What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting at its center focus is emotional abuse that erodes the ability to make decisions, feel self esteem or self worth, feel confident or capable. It shifts the balance of power in a relationship to the one doing the gaslighting. This emotional manipulation can make you question your sanity. In a variety of ways and patterns the manipulator makes the target feel overly sensitive, paranoid, crazy, unbalanced, like they are imagining things, silly or overreacting.
Some ways they do this are:
- They flip arguments or conversations deflecting blame or scrutiny to confuse, belittle, discredit or make you feel wrong
- Your interactions with them make you feel not good enough and you feel the need to apologize for everything you do, say or feel
- Your interactions with them make you feel overly sensitive or silly for what you are feeling
- Your interactions with them make you feel like you never say the right thing
- You don’t trust your own judgement or feelings as a result
- The games can make you feel sad, hopeless, misunderstood, depressed or confused about reality
- They attack you when you speak your truth
- You can find it hard to make choices or decisions because the invalidation has made it hard to trust yourself
- You swallow your voice, your feelings and your truth to keep the peace or to not aggravate the situation
- They use false compassion or emotion to make it seem like you have it all wrong or you misinterpreted things
- Diversion or changing the subject
- Making things seem small by minimizing them, saying they were only joking, or that you’re making a big deal out of nothing
- Denying something that was said or done
- Twisting words or situations to make them in their favor and structure it so they don’t seem like they ones at fault
- They alienate you from your friends, family or co-workers
- They may look perfect to the outside world and may paint you as the one with issues
- When challenged they escalate the denial, blame, abuse, argument, threats or deflection. They also may threaten to leave, take the kids, expose something to the public
- They create anxiety, fear and uncertainty, forming co dependent relationships where they pull the strings
- They can give small rays of hope or optimism once in awhile to keep the target baited, especially in areas where there is great lack. Eg: Rare I love you when things are very escalated or you are done, a promise for the future, fulfillment of something. This ensures the target lets their guard down so the manipulation and codependency can continue
- Need to be in control. This can mean setting all the plans, the parameters of the relationship evolution, how deep it goes
- Have a very shallow ability to share or be vulnerable. Won’t talk about what is going on with them or what they are feeling, keep things very vague so they can manipulate or shift things later
The first thing we need to remember is that we are not crazy for noticing these patterns.
What we are feeling is valid and real. They are doing something wrong. Our inner guidance and intuition are telling us of the imbalance between what we are experiencing and the truth that we feel. And we need to listen.
Yes, there can be times when we are overreacting to situations. Everyone does this at times, it’s called being human. But gaslighting is a consistent set of patterns that are constantly being imprinted on us. And we can feel the imbalance and wrongness of it in our bones. We know in our heart this isn’t a healthy relationship. So it’s up to us to shift it.
The thing we need to remember is we’re not dealing with people who are employing normal communication methods. We are dealing with someone who is using an arsenal of unhealthy games of manipulation and deception in order to get the reaction that they want. This can be really hard to accept as we try to come at things in a healthy or conscious way in order to heal them, and it never seems to help. We can’t heal the dysfunction that the gaslighter operates from, only they can.
Everyone at one time or another has dealt with gaslighting.
These types of situations have been experienced by nearly all of us by a partner, a friend, a boss or co-worker or a family member. We don’t have to stay in these relationships, and becoming aware of what these patterns look like is the first step to recognition that they are occuring.
It can take a long time to heal from these patterns of abuse. Allow the time needed. It didn’t take one day for these patterns to imprint upon you, it will take a little while to heal them. The important part is cutting ties with the abusers and putting the focus on our own healing. We can’t save these people or love them enough to change them and the longer we hold on the deeper we sink. We deserve better than a lifetime of games, walking on eggshells, uncertainty and abuse.
“So often victims end up unnecessarily prolonging their abuse because they buy into the notion that their abuser must be coming from a wounded place and that only patient love and tolerance (and lots of misguided therapy) will help them heal.” – George K. Simon