“One can only return to the fact that even the most ordinary, good-hearted, intelligent people are literally prone to believing the most blatantly nonsensical untruths. And this comes from the realization that there are some opinions and some beliefs so incredibly inane, we may actually on occasion feel insane for not believing them; and that is probably because in giving the benefit of the doubt we self-doubt, we convince ourselves into lame passivity and blind acceptance, we tell ourselves, ‘Maybe I’m just missing something here.”
~ Criss Jami
The word Gaslighting was coined from a 1938 British play “Gas Light”. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the victim is manipulated with false information with the intent of making them doubt their own memories and perceptions.
A person – be it your spouse, family, workplace, or a group – can gaslight an individual who ends up doubting themselves, making them cognitive dissonant and triggering issues such as low self-esteem etc. The abuser uses different methods such as playing down the victim’s emotions and feelings, denying that they have abused the victim in the past or creating situations which disorient the victim.
“The biggest gaslight of all is when people say “I love you and I want you” while trying to change who you are into what they want you to be.” ~ Teal Swan
Here are some of the signs that you are a victim of gaslighting
You end up questioning your feelings and thoughts time and again. You also might be in denial that there is nothing wrong with the treatment meted out to you. For example – You might be convinced about things they have done to you, but when confronted they deny it.
This denial makes you question your own reality, “did he say that, or did I make some mistake in hearing or my memory is giving way?” The fact of the matter is that a gaslighter plays with your mind and shows that you are wrong. They constantly repeat this all the time, and it plants a seed of uncertainty in you.
2) Unable to think clearly
Expressing your thoughts and feelings can be a cathartic experience. But with a gaslighter your mental state is in endless turmoil and you can’t seem to get out of your head.
With the abuse you’re experiencing you end up feeling confused, you don’t trust yourself or your thoughts. Sadly, most people end up turning to their abuser to help get a hold of what’s going on, giving more power to the abuser.
3) Low self-esteem
A gaslighter often, makes you feel that you are wrong, incapable, and not ‘enough’, and the constant reminders of these words makes you doubt yourself and leads to low self-esteem.
But sometimes it’s far worse, with the abuser calling you crazy, a liar or cheat, the abused person ends up believing these things with the confused state they’re in.
4) Frequent Apologizing
Due to low self-esteem, self-doubt, you keep apologizing all the time to others, because you feel others are disappointed in you and you might have hurt them.
You always feel whatever you do is not enough because you have been made to feel incompetent. Since you carry the baggage of “your wrongdoings” you end up apologizing for every little thing and sometimes nothing.
5) Protecting the Abuser
Your feelings of inadequacy make you wonder if you have been unreasonable or not given enough love to your abuser. The gaslighter wants you to be completely under their control so they create a scenario where you end up not trusting other people. Because of this you end up feeling isolated from your friends and family.
Even when you meet people and converse about the abuser, you tend to make up excuses for the abusers’ behaviour to protect them.
Escaping the Gaslighter
“Some people will label you as vindictive, unforgiving or even evil for not allowing them to hurt you, yet again.” ~ Wayne Gerard Trotman
You have to approach your family members or friends who you can trust and the abuser tried to keep you away from. It may be difficult to exit the manipulation without support, knowing the mental condition you may be in, but if you have no one you can count on you must seek professional help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist.
Log or journal the experience
To understand the intensity of the situation and gain clarity of the extent of abuse, its recommended to keep a log in the form of a journal to track events.
To fact check your memories, take pictures that you can use to cross check to ensure you’re not imagining things. You can use voice recorder on your phone to quickly keep track of events and happenings if possible.
Take back your control
The gaslighting isn’t about you, its the abusers’ need for control and power. Once you are aware that you are being gaslight, you will understand the methods and patterns of abuse which will help you cope with it.
The gaslighter’s behaviour stems from their own issues and insecurities and they don’t know any other way to cope up with the world. Although this is not an excuse for their behaviour, it should help you to see things from a larger perspective and not take the things they say or do personally.
Once you stop reacting to the situations they create or the things they do, you begin to regain your control and peace.
Reinforce yourself positively
Gaslighting drops your self-esteem, leaves you confused with the inability to have a crystallized thought process. Come up with a mantra, an affirmation that will help reinforce your self-esteem. Choose a particular time to do this exercise through the day, it will help stream line your thoughts as well.
It doesn’t need to be complex, it could be something as simple as, “I’m a caring, kind and loving person.”
Also journal down the good things that happened in your day, note down when and how you managed to stay grounded even when the gaslighter tried to get you into a situation.
How to Heal from the Impact of Gaslighting
“They don’t lie to you because the truth will hurt your feelings. They lie to you because the truth might provoke you to make the choices that won’t serve their interests.” ~ Unknown
Psychotherapist Stephanie Moulton Sarkis explained that it takes “a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to remain connected to a gaslighter” and that “the healthiest way to resolve cognitive dissonance” in such situations involves “leaving or distancing yourself from the gaslighter”.
Gaslighting can occur in romantic relationships, at workplace, parent-child relationship, and it even exists among narcissists and sociopaths. Once your recognize the above signs these are the steps one can take to stop the abuse.
Don’t hold yourself responsible for the other person’s actions
Stick to your truth and don’t get swayed by a person’s remarks and accusations. The person who gaslights will never see your side of the story. If you try to maintain your calm then it is less likely that you will get swayed by what the other person dishes out at you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Gaslighting shakes your perception of reality and erodes your trust in yourself. In spite of what you have been told, there is nothing wrong with you and your perceptions. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from it. Give yourself time to heal from the wounds and begin to trust your own perceptions.
You might find making decisions challenging. Start by making small decisions like where to go for a walk in the neighborhood, what to cook and slowly and steadily you will gain the confidence to move on and take more challenging decisions in your life.
Blaming yourself is easy, “something is wrong with me,” “how could this happen to me?,” it is easy to have thoughts like these. To come out of any situation you have to let go of what happened and focus your energies on building the new, that is figuring out how the situation can be changed.
Remind yourself that you are a capable and caring person. The moment you wake up in the morning, spend few minutes on the bed, close your eyes, and reiterate positive things about yourself. It does help to set the tone for the day and send out positive energy around you.