Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the abuser makes the victim question their reality and judgment and make them believe maybe they are going crazy or everything is their fault. Gaslighting is not just limited to relationships and marriage but can also exist in other relationships such as toxic family culture or controlling friendships. Toxic people practise this behaviour to exert dominance on their significant other, family or friends.
We all at some point or the other have been gaslit in our lives by someone close where we started questioning ourselves and our judgments. It is necessary to identify the gaslighting behaviour and shut it down because it can have long-term psychological and emotional, and sometimes physical effects.
Signs of Gaslighting
- You ask yourselves if you are too sensitive throughout the day.
- You no longer feel like yourself.
- They tell you white lies.
- You start doubting your reality.
- You feel confused and always second guess yourself.
- You are always apologising.
- Knowing that something is wrong but not being able to identify it.
- They are dismissive of your feelings.
- Find it difficult to make simple choices.
- You don’t feel happy or joyous anymore out of the blue.
- Always questioning if your response to the abusive person is okay or will it offend them.
To make you more familiar with this situation here are the stages involved in gaslighting, the order can vary from person to person:
- Lie and exaggerate: They make a negative narrative around the victim. For example, This employee is useless and annoying and he needs to know it. These accusations are usually based on assumptions and presumptions while ignoring the facts and objectives making the victim defensive.
- Repetition: The abuser repeatedly makes false accusations and narratives around the victim to stay on the offence and be the dominant person in the relationship.
- Escalate when called out: When they are confronted with the lies they become very defensive and try to put all the blame on you. For example, when you ask your significant other about seeing them out in a restaurant with someone else and they try to turn it on you by asking what you were doing in that restaurant and you are the one who is probably cheating on them and seeing them there must just be your imagination.
- Wear out the victim: The abuser continuously being on the offence can wear out the victim and make them pessimistic, fearful, discouraged and self-doubting. For example, in the earlier example, the victim can start feeling that they saw a different person rather than the abuser in the restaurant and maybe it was just their imagination.
- Form a codependent relationship: The gaslighter makes the victim feel insecure and dependent by continuously questioning their reality and blaming/ attacking them emotionally. The relationship is formed on vulnerability, fear and insecurity.
- Give false hope: From time to time they might treat the victim with mildness, superficial kindness and moderation to give them false hope and keep them tied by a tightrope emotionally. The victim might start thinking that maybe the abuser is not that bad and hang around.
- Dominate and Control: The ultimate motive of a pathological gaslighter is to dominate and control from a single person to large groups of people. By making the victims questioning themselves and their actions the gaslighter gets an upper hand and the freedom to assert dominance.
How to stop it?
- Identify the problem: Identify and name what is going on between the gaslighter and you.
- Sort out the truth from lies and distortion: Write down your fights, conversations and arguments in a diary and then analyze and fact check them. Look for signs of gaslighting.
- Notice the patterns: Take the journal and analyze the 7 days conversation and mark the repetitive blaming and offensive actions in the conversations and analyze the red flags.
- Talk to someone from the outside of the relationship: Vent to a close friend, family or someone close and ask for their perspective on the issues.
- Engage in a mental exercise for a mind shift: Imagine yourself without this toxic person in your life, it might be difficult due to the codependent relationship they have created and also might cause you anxiety but imagine all the positive aspects and freedom you will get back.
- Focus on yourself: Self-care and self-love are much needed during this process. Make yourself your highest priority and start focusing on the healing process. Do not take it as a sprint because it is like a long marathon, an ongoing process and it can take time.
- Trust your intuition: Stop weighing on what’s wrong and what’s right, instead of doing what feels right to you in your head and heart. Give yourself permission to trust yourself.
Sometimes gaslighting can cause deep emotional and psychological trauma which cannot be healed by these methods. Therefore, allow yourself to seek professional help at those times.