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May 7, 2024

A Closer Look at Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that causes a person to question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that causes a person to question their own memory, perception, and sanity. The term originated from a play titled Gas Light, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she is crazy by slyly changing the intensity of the gas lights in their home when she is left alone. He does this to make her believe she cannot trust herself or her memory. Gaslighting has been portrayed in many movies, including The Girl on the Train.

Recognizing the Signs

Gaslighting often begins subtly, making it difficult to detect. Usually, the person attempting to gaslight someone else undermines that person’s reality through denial, misdirection, contradiction, and outright lies. Common signs of gaslighting include:

  • Denial of Reality: The gaslighter denies events or experiences that the victim knows to be true.
  • Diminishing: The gaslighter trivializes the victim’s feelings, experiences, or achievements.
  • Twisting Facts: The gaslighter manipulates information and reinterprets events to favor their perspective.
  • Projection: Gaslighters accuse the victim of behaviors or motives that they themselves exhibit.
  • Withholding Information: Gaslighters selectively withhold information to disorient and control.

Gaslighting in Real Life

Gaslighting can occur in any relationship, including romantic partnerships, friendships, families, and professional environments. Here are some examples of how gaslighting manifests.

In A Romantic Relationship

Gaslighting in romantic relationships often involves the manipulation of emotions, memories, and perceptions to maintain power and control. For example:

“You’re just imagining things. I never said that you couldn’t go out with your friends tonight. You must be overly sensitive and paranoid.”

In this romantic relationship scenario, the gaslighter denies making statements that the victim distinctly remembers, causing the victim to doubt their own memory and perception of events. The gaslighter further invalidates the victim’s emotions by accusing them of being overly sensitive.

In A Friendship

Gaslighting among friends may involve undermining confidence, dismissing concerns, or downplaying the impact of their actions. For instance:

“You’re too sensitive. I was just joking about your appearance. Can’t you take a joke? You’re overreacting.”

Here, the gaslighter minimizes the hurt caused by their comments by attributing the victim’s reaction to oversensitivity. By framing their hurtful remarks as harmless jokes, the gaslighter shifts blame onto the victim, making them question their ability to perceive humor.

In A Family

Gaslighting within families can take the form of rewriting history, denying past events, or invalidating emotions to maintain a particular family dynamic. For example:

“You’re making things up. That never happened during your childhood. You must be confused or seeking attention.”

In this instance, the gaslighter denies the victim’s recollection of events from their upbringing, dismissing their emotions and memories as fabricated or attention-seeking. This manipulation tactic aims to rewrite the victim’s understanding of their own history and experiences.

In The Workplace

Gaslighting in professional settings often involves undermining confidence, questioning competence, or distorting reality to exert authority or control. For instance:

“You’re not capable of handling this responsibility. Your performance has always been subpar. Maybe you’re not cut out for this job.”

Here, the gaslighter undermines the victim’s confidence by consistently criticizing their abilities and performance. By suggesting incompetence and unsuitability for the role, the gaslighter aims to instill self-doubt and dependency in the victim. Constructive feedback, on the other hand, would aim to facilitate growth and improvement.

How to Handle Gaslighting

  • Trust Yourself: Maintain confidence in your perceptions and feelings. Trust your instincts.
  • Document: Keep a record of incidents you believe are attempts to gaslight you so that you can validate your experiences.
  • Seek Support: You can confide in trusted individuals or you can call us. We can talk through your experiences and help you. It’s free and confidential. Call our statewide hotline at 1.800.770.1650. You can also text IOWAHELP to 20121.
  • Consider Distance: If it continues happening, consider taking a break from the toxic relationship. Gaslighting can have negative effects on your health and well-being.

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