Gaslighting is a tactic of psychological manipulation, imposition, and overwriting another person’s experience of reality such that they question their own sanity, memory, understanding, and emotions. For a victim of gaslighting, it can become difficult to separate reality from what they are told reality is.
Gaslighting can happen completely unintentionally
The Gaslighter is unaware of their behavior or its impacts. In fact, they may even believe they are being reasonable and may be unable or unwilling to question their behavior in the relationship. Gaslighters can avoid questions about their attitude by expressing confusion when the victim explains their viewpoint, or by deflecting and bringing up other issues.
Gaslighting: a deadly kind of manipulation
Gaslighting is one of many forms of manipulation. However, gaslighting is distinct in that it is aimed, intentionally or unintentionally, at gaining control of another person. Gaslighting is a tactic of emotional abuse and psychological manipulation, and it effectively erodes the victim’s trust in their own perception and experience of reality.
Various techniques of gaslighting
Gaslighting can take a variety of forms. Consider a dynamic where the gaslighter actually responds with anger when the victim brings up a concern, by the end of the exchange the victim is often feeling they have done something wrong, and the original concern is left unaddressed. In another dynamic, the gaslighter showers the victim with attention but withholds the one thing the victim needs and is seeking from him/ her.
Victims of gaslighting can experience loss of memory
Self-doubt, guilt, and shame get amplified in the face of the loss of memory. Memory loss is often experienced by victims of gaslighting as a direct result of their reality being hijacked by the gaslighting.
Gaslighting happens in progression
Initially, the victim believes in themselves and their own experience of reality. They advocate for themselves and take a stand. The victim may try hard to get the gaslighter to see their point of view, be reasonable, and understand them. Gradually the victim starts to question themselves and leans towards the gaslighter’s viewpoint. The victim is looking for validation of their reality to strengthen their shaky faith in themselves, but they find none. Progressively the victim loses their faith in their own ability and perception, and relies heavily on the gaslighter, obsessively trying to understand the gaslighters reality.
If you feel you are being gaslighted, consider these ways out:
- Let go of the need to be right at the cost of engaging with someone who is challenging your reality and feelings.
- After a reasonable explanation, if the other person is refusing to acknowledge that your experience is your experience, let go of the need to be understood by them.
- Accept that you will not find approval in a toxic, gaslighting relationship.
- While you hold on to your positive attributes such as empathy and caring, be extremely firm about your boundaries.
- Agree to disagree.
- Connect with a friend who understands and supports you.
- Figure out what you are feeling and stay true to that.
- Don’t compromise yourself for the sake of pleasing your gaslighter.
- Confront the aspects of the relationship that hold you trapped in it. Let go of the attachment and grieve the loss if you need to.
- Turn inwards and listen to your instincts. If you are unsure, but something feels unsettling in the relationship, see a counselor and seek a professional opinion.
By setting your own boundaries and enforcing them, you safeguard yourself, your experience and your reality. Your reality is not open to dispute, and it is absurd for someone else to tell you what you think, feel, experience or intend; or who you are. An appropriate response in such a case would be to tell them they do not know what is inside of you. In gaslighting relationships where the objective is to manipulate power and gain control of you, you will not make any headway with reason or logic. In a relationship of equality, there is no sense of internal confusion or disorientation.
If you are experiencing any form of gaslighting or suspect it, draw firm boundaries and seek professional support from a relationship counselor. You may benefit greatly from consulting someone who can help you understand your relationship distress and help you move towards healing.