Are You A Victim of Gaslighting Abuse?
What do Alfred Hitchcock, old-fashioned gas-powered lamps, and self-doubt have in common? A form of mental and emotional abuse called “gaslighting.” It’s a technique used by abusers, narcissists, and people who try to control large groups. This abuse can have a severe impact on one’s mental health.
What Is Gaslighting?
In 1944, Alfred Hitchcock made a movie called “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman. It was about a woman whose controlling husband began dimming the gas lights in their home and telling her, when she brought it up that the lights were flickering, that she was imagining it, nothing was wrong. She thought she was losing her mind until she found someone who helped her prove what was going.
Because the movie was a perfect depiction of this technique that manipulators use, psychologists and counselors labeled this kind of emotional and mental abuse “gaslighting.” Today, with its widespread use by politicians and media to “spin” the truth, the term has gone mainstream.
Gaslighting is any interaction where someone manipulates another person or group into doubting their memories, senses, emotions, judgment, or perception of reality. A person being gaslit can fall into such self-doubt that they lose their identity, confidence, and self-worth.
A common example of gaslighting happens when a spouse is found cheating. A cheating spouse may try to convince you that the text message you read or conversation you heard didn’t happen, that you’re taking it “out of context” or misunderstanding, but there’s nothing there. There is always a denial of reality that is designed to make you second-guess and doubt what you saw, heard, and feel.
In poker, a “tell” is a tick, facial expression, or movement that shows that the player is bluffing. Gaslighters also have “tells” that let you know they’re trying to make you doubt your senses. Common gaslighting techniques include:
Lying. They lie and don’t back down even when presented with proof. They stick with their story.
Denying. They deny that it happened or happened the way you remember it or heard it
Dismissing. They minimize your recollections, thoughts, feelings, suspicions, judgments as silly.
Distracting. They change the subject, go off on a tangent.
Blaming. They twist the discussion so that you are to blame for their behavior.
Patronizing. They try to smooth it over by saying how they love you or it was for your own good.
Withdrawing. They won’t listen or talk about it; they withdraw and go silent or leave.
Forgetting. They pretend that they don’t remember what happened or what was said.
Canceling. They rewrite history and retell stories in their favor to make themselves look good.
If you think you’re being gaslit, it’s best to stop listening to what is being said and pay attention to what is being done. If any of these things are happening, no matter what they say, they’re gaslighting. It might help to journal things that happen or are said to keep an accurate record for your own sake, to remind yourself that you’re not crazy.
Mental Health Impact Of Gaslighting
If you have been gaslit over a period of time, you may start believing that you can’t trust yourself and begin to experience anxiety, depression, isolation, and psychological trauma. Your symptoms would be the same or similar to someone experiencing long-term domestic abuse. Gaslighting is abuse.
Gaslighting makes you doubt your feelings and reality so that you begin telling yourself that how you’re being treated isn’t that bad or you’re just being too sensitive. You start to question your judgment and your senses so that you shut down out of fear of saying anything or expressing your opinion or emotions. You become insecure and edgy, feeling that you have to walk on eggshells. You grow to feel alone and powerless and maybe crazy like you’re being told you are. You’ll feel inadequate and apologize all the time. You’ll second-guess yourself and wonder what’s wrong with you. And you’ll begin to struggle to make decisions.
If you think you are a victim of gaslight abuse, you might find it helpful to talk to a counselor who can help you get some perspective and develop a strategy to help you deal with it. I urge you to read more about anxiety treatment, and reach out to us to set up a free consultation.
Sydney Spradlin is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate at Christian Counseling Associates. She is under the supervision of Jack D. Dickerson, LPC-S, LMFT-S. Sydney is taking new clients in the Plano office.