Gaslighting was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022.
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 British play Gas Light, (later turned into a famous movie starring Ingrid Bergman), in which the husband misplaces random objects around the house and dims the gaslight, and then denies it to make his wife think she’s going crazy.
Two people are involved in gaslighting: the gaslighter and the victim.
This is a psychological war where the gaslighter manipulates the victim’s thoughts and even behavior by making the victim genuinely believe that they are in the wrong or incapable.
Gaslighting is a very serious form of psychological abuse that is rooted in a need for control and is done to break down a victim and make them feel incapable of making any decisions.
How do they do this?
- They minimize your feelings (Your problem is that you are too sensitive)
- They dismiss your opinions (What do you understand anyway, sitting at home with the kids all day?!)
- They make you think you are really overreacting (Just calm down).
- They will deny and deflect with such ease that sometimes they will have you questioning your own memories and reality. (What are you talking about?? Of course, I told you I was traveling that day!)
- If they ‘forgot’ something they promised will never accept it, making you wonder if you imagined it.
- If they do something expressly against your wishes or hurtful and you confront them, they will deny it ever happened (What rubbish! You are so paranoid. That never happened.)
- They will try to make you seem irrational by discrediting you in front of others. (She is always so dramatic! She worries too much!)
- They will withhold information so that you get agitated or upset and feel unstable. (You’re seeing something that’s not there.)
- They will blatantly lie. If you confront them they will make themselves out to be the victim. (You’re the one who made me lie!! You get so paranoid)
- They will never accept what they are doing
- They will get aggressive if you confront them
- They will make others believe that you are the one who is ‘going crazy/irrational/forgetful.’
- They will persuade others to talk to you about your ‘false ideas.’
- They will never ever take responsibility for any of this including blatant lies.
So what can you do about it?
- If you are suspecting that someone is gaslighting you, talk to someone you truly trust.
- If you don’t have anyone, find an online group.
- Keep a journal record or send emails to yourself with the details of each occasion. That way you can have a record to remind yourself if you ever start doubting your own reality because self-gaslighting is also a thing!
- Find a way to detach and create better boundaries. The next time they start gaslighting, take a deep breath and talk to yourself—Oh look, this is gaslighting. Once they finish speaking let me write down verbatim what was said along with the actual facts of the matter and send myself an email.
- If the person gaslighting you is also a narcissist then you should go ‘gray rock’ –stay as still and silent as a rock.
- Do not counter-argue, and do not ask for or offer explanations.
- Do not get angry or upset. Just keep your face passive and listen.
- Do not even attempt to correct them or convince them by stating facts to explain that they are in the wrong because that is the one thing they will never accept.
- Keep in mind some phrases of your own to use, to shut the abuse down: “We remember things differently.” “I am walking away from this conversation.” “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will not engage in a conversation with you.”
Abusers often mix in positive comments and what looks like love (I made tea for you the way you like it) to make a victim believe that they actually do care about them, although the earlier evening they had ignored your calls and come home late and then claimed that the phone battery had died. Again.
This is not love– this is manipulation.
You should not stay in a relationship with someone who gaslights and abuses you.
It may not be easy at all but recognizing what is happening is a huge first step.
Remember that relationships should enhance people’s lives and help them become better, happier people through encouragement and support, not miserable, and unhappy from disempowerment and manipulation.
If you are suspecting that your intimate partner is gaslighting you and you want to plan a way to leave the marriage, schedule a free 20-minute call with me to discuss options.