What is gaslighting?
According to Wikipedia, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs.”
Gaslighting is not usually a one-time occurance, it is often an ongoing occurrence that wears on the victim over time. The treatment is often settled, gradual and occurs with people the victim feels close to, safe with, and/or knows well.
In 2016, a website called Good Therapy listed common ways that victims are gaslighted, here are a few of them:
1. Blocking/Diversion: Changing the subject to divert the target’s attention from a topic. An abuser may twist a conversation into an argument about the person’s credibility. An example of this may be, “Have you been talking to your sister again? She’s always putting stupid ideas in your head.”
2. Trivializing: Asserting that a person is overreacting to hurtful behavior. This technique can condition a person into believing their emotions are invalid or excessive. Think about situations someone may say, “You’re so sensitive! Everyone else thought my joke was funny.”
3. Withholding: Refusing to listen to any concerns or pretending not to understand them. This disengagement may sound like, “I don’t have time to listen to this nonsense. You’re not making any sense”?
4. Countering: Questioning the target’s memory. An abuser may deny the events occurred in the way the target (accurately) remembers. They may also invent details of the event that did not occur. Something that is often said in these lines is, “I heard you say it! You never remember our conversations right.”
When being gaslighted, the victim is forced to minimize their own experience, and in turn invalidate the emotions and feelings they are experiencing. This invalidation may lead to the victim feeling voiceless, alone and defeated within their own feelings because they are made to believe that those feelings are not real. For this reason, gaslighting is known as a common method of emotional abuse. This form of abuse is not only found in romantic, familial, or friendship types of relationships--it is also found in the workplace, in schools, and in settings where individuals may use their position, power and privilege and gaslight those around them.
In researching this topic, what I have found is that there is a clear abuser and abusee. In my experience, this is not always the case. The abuser may unintentionally gaslight someone through their inability to see or accept their abusee’s reality or experience. By not being empathic, curious, supportive or open, the abuser uses their position of power and privilege in a manner that invalidates the very people that are looking to them for validation.
Ariel Leve, from The Guardian wrote, “How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality”. Here are some highlights from the article:
- “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.
- 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.”