What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of brainwashing and manipulation that happens on a regular basis. The goal of the gaslighter is to make the victim doubt themselves. Gaslighting abuse causes a person to lose their sense of identity, perception and worth. Gaslighting is a form of narcissism and sociopathic tendencies as they look to gain power over someone.
Pathological gaslighting is a severe form of abuse through mind control. It can happen in the workplace, with society, friends, family, and relationships. Gaslighting abuse is extremely destructive to victims. Before you ever have to deal with this mode of abuse, learn how to defend yourself against gaslighting. As it is so subtle and manipulative, you will likely need to do some research. Online, you can take an, “am I being gaslighted quiz.”
Where Does the Term Gaslighting Come From?
To understand the gaslighting meaning, you would have to look at the 1930’s stage play called Gaslight (or Angel Street in the U.S.) The play portrays a husband trying to convince his wife and other people that she’s crazy. He manipulates her environment in subtle ways.
He makes her believe that these things aren’t happening and that she hasn’t remembered things correctly. In the play, there is a dimming of the gaslights in the house. She discusses the dimming lights with her husband but he tells her she has imagined this too.
In the 1960’s, gaslighting became a term to describe manipulating someone’s perception of what is real.
Gaslighting Behavior Examples
There are stages of gaslighting behaviors that start from subtle to more severe. With any type of abuse, the gaslighter doesn’t want to push the boundaries too far at first. It is a slower form of abuse that takes you by surprise. Here are some examples of gaslighting:
Lying and Exaggerating
The gaslighter will say negative things about you indicating inadequacies, causing you to be defensive.
A husband might say, “my wife is so pathetic, and she should know it.”
A boss may say something like, “Your department is the weakest link to the company, why do you think you should even have a job here?”
Repetitive Gaslighting Behavior
Gaslighting wouldn’t be effective if it were just every once in a while. To gain total control, one has to constantly maintain their offense. Gaslighting narcissists and sociopaths will play psychological warfare in order to dominate the relationship and keep everything in their control.
Disputes are Escalated if Gaslighter is Challenged
Gaslighting tactics will escalate if you attempt to call them out on the lies they are telling. The will start to come up with evidence to prove they are right about your inferiority and uselessness. They will refute evidence. The gaslighter will deny, blame, sow doubt, and add more false claims. You will become so confused that you don’t know what’s right from wrong anymore.
The Gaslighter Will Wear You Down
The gaslighter abuser will be on the offense at all times which will wear you down. You will feel so low that you start to doubt yourself. You become discouraged, fearful, and debilitated. You question reality, who you are and whether you’re perceiving things properly.
Codependent Relationships Form
Codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” If you’re in a gaslighting relationship, you will begin to feel insecure and anxious. This leaves you vulnerable to them having total control and power over you. They grant acceptance, respect, safety and security and will often threaten to take it all away. These relationships are based on fear, your vulnerability, and marginalization.
The Gaslighter Will Give You False Hope
In gaslighter abuse, they will treat you with superficial kindness and remorse from time to time. This is to give you false hope in the relationship. You might start to think things with them aren’t so bad and believe things could get better. This mildness is actually part of their plan to manipulate you. You will be off-guard which allows them to begin the next stage of their gaslighting abuse. Know this too, they are reinforcing the codependent relationship.
Total Domination and Control
For a narcissistic gaslighter, their main goal is to totally dominate and control you. When they can do this, they are able to take advantage of you with no consequence. Gaslighters can do this to a whole society. The lies that they tell about you will keep you insecure, in doubt, and afraid.
So as a gaslighter is the action, it is the narcissist who is most likely to execute such behavior. It’s important to understand the mental thoughts and beliefs that occur with a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP) come with symptoms of grandiosity, no empathy for others, and an obsessive need for admiration. The gaslighting behaviors they exhibit are manipulation and a self-centered attitude. They are arrogant and demanding.
They believe they should have better treatment than anyone else even though they don’t give others the same rights. The narcissist characteristics happen early in their adult life. They will gaslight in the workplace, in relationships, and their social groups. They think they’re unique and gifted which gives them a greater sense of self-esteem. In actuality, their self-esteem is fragile. They need others to think highly of them. They can’t handle criticism or losing and are easily and deeply humiliated.
Gaslighting in Relationships
It’s most common that gaslighting will occur in romantic relationships. Once the gaslighter has taken over control, they can pretty much get away with any behavior. Marital infidelity will often occur and although you know they are cheating, they lead you to believe you’re crazy for thinking so. You may be physically abused but they will deny they were violent. For the victim, it can cause nervous breakdowns and sometimes suicide.
Gaslighting at Work
Gaslighters at work will often assert things with extreme conviction or indignation. They will often shame co-workers and distort truths. They may ignore you when you respond to something they’ve said. They will counter, block, divert or trivialize what you say.
This often causes people to work harder in order to prove their worth to the gaslighter. You’ll feel like you could get fired at any point so the work environment feels unstable. Anxiety and stress increases as you bend over backwards to try to please an abusive personality. You may feel confused and second guess all your decisions. When dealing with a gaslighter in the workplace, you will likely go through disbelief. You may become defensive and potentially even become depressed.
You have more power to manage a gaslighter at work then with loved ones or family members. Like any type of abuse, you may feel trapped but this isn’t the case. Document all the interactions you have with the gaslighter. Talk to your HR department. Talk to co-workers and try to summon up witnesses during a time they are abusive to you. This kind of mental warfare shouldn’t be acceptable in any workplace.
Gaslighting in Dysfunctional Families
When children are victim to gaslighting, it is a form of child neglect and is one of the most severe forms of abuse. Here are four of the common gaslighting abuse tactics that occur in the family dynamic:
Double Bind Parenting
There has been a connection of schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder for parents who double bind their children. They will go back and forth randomly either smothering their children or rejecting them with no emotion. This leaves children feeling like they are nothing. As they become an adult, they don’t have faith in themselves. They constantly seek out validation from other people. Things seem surreal at all points in life. They have no tools to rely on themselves but don’t know how to lean on others for help.
Unpredictable, Contradiction Parenting
There is an unpredictable environment for children who grow up in this parenting dynamic. A parent who is influenced by drugs or alcohol one day may not be the next day. Parents may be manic depressive and substance abusers so their moods fluctuate greatly. Any plans made will likely not come to fruition. Birthdays will be pushed aside due to some unpredictable pattern with the parent.
The ground feels shaky for children dealing with this upbringing. Their might be a calm environment that turns violent quickly. As an adult, the gaslighter will not trust their abilities or understand people’s body language. They have a hard time managing their emotions. There is very little trust for themselves and other people.
Appearance Conscious Family
For a child growing up in this kind of family, style is more important than anything else. They are also ensuring that their family looks perfectly happy even if it’s falling apart. It’s a strict upbringing with no room for mistakes or emotions. As they look to build the perfect family, they are actually creating dysfunction. Parents and kids alike are described as Running on Empty. These parents are often narcissistic. The adult grows up to believe that imperfection is not acceptable. They will hide feelings and any shortcomings.
Emotionally Neglectful Family
In this dysfunctional family, emotional needs are ignored. Nobody pays attention to a child when they show emotion. If you were to cry in this family, you’d be told that you’re too sensitive. Needs are not met and this causes kids to hide their emotions at an early age. Any deep relationship in adolescence and adulthood will pose a major challenge for the child trained to keep their feelings to themselves. There is a feeling of numbness within these children. It can cause a person to become narcissistic or sociopathic as an adult.
How to Stop Being Gaslighted
How do you deal with gaslighting? A gaslighting narcissist ultimately wants to have control over you. Not giving them that control can often damper their attack on you. Quietly standing up for yourself and emotionally removing yourself from the conversation will cause a gaslighter to feel uncomfortable. They have likely been working on breaking you down for a long time. It’s not going to be easy but here are some things to keep in mind to avoid being gaslighted.
- When you’re with a gaslighter, be very aware of what they’re saying and doing around you. Pay attention to all the fine details.
- Create an untouchable belief of yourself and what you know to be true. Your intuition is your guidance system, make sure to listen to it.
- Keep it simple when dealing with the gaslighter and know their true motive is one thing. They are trying to make you believe what you know to be true as untrue (or the other way around.)
- Don’t allow the gaslighter to think you believe what they’re saying. This gives them permission to continue on with gaslighting abuse.
- Remember that nothing the gaslighter is doing has anything to do with you. They are the one who is sick.
- Be okay with not “winning” in a bout between yourself and a gaslighter. Chances are, you probably won’t. This is part of the game they play. It’s few and far between that you will convince them you’re right and they’re wrong.
Can a Gaslighter Change?
Many people that will gaslight have antisocial personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. They have a great deal of anxiety, they often do what they do to feel a sense of control in their lives. They tend to also abuse substances to numb the negative feelings they have. They will often have a personality that is authoritive so they think in absolutes. Things are either 100% right or 100% wrong. Gaslighters are hard to get into treatment because they don’t see themselves as having a problem.
Gaslighting in relationships may result in couple’s therapy. Even when the narcissist is going through counseling, they will often blame their partner. If a therapist suggests the gaslighter try to make some changes, they will often believe them to be incompetent. Even in therapy, they will have a hard time acknowledging they have a behavioral issue that’s causing the problems.
Ultimately, when you’re in company with a gaslighter, they are trying to make you second guess your choices and yourself. You will have a hard time knowing if you’re the problem or the victim. Subconsciously, you know when you’re being gaslighted. Your brain warns you of a sense of danger which becomes an uncomfortable feeling in your gut. Listen to it. If you believe you’re being abused by a gaslighter, pay attention to all the details. It may be that they will never get the help they need so in the end, you may have to walk away and recover from the mental abuse.