimization and Survival. (Macmillan, 2015) Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137468482. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Notes: This article was originally published October 14, 2021 and most recently updated November 2, 2021.
What is gaslighting: signs and methods of struggle
Typical phrases of gaslighters: “I didn’t say that”, “You are confusing something”, “It's just a joke”, “You are too sensitive”. If you often hear this in your address, we advise you to beware. Gaslighting can take on many different dimensions, and most importantly, it is much more common than it seems.
- What is gaslighting
- Signs of gaslighting
- Gaslighting Tactics
- Gaslighting Examples
- The dangers of gaslighting
- How to deal with gaslighting
- Comments of psychologists
What is gaslighting
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Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the manipulator denies what happened, trying to make the victim doubt their own memories and change their perception of reality.
Gaslighter systematically devalues the words, experiences, deeds and successes of another person . In the end, his victim begins to feel helpless and insecure. A person is increasingly thinking about his emotional stability and adequacy, while a gaslighter gets almost complete control in a relationship . Such manipulation tactics are found everywhere - in a couple, in a family, at work, in a circle of friends. However, gaslighting may or may not be intentional.
The term began to be used in the middle of the 20th century. It owes its appearance to George Cukor's 1944 film Gaslight. According to the plot, the insidious husband manipulates the mind of a young wife, forcing her to consider herself mentally ill. First, he convinces his beloved that she has no talent for singing, persuades her to leave her career and return to her hometown. And then he begins to arrange strange incidents, convincing the girl that nothing unusual is happening around. As it turns out, the hero does all this in order to take possession of the inheritance of his wife.
Still from the film "Gaslight"
Signs of gaslighting
Gaslighting can be calculated by a number of characteristic signs. To do this, you need, first of all, to carefully listen to your own feelings. Here is a list of "symptoms" that may indicate that you are in a relationship with a manipulator:
- you think you are doing everything wrong;
- you push your desires into the background;
- you feel anxious and insecure about yourself;
- you always blame yourself if something goes wrong;
- you have difficulty making even simple decisions;
- you suspect yourself of excessive sensitivity;
- you stopped enjoying your favorite activities;
- you think that you used to be more confident and cheerful;
- you often apologize to your partner, parents, colleagues.
As a rule, psychological abuse occurs gradually and imperceptibly. A person being gaslighted usually goes through three stages. They are not always consistent and may overlap.
At this stage, the first signs of gaslighting appear. The victim notices unusual changes in the behavior of the gaslighter, but does not attach much importance to this. For example, he may say something offensive to you or deny previous actions. You are surprised by this, but still confident in your point of view.
A person begins to doubt himself and his perception of reality. He is increasingly criticized by the manipulator and feels frazzled, but continues to defend himself. You argue frantically with the gaslighter and are constantly looking for evidence to convince him of your case and win his approval.
The victim does not have the strength to fight and argue - she loses her "I". The person begins to believe the words of the gaslighter and agrees with all the accusations in order to gain his favor. He feels helpless, overwhelmed, disorganized. In the third stage, clinical depression and anxiety disorders may develop.
© Soulful Pizza/Pexels
The gaslighter uses a variety of tactics to mislead the victim and influence their perception of reality. It's about methodical brainwashing. As a result, after some time, the victim becomes emotionally dependent on the aggressor - his mood, opinion, behavior.
Here are six of the most common gaslighting strategies. Observe yourself and those close to you. You may be able to recognize yourself or someone you know as the victim or manipulator.
1. Denying the facts
Gaslighters love to rewrite history. To make a person doubt their own memory, they distort the facts and change the details of events. The manipulator may categorically deny having said or done anything, even if the evidence suggests otherwise.
Instead, he will accuse the victim of lying: “Why are you composing? This has never happened!” Gaslighters can be so convincing that people really start to believe their version of events. The situation is aggravated if a distracted and forgetful person becomes a victim.
2. Bad jokes
The gaslighter is usually someone from a close circle. These are the people who have the greatest influence on us. They know about our vulnerabilities, weaknesses and experiences, which means that if they wish, they can easily use this knowledge to their detriment.
For example, gaslighters often make caustic and rude jokes about the victim, make inappropriate remarks, or give offensive nicknames. All this is disguised as friendly banter, when in fact the task of the manipulator is to hurt and humiliate.
3. Devaluation of emotions
Gaslighters often discount and ignore other people's feelings. If you are offended by his joke, be prepared to hear: “You are too sensitive! Don't make an elephant out of a fly." If you say that you feel bad, he will answer: “You thought of everything, it seems to you. Better do something useful."
The manipulator shifts the focus to his own experiences and needs, ignoring the state of mind of the victim. Over time, a person begins to believe that all his emotions and reactions are wrong, and ceases to trust his feelings. As a result, the gaslighter gains even more power.
4. Emphasizing the inadequacy of perception
From time to time, each person needs to "check the clock" with other people. We are looking for evidence of the accuracy of our perception of reality and the adequacy of statements. The gaslighter, on the contrary, tries to convince the victim that her reaction to the events that are taking place is abnormal.
He can say: "You've been very strange lately", "You're reacting inappropriately", "Are you sure everything is all right?", "You clearly need help." All this leads to the appearance of doubt, guilt and helplessness in the victim. This is exactly the effect that the manipulator achieves.
5. Shifting Responsibility
Under no circumstances will the Gaslighter admit to being manipulated. Instead, he will look for the guilty around him and will always come up with an explanation for his actions - he was provoked, forced or framed. A typical example of a reaction is: “I didn't mean anything bad. You took me out."
With this method of psychological abuse, the manipulator often projects his shortcomings onto others. He blames the victim for the behavior that is characteristic of himself. As a result, a person begins to make excuses and switches attention from the gaslighter to himself.
6. Aggression and Hostility
Gaslighter is always on the offensive. His favorite form of defense is attack. For example, if you suspect such a person of treason, he will accuse you of pathological jealousy, low self-esteem and self-doubt. And if you show him evidence, he will become aggressive.
In addition, the gaslighter tends to belittle the successes and achievements of his victim. Marker phrases: “At your age, I knew how to do this for a long time”, “Nothing special”, “Everyone can do it”, “And you try to do it faster / better”. His job is to make the victim feel inferior.
© Jure Siric/Pexels
Gaslighters are not always easy to identify: they don't bruise and often masquerade as harmless humor, constructive criticism, or concern. It is easiest to understand this phenomenon with specific examples.
Example: a woman is sure that her husband is cheating on her. She notices long hair on his shirt, lipstick marks on his neck. The man is increasingly late at work and does not pick up the phone. At the same time, to her suspicions, he says: “You are paranoid! Instead of feeding me dinner, you ask stupid questions. See a psychologist and don't distract me from work!"
Bottom line: after some time, the woman loses the ability to accurately assess what is happening. She begins to doubt her conclusions, blames herself for being too suspicious, and finally apologizes to her husband for baseless accusations.
Gaslighting for children
Example: a boy gets an A in chemistry, a subject that is very difficult for him. After school, he hurries home to please his parents. He proudly shows the diary to his father, and in response he hears: “So what? What are you so happy about? Also a great achievement for me! At your age, I generally had only fives. And you're not trying hard enough."
Bottom line: according to the father, this is how he stimulates his son's interest in learning and motivates him to strive for high results. In fact, the child ceases to trust his own emotions, becomes convinced of his insolvency and grows up insecure.
Gaslighting with a friend
Example: One friend regularly criticizes another about her appearance, hobbies, interests, and tastes. “I’m only telling you all this because I love you,” the girl explains. In addition, she likes to make sharp jokes about her friend and tell her about what they say about her behind her back. Most often, these are offensive things. But sometimes you can hear a compliment from her.
Outcome: The girl's self-esteem drops, but she continues to communicate with a toxic friend, because she gives the appearance of caring. In addition, the gaslighter wants to isolate the insecure girl from other people in order to gain more control over her. And her rare compliments are a way to confuse and keep on the hook.
Gaslighting in the workplace
Example: A new employee receives an assignment from a supervisor. He writes down everything that needs to be done and gets to work. When the assignment is completed, the boss reprimands the subordinate in front of everyone. He claims to have asked for something else. The employee shows the notes, but the manager replies indignantly: “Are you kidding me? How could I give you such an order! Are you all right?"
Bottom line: after a few remarks, the worker begins to believe that he misunderstands the words of the management. He gets confused, feels insecure in meetings, feels guilty, and is constantly under stress. As a result, its performance drops .
© Joanne Adela/Pexels
In addition, experts distinguish the following types of manipulation.
- Self-gaslighting: when a person denies and devalues their own feelings (“I always exaggerate everything”, “It’s a shame to be upset about this”, “I am too sensitive”).
- Physician gaslighting: when a physician ignores a patient's complaints, mistakenly believing that their symptoms are the result of a psychosomatic disorder.
- Racial gaslighting: when gaslighting methods are applied to a person because of their race or ethnicity.
- Political gaslighting: when politicians refer to the mental instability of opponents, distort facts or hide information in order to gain control over people.
Why gaslighting is dangerous
A person who has been a victim of gaslighting ceases to trust his feelings. Over time, due to the actions of the manipulator, he may seriously begin to think that he is suffering from a mental disorder. In addition, systematic gaslighting often leads to real psychological and emotional problems. Among them - increased anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, the formation of codependency. All this makes it difficult for the victim to get out of the influence of the manipulator.
“Victims of gaslighting usually have very low self-esteem. It is difficult to have a good opinion of yourself when you are constantly being proved that this was not or cannot be felt, what you feel is all “nonsense” and “fiction”. Immediately you begin to feel somehow different, ”explains Anastasia Afanasyeva, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, specialist in the Alter psychologist selection service.
Another important point: emotional abuse often develops into assault. So, if a person experienced gaslighting at the beginning of a relationship, they are more likely to experience physical abuse in the future.
Some experts suggest that gaslighting can cause schizophrenia. “Psychosis can potentially happen, but gaslighting is unlikely to be the main trigger for this. Most likely, the person already had a genetic predisposition. But to stop understanding and distinguishing your emotions, to lose confidence in your own memory, to start devaluing what is happening to you - these are the direct consequences of gaslighting, ”adds Anastasia Afanasyeva.
A vivid example of the devastating effect of gaslighting on a person is the Zersetzung technique. Its name can be translated from German as "biodegradation" or "decomposition". In the 1970s and 1980s, this method was actively used by members of the GDR secret services to fight the “internal enemy”.
They broke into dissidents' houses and made minor changes to the interior: they hung towels, rearranged papers, opened windows, changed dishes, or poured a different kind of tea into the kettle. At night, people were disturbed by strange calls, their cars were moved to other places, and passers-by on the streets often called them by other names.
Everything was done to undermine a person's belief in his own adequacy. Demoralized victims withdrew into themselves, stopped leaving the house, slowly went crazy. As a result, they not only stopped political activity, but sometimes took their own lives.
How to deal with gaslighting
Psychological pressure can last for years before the victim realizes what is happening. At the same time, relationships with a gaslighter are most often characterized as dependent or codependent, which means that it is especially difficult to get out of them. Here are some helpful tips to help you resist manipulative techniques.
Trust your feelings
Listen to your feelings more often. If you're upset, then you are. Nobody has to convince you otherwise. Remember that you know yourself much better than anyone else, and your judgment of yourself is much more accurate than the opinion of a gaslighter. During disputes, do not try to convince the manipulator - it is pointless. Be firm: stick to your own version of events and facts. This way you can deal with uncertainty even if the gaslighter builds up the pressure. The main thing when communicating with him is a confident tone and a decisive attitude. But you can’t show the aggressor doubts and fears.
“In order to avoid gaslighting, it is important to be aware of your physical and emotional boundaries. That is, you need to understand what is personally acceptable to you and what is not. If a person is well versed in his emotions, knows what his life values are and what he aspires to, then it will be extremely difficult to devalue his words and question his perception of reality, ”explains Anastasia Afanasyeva.
Enlist the support of friends
Ask people you trust to look at the situation from the outside. Do you really have the problems that the gaslighter talks about all the time? Do they notice your "oddities"? In addition, experts advise recording events: keeping a personal diary, taking photographs, recording conversations on a voice recorder. Firstly, this way you will always have evidence at hand that can be presented at the right time. Secondly, it will allow you to double-check your own words and memories. If you are convinced that you are right, the gaslighter will not be able to control you.
“The challenge here is not to find the 'correct' solution, but to get a variety of opinions. Perhaps you will see that reality is not as unambiguous as it is presented to you. In addition, sometimes it is useful to sit down and write a story in the third person, as if watching yourself from the side. This exercise will help you understand more clearly whether something is really wrong with you or with another person,” advises Anastasia Afanasyeva.
© Ksenia Chernaya/Pexels
Don't let yourself be blamed
The next time a gaslighter starts to distort the facts and try to make you doubt your own adequacy, tell him directly that you are not ready to put up with his behavior. Let the manipulator know that you have figured out his tactics. Clearly define your boundaries and calmly explain that his words offend you and in the future you will not tolerate it. If all else fails and the manipulator continues to gaslight you, be prepared to minimize or completely stop communicating with him. The chances that the aggressor will change his behavior are reduced to zero.
Often the victim is manipulated just because it is important for them to stay in a relationship with the manipulator and not break it off. For example, when it comes to gaslighting as a couple or between family members. In this case, you need to reconsider the tactics of your behavior and start following the new rules. It is best to seek help from a qualified professional. The longer a person is exposed to gaslighting, the more devastating the effects will be. A psychologist will help you cope with anxiety and fears, sort out your doubts and get out of the situation with the least losses.
Anastasia Afanasyeva, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, Alter psychologist selection service specialist, lecturer at the Institute of Organizational Psychology
Anyone can become a victim of gaslighting - it all depends on the influence and persuasiveness of the person or group of people who use such manipulations. But there are certain characteristics and personality traits that make people more likely to gaslight.
First, young age and low level of education. Children do not yet have abstract thinking. It is difficult for them to understand their emotions and cause-and-effect relationships, so they take adults at their word. As the parent said, it really is. After all, they have nothing to compare with. The same applies to the level of education.
Secondly, suggestibility. If a person trusts other people more than himself, if the opinions of others and their reactions are more important to him than his own assessment, then the risk of gaslighting is greater. To resist such manipulations, you need to understand your personality well and have a strong internal reliance on things that are important to you personally.
Third, low self-esteem. If everyone around is so smart, wonderful experts, and I am so stupid and awkward - of course, I will believe them, and not myself.
Fourth, codependency. Overreacting to the emotions and actions of other people (especially those who are near and dear to you), a poor understanding of your interests and values, relying on the interests and values of a partner is a direct path to gaslighting.
Fifth, the inability to say "no" and defend personal boundaries. If a person is able to fight back and stop disrespectful behavior towards them, they are unlikely to be gaslighted easily.
The last and perhaps the most important point is the experience of violence in early childhood. As practice shows, usually it is he who leads to the formation of all of the above personality traits.
Alena Golzitskaya, systemic family psychotherapist, Alter psychologist selection service specialist, researcher at the Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education
You can't be born a gaslighter. But you can be born with a predisposition to certain behaviors. Due to the type of nervous system or the physiological characteristics of the organism, a person, for example, may be less sensitive to the suffering of others. Abusive behavior is formed when a child observes how a significant adult uses such manipulative techniques when interacting with him or with other people.
Some parents like to say: “You're making it up – it didn't happen”, “I didn't say it and couldn't say it”, “You dreamed it”, “What are you whining about - nothing terrible happened”. If you have heard such phrases addressed to you and at the same time began to doubt your memories or feelings, you have encountered manifestations of gaslighting.
People who engage in abusive behavior rarely think about how it affects others. They seek to derive their own benefit from what is happening. And doubts about whether they behave correctly, as a rule, do not visit them - this is due to the protective mechanisms of their psyche. Therefore, gaslighting is usually noticed by the person to whom it is carried out.
If you want to save the relationship, try telling your partner that you feel uncomfortable when he does this to you. Focus on your feelings and ask him to pay attention to it. Most likely, the partner will need professional psychotherapeutic help in getting rid of the gaslighting pattern. But if it is your mutual desire to make the relationship more comfortable, then most likely he will take such a step.
Abuse: how to recognize moral abuse and what to do.
Psychologist's blog: what is gaslighting and how to resist it?
- Elena Savinova
Author photo, Ayo ogunseinde/UNSPLASH
Despite the romantic origin - from the Oscar -winning film "Gas Light" - I am not related to the gazlavlaw sympathy or love.
Light, which does not heat up
This is a kind of subtle psychological violence used intentionally for a long time.
Its purpose is to make a person doubt either the adequacy of his own perception of reality, or the objectivity of the surrounding world in general.
As a result - lose touch with reality, lose faith in yourself, suspect insanity, fall into despair.
Thus, the hero of George Cukor's film steals jewelry from his wife. But to reassure her that it is only her imagination, she simultaneously makes various manipulations with home lighting.
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The wife, of course, notices that something is wrong, but he claims that it also seems to her. A puzzled woman who sincerely trusts her husband begins to believe that she is hallucinating.
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ReleaseK0256 Is it necessary to explain that one can do anything with such an anxious, weak-willed person - also make excuses that everything is done for his own good.
Manipulative denial of reality can be related to facts: I have never done such a thing, never said it, again you are making everything up. So are emotions.
For example, parents prone to excessive control, trying to accustom a child to the "right" emotions and feelings, often tell him: in fact, you don't think so. You only think that you want it, but you want something completely different.
A gres s ors cry too
Parents also often deny physical abuse of their children.
A man considers his wife's tears, which are a normal reaction to his insulting words or actions, to be a manifestation of her depression and advises her to go for treatment.
A girl who claims to be harassed is accused of provoking them or even declared crazy.
Nonconfirmation is another name for this manipulative behavior.
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It belongs to the Scottish psychiatrist Ronald Laing. Given that a person is a social being, he needs others to "confirm" the adequacy of his own actions and views.
The essence of gaslighting is the deliberate refusal to provide such confirmation, the false denial of someone's actions and thoughts.
Such a phenomenon is often observed where people stay together for a long time - at work, in the family, in groups of children or teenagers.
For example, a wife prefers to silently endure another attack of her husband's moral bullying - because she depends on him financially, for the sake of her children, because of the fear of being abandoned.
But that only cheers up the gaslighter. He seeks to unbalance his partner at any cost, and then shift the blame to him for throwing a tantrum again. And thus once again prove their supposedly right - that a woman has mental problems.
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The need to manipulate, humiliate arises from the unwillingness to admit oneself guilty of worsening relations. Because of low self-esteem, fear of losing a beautiful and smart wife, envy of her success. The cause is often childhood trauma, emotional unavailability of parents.
In their reproaches, in order to annoy more painfully, the aggressors, as a rule, appeal to what a person is not able to change - to age, gender, origin, physiological characteristics.
"How can you behave like that, you're a woman!", "Don't swear in front of children, you're a mother!", "Look at yourself - I'm a prince too!", "With your complexion, you can go without eating for three days" . Familiar after all arguments?
But gaslighting isn't even loud quarrels or tram swearing.
It is said that people who are not indifferent to each other quarrel because of the lack of sharp emotions. But owing to their low culture, they do not know how to experience them in any other way.
Yes, and reconciliation after a storm can be sweet. A healthy "showdown" is when a husband and wife on an equal footing can express to each other everything that has boiled over.
In our case, we are dealing with oppression, an attempt by the psychologically stronger to subdue the weak. Also pass him off as a fool.
This is the ability to say something disgusting with a smile, an open mockery to pass off as caring. Here, insults are not used, but, for example, eloquent silence when the victim enters the classroom or office.
This may be laughter behind your back and assurances that everything was just heard. Or a fake sympathetic question, why does he or she look so bad, maybe something happened.
Gaslighters are not only spouses or colleagues in relation to each other.
This is how adult children sometimes behave with elderly parents. For example, a daughter says to an old father who wants to help: now our dad will break or burn something again. Or he throws it ironically and condescendingly at his mother: "Mom, have you forgotten how old you are that you put on this dress? The main thing is not to forget now where you are going. "
Darkness at the end of the tunnel
Image copyright Cassidy Kelley/Unsplash
Stopping the tug-of-war is enough to counter gaslighting.
Do not check to see if you or your partner did not really say or do what they are trying to convince you. It will only sow unnecessary doubts in the mind.
You need to trust yourself more, develop confidence in your own convictions, the correctness of your actions.
If such unhealthy relationships have developed at work, it is better to change the team. The same applies to children. If a child is bullied at school, it is better to transfer him to another educational institution.
If the gaslighter is your husband, don't make excuses or prove that you're not crazy. Calmly but firmly tell him that his attitude offends you and in the future you will not put up with him. If nothing changes - pack your things and leave without hesitation.