Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse. Someone who is gaslighting is trying manipulate a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, or convince them that they are overreacting to an event. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their own sanity.
The term “gaslighting” comes from a play and later a movie called “Gaslight.” In the movie, the devious husband, played by Charles Boyer, manipulates his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, to convince her she’s going mad. He starts by dimming the lights in the home. When his wife points it out, he denies that the light changed. Gaslighting is an extremely effective way of gaining power and therefore control over another. Once the abuser has broken down his victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the relationship.
It’s important to remember that not all disagreements or differences in perception are evidence of “gaslighting”. Memory is a fickle thing. Often our memories are influenced by current issues or presumptions, by inadequate information, or by poor communication. That’s why accounts of the same event by different people are sometimes different. All relationships sometimes have moments where one person’s memory of an event contradicts the other’s, that doesn’t mean that its gaslighting. Some examples of gaslighting include:
- You constantly second-guess yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?”
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You’re always apologizing to your partner.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.
People who gaslight know how to push your buttons. They know your vulnerabilities and use that knowledge against you. They make you doubt yourself, your judgment, your memory, and even your sanity. Examples include:
- Trivializing how you feel: Making your feelings or needs seem unimportant
- Telling you that people are talking about you: “The whole family talks about you. They think you’re crazy.”
- Forgetting or Denying: The abuser forgets or denies something they previously agreed to. “I didn’t say I’d go to the bank. What are you talking about?
- Countering you: causing you to question your memory. “You’re crazy. You never went to that show with me. I should know.”
Again, gaslighting is abuse and recognizing that you are a victim is the first step towards getting the help you need. The second step is consulting a therapist. They can help you work through your doubts and fears and help you develop coping skill to manage your anxieties.