Gaslighting is not a term that we often hear. In fact, I have never heard of it until just recently when I came across a couple of articles and TED talks about domestic violence. Although there are thousands of other words out there that I can write about, I felt the great need to dig deep with this term Gaslighting because what you learn here could potentially save your life from a situation or relationship that is headed to a disaster and trauma. If not, you could still share what you learned with your friends and family and raise awareness so that they don’t end up in such situation.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation done by someone to alter your reality by either dismissing your story or telling you lies to make you question your own sanity. For example, when you confront the person for what he had done or said, he might respond by calling you crazy and denying that it ever happened despite the proof. Oftentimes, the person might say things like “Are you sure? Because your memory isn’t always that great” and “You’re making things up again”.
If you’re like me, you have probably encountered this type of situation before or you might currently be in a relationship with someone who is like this. Whatever the case might be, we can’t deny how common this actually is. However, despite how harmless it may seem in the beginning, gaslighting is actually very serious and has some severe consequences.
Is it an abuse?
Absolutely, yes. Gaslighting is an emotional abuse often used by abusers, narcissists, and dictators. It is so subtle in the beginning that most people don’t feel suspicious or question the other person’s behaviors, which make gaslighting so effective.
Any type of abuse boils down to power and control. Gaslighting usually begins very subtly, which then makes it seem so harmless, and it might get dismissed as a simple misunderstanding. However, over time, it can become a pattern where your reality continuously gets shaken up to where you are now relying on the abuser for defining what is real and true. At this point, the abuser now has the power to keep you in the relationship because you are not able to trust your own self and your view of your own reality. This makes it very difficult for the victim to escape the situation if the abuser also uses other manipulation technique to keep you confused.
Why should I know about it?
Because knowledge is power, and it has the power to save you from a bad situation. If I’m right, you have already experienced gaslighting or know someone who has because it is actually that common. The question is whether it is an ongoing and chronic thing that repeats itself, which then makes it a very serious case where it is now turning into an actual emotional abuse and there could be more consequences to be dealt with.
For those of you who already struggle with childhood trauma and mental illnesses, I would really like to encourage you to educate yourself on this topic and spread the word. As we all know, mental illnesses make us more vulnerable at times and if you are a victim of abuse in the past, you might be more susceptible to these types of abuse because you might not realize that this is abnormal behavior. What is worse, because you already struggle with challenging depression, anxiety, bipolar, or whatever it may be, the effects of gaslighting could actually be severe such as experiencing worsening symptoms or even developing new symptoms such as psychosis. Therefore, it is very important for all of us to learn about gaslighting to raise awareness and protect those around us.
For more information and if you suspect that you might be a victim of domestic abuse, visit National Domestic Violence Hotline.
What if someone is gaslighting me?
The first thing is to identify their behaviors and recognize what ways you are being devalued for your reality and perception. If you have been gaslighted, chances are that you feel hopeless, insecure, and not like your true self anymore. You might even feel crazy because your ground for the reality is constantly being shaken by that person. Once you realized that you are a victim of gaslighting, I highly recommend building a strong support system and possibly seek professional help. Please note that it is very unlikely that you can change the other person’s behavior by you trying to be more understanding or patient. That is a dangerous trap, and unfortunately, it will simply not work. Instead, identify and even start making a record of what has been said, done, and start taking a good history of events so that you can clearly see that you are in fact being gaslighted. This will help you feel more sane and keeps you from slipping into denial or making excuses for the other person.
Next, evaluate whether it is worth it to stay with the person. This will be difficult. It is true that sometimes the other person could gaslight without knowing. In that case, there is some hope, such as trying a family counseling and bringing awareness to the situation. However, always remember that gaslighting is about power and control. It is not always pure evil on the outside that we can spot quickly. Rather, it is very subtle in the beginning and they can even play a victim or display affection to manipulate you further.
I really cannot emphasize how common gaslighting actually is and its potential risks for other forms of abuse. There are different types of abuse, which include physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc. However, I feel that emotional abuse is often dismissed because it is difficult to prove the incidents of abuse while the consequence of it could be far greater than that of other forms of abuse. To lose your sanity and a sense of who you are is a scary thing. But once you can recognize and put a name to it, it slightly loses its power because now you KNOW. Knowledge is power, and that is why abusers are often determined to keep their victims away from accessing it.
If you feel that you are a victim of gaslighting and other forms of domestic abuse, please seek help at a local Family Justice Center or other organizations as there are quite plenty of them available. National Domestic Violence Hotline is also a great resource that is available 24/7, and you can call or chat with a trained staff to discuss your matter with utmost confidentiality.