Gaslighting: Recognise Manipulative and Emotional Abuse
Updated: Jan 9
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse wherein a person uses verbal and behavioral tricks to convince another person they are losing their mind or, at the very least, cannot trust their own judgment. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power.
While gaslighting primarily occurs in dating and married relationships (as a form of domestic violence), it is not uncommon for it to occur in controlling friendships, professional relationships or among family members as well.
This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home. When his wife points it out, he denies that the light changed.
What Are the Tactics Used in Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a technique that undermines your entire perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you often second-guess yourself, your memories and your perceptions. Most of the time after communicating with the person gaslighting you, you are left feeling dazed, confused, and wondering what is wrong with you. Here are some of the tactics they might use to confuse you and cause you to question your sanity:
- Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
- Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually, you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
- Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things, that never happened!” “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.”
- Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you, e.g. “Why are you being so sensitive?” “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!” “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”
- Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more. For example, “I don’t remember that, you must have dreamt it!” “You’re lying, I never said that.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re changing the subject.”
- Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favor, they can cause you to second-guess yourself, especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth.
How to Fight Gaslighting
Often the first step to protect yourself from gaslighting is to recognize its presence. Once you know you are being manipulated, you can determine your own reality more easily.
Ideally, someone experiencing abuse would get help and possibly leave the relationship. Yet sometimes barriers prevent a person from leaving right away. The person may be financially dependent on their abuser, or there may be children involved.
If you are a target of gaslighting, here are some tips you can use to defend yourself:
- Don’t take responsibility for the other person’s actions. The other person may claim you provoked the abuse. If you avoid the actions that offended them in the past, the gaslighter will likely come up with new excuses for their abuse.
- Don’t sacrifice yourself to spare their feelings. Even if you dedicate your whole life to making them happy, you will never completely fill the other person’s desire for control. People who gaslight others are often trying to fill a void in themselves. But they will not fix their heart by breaking yours.
- Remember your truth. Just because the other person sounds sure of themself doesn’t mean they are right. The gaslighter may never see your side of the story. Yet their opinion does not define reality. Nor does it define who you are as a person.
- Do not argue on their terms. If the other person is fabricating facts, you are unlikely to have a productive discussion. You may spend all your energy debating what is real instead of making your point. The other person may use gaslighting techniques to declare they won an argument. But you do not have to accept conclusions based on a faulty premise.
- Prioritize your safety. Gaslighting often makes targets doubt their own intuition. But if you feel you are in danger, you can always leave the situation. You do not need to prove a gaslighter’s threats of violence are sincere before calling the police. It is often safest to treat every threat as credible.
- Remember you are not alone. You may find it helpful to talk about your experiences with others. Friends and family can offer emotional support and validation.
How can Therapy Help You Recover
Therapy is a safe place where you can talk through your feelings and memories without judgment. At Nostra Forza counselling and psychotherapy we as therapists have many years of experience in working with victims and offenders of gaslighting and other forms of domestic violence. We can help you recognize healthy and unhealthy behaviors. We can also teach you how to resist psychological manipulation.
In therapy we can help you to rebuild your self-esteem and regain control of your life. We can also treat any mental health concerns caused by the abuse, such as PTSD.
Are you interested and want to know more about how we can help you? Take the step and contact us via our contact form. We are happy to answer any questions you might have and you can start with a free consultation. Please visit our website: www.nostraforza.com.