The psychological term “gaslighting” came from a movie made in 1944 called Gaslight. The premise of the movie is a husband basically makes his wife feel like she is going crazy through his psychological strategy now called gaslighting. So why should we all learn about gaslighting? Simply put, it can happen to anyone, you, your friends, your family members, coworkers, and it is more prevalent than you may know.
Who gaslights and why? People who gaslight are usually narcissistic, cult leaders/dictators, abusers, or entities trying to gain control. They do it slowly. The person receiving the gaslighting or the victim per se doesn’t realize the brain washing is happening. Whenever I have a client come in questioning their realty, “am I crazy,” or “I feel like I am crazy,” I quickly scan their environment for a gaslighter.
Warning signs you are in the presence of someone who gaslights:
The person tells lies. They will tell blatant lies and even deny things they have said even if you have proof. Their goal is to get you off balance. The more they do this the victim questions their reality and begins to believe theirs.
They use what is important to you to get at you. They know what you hold dear, for example if you have children, and traits that you have that are important to you. They attack what you hold dear in one form or another. They erode your sense of self by saying you would be worthy if only you didn’t have particular traits. They wear you down over time, a comment or lie here and there. They turn up the heat slowly, so you do not know it is going on.
What they say does not match what they do. Pay close attention here. Their actions do not match up with their words. Always, watch their actions. They throw in positive statements that lead you to think they are not bad and this can work out. This only confuses you even more and keeps you close.
Confusion weakens people and keeps them stuck. As humans we want stability. What begins to occur is the gaslighter begins to look like stability for the victim. This is where the victim is hooked and feel completely stuck. Often, the gaslighter will project what they are doing onto their victim. Say they are heavy drinkers, they will tell their victim that the victim is actually the heavy drinker not them.
They align people against you. People who gaslight want to isolate their victim in order to keep control. They tend to have people around them who will always agree with them, so they may tell their victim that “all these people think you are wrong,” or “all these people think you drink too much.”
They tell others around their victim that you are crazy. They tell you that you are crazy. Therefore, you feel you have no one to turn to. This manipulation strategy is highly effective for the abuser to weaken their victim and continue control. They enhance their control by telling you that everyone around them is a liar. These people could be family members or friends, even the media. Again, keeping the victim questioning their own reality.
In summary, the gaslighter has subtle, targeted, and highly effective strategies that keep their victim confused about their own reality, therefore they can control their victim. If you feel you are in a relationship with someone who does this, I encourage you to seek outside help in order to unravel the lies and manipulation and return you to a space of feeling confident and grounded. At that point, you can make the sound decision of whether to keep the person in your life or not. Understand that they will continue their strategies and if you shut them down they will lash out and most likely leave you. If the gaslighter is someone you would like to keep in your life, it is paramount you learn the coping strategies and boundaries to maintain healthy interactions.
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