Gaslighting: What It Is, Why It Matters, and What To Do About It
While the concept of gaslighting seems like a modern-day buzzword, the behavior gets its name from a 1938 play that was turned into a 1944 film called Gaslight. In this thriller film, Ingrid Bergman gives an Oscar-winning performance as Paula, an Opera singer and victim of emotional abuse from her husband. At one point in the film, Paula looks to her husband and says, “Are you trying to tell me I’m insane?”
That moment gets to the heart of what gaslighting is and how it can seriously hurt a person. It’s important for everyone to understand exactly what gaslighting looks like, how it can cause harm, and what to do if you are the victim of gaslighting.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the abuser manipulates the victim into doubting their own sanity or sense of reality. The abuser may use several tactics to elicit this response, including denial, lying, and deflection. The gaslighter does this in order to make the victim more reliant on the abuser and less able to leave.
Gaslighting can take many different forms.
Some of the warning signs that someone may be gaslighting you include:
- They call you crazy or overdramatic
- The person dismisses your feelings
- They tell other people in your life that you are crazy
- Blatant, obvious lies
- Denying their behavior, even if you have proof of it
- They attack the most important aspects of your life, such as your relationships with your family or your worthiness
- They say one thing and do another
- They praise you, but only when it serves their purpose
- You struggle to get any sense of stability with them
- They accuse you of the negative behaviors that they engage in, such as cheating
- They convince you that everyone else in your life is lying
The key to gaslighting is that the abuser makes the victim question what’s real and whether their feelings are valid. Sometimes gaslighting is hard to detect because the abuser may do it slowly over time. Rather than a single argument, they plant seeds of doubt little by little.
It’s important to keep in mind that gaslighting is not just an issue in romantic relationships. Anyone can be a gaslighter or a victim of it.
How is Gaslighting Harmful?
Gaslighting is a type of abuse. Though it does not leave the same evidence that physical abuse leaves, it is every bit as real and harmful.
Victims of gaslighting may:
- Develop low self-esteem
- Stop viewing the world from their own perspectives
- Prioritize the needs of everyone else over their own
- Develop mental health disorders
- Lose their sense of self
It’s important for people who are victims of gaslighting to get the abuser to stop or get out of the abusive relationship if possible. However, doing so is often more difficult than it sounds.
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What To Do If You Suspect Someone is Gaslighting You?
If you’re worried about gaslighting, you’ve already taken a great first step by learning more about it. Now that you know what some of the tactics are, be on the lookout for them. If you notice that someone is manipulating you in this way, you may want to seek mental health care from a counselor.
Your therapist can act as a neutral third party who can assess the situation and help you understand what’s going on. It can be crucial to get reassurance from such a person. Then, you and your counselor can make a plan for getting out of the situation. This may involve trying to get the other person to see their errors and stop, or it could mean safely exiting the relationship.