Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse used by narcissists and abusers in order to instill in their victim an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion, to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment.
It is a deliberate attempt to make someone feel crazy, wrong, stupid, or paranoid as a way of deceiving, degrading, taking advantage of, dominating or controlling others. It is usually achieved by overriding another person’s reality.
The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function independently. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The victim experiences significant emotional damage due to gaslighting. When someone is gaslighted for long enough, they begin to lose their sense of self. Unable to trust their own judgments, they start to question the reality of everything in their life. They begin to second-guess themselves, and this makes them become very insecure around their decision making, even around the smallest of choices. The victim can become depressed and withdrawn.
When perpetrators are confronted, they don’t just deny the event, they deny adamantly. They may even feign righteous indignation that they should even be accused of such behaviour and then act ‘justifiably’ offended for such character ‘assassination.’ Perpetrators may also engage in a reality and history restructuring campaign, subtly coaching relatives and friends to remember things as happening the way they want them to be remembered. They will curry favor and form alliances to make the target of gaslighting even more isolated.
The following are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use:
(taken directly from http://www.thehotline.org/2014
Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.
In order to overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. The signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:
- You constantly second-guess yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You’re always apologizing to your partner.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- Your arguments with him keep going in circles.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.
Gaslighting can also happen in therapy and with family, friends or by institutions. They do not acknowledge or validate your reality - telling you ‘it’s not serious abuse’, ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘he only did that because he loves you’.
Confronting abusers regarding ongoing gaslighting is not likely to be successful. A perpetrator is not interested in your perspective - there is no rationalizing, arguing or stating your case.
Non - engagement is the most successful way of recovering from gaslighting. That is going NO CONTACT with your abuser. This strategy will give you the time and space to heal and realize that your reality is not up for debate. You can regain your sense of self and develop renewed confidence in your own judgements and decisions.
Sources used for this blog include:
An interesting read: