The term “gaslighting” seems to be everywhere nowadays and for good reason. I’m so happy that it’s becoming a more popularized term because the more we call it out, the more comfortable victims feel speaking up. Which helps others that don’t even realize they’re victims recognize it.
I’ve received a lot of messages lately asking me what gaslighting is and how to recognize it. So I decided it was time to break it down and share not only what it is, but also how to break the cycle.
What is gaslighting?
The definition of gaslighting is to “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
This tactic is used to gain control over you. Once you begin to question your own sanity, you have no choice but to take the abuser’s word for it.
The word “gaslight” originates from the 1938 stage play “Gas Light.” The premise of this play-turned-movie is an abusive husband who manipulates the environment around him and convinces his wife that she is going crazy. As one of his tactics, he dims the gas lights in the home and when his wife asks about it, he says the lights haven’t changed.
But I do want to be clear: it’s not always physical things like dimming the lights. It also includes “Oh my gosh it’s not like I hit you – you’re overreacting.” Or “You’re so dramatic. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Just get over it already.”
Causing you to question your own response to things is also gaslighting.
Why does this tactic work?
The abuser uses this form of manipulation to break you down. If you don’t believe what they tell you, you’re not going to be worth their time. So what they do is cause you to question your reality which causes you to lean on them to translate reality for you.
Just light in the Gas Light play, the husband dimmed the lights and then told her they weren’t dimmed at all. This causes her to question her own senses, her own perception of reality. The only source of consistency is her husband, who must be right, so she leans on him which gives him the ability to quite literally control her.
It works on us because we do trust them. That’s why in the beginning, the abuser will come off sweet, kind, and attentive. They pull you in enough to make you feel special and trust them. Once you trust them, they begin to manipulate you.
This doesn’t mean you’re broken or an easy target. It just means they saw someone with a big heart and took advantage of that.
It’s not your fault. They’re just horrible people.
How do you catch it?
Once you begin to recognize what gaslighting is, it becomes easier and easier to spot. Once you spot it, you can call it out.
But I do want to put the disclaimer here that just because you call it out doesn’t mean they’ll admit to doing it.
For example, I was on and off with this guy for about a year. We decided to stay friends even though we knew we wouldn’t work as a romantic couple. However, one night on the phone, he told me that I said I loved him.
I knew for a fact I never said that because if I had, I definitely would’ve remembered. I told him that but he was adamant, so I was sure I had said something that he interpreted that way.
But it never sat right with me. I brought it up again and he became upset and told me that I was wrong and I needed to just accept it. I tried to let it go, but more and more situations like this came up and I knew that I was right.
He never admitted to it and it wasn’t until I finally hit the block button that I found freedom from it.
Sometimes that’s the most powerful thing you can do.
There are times where it may not be safe to call it out, but having the awareness will protect your sanity. Even if you question it, even if you think you’re wrong, remember that this tactic is used to do exactly that.
Remind yourself that you are capable of remembering things correctly, that your perception of reality is correct.
The next step beyond that is to ask for help, Reach out to a therapist who can help you manage your reactions and guide your brain to trusting itself again.
Remember: asking for help isn’t weakness. It’s the greatest sign of strength.
The whole concept of gaslighting is awful. If you related to this post, My heart goes out to you. But more than anything else I want you to know that you’re not alone and it is NOT your fault.
Whether you were gaslighted by family, doctors, employers, friends, romantic partners, it wasn’t right and you didn’t deserve that.
Healing is possible but it’s a choice you have to make every day. If you find yourself struggling with this, I highly encourage you to reach out to a therapist. You deserve to heal. You deserve to truly live your life without second guessing it.
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