Have you ever told someone you were upset or angry with them and the other person snapped back and said, “you are being dramatic” or “you are too sensitive?” These types of statements not only invalidate your feelings but also make you question your reality. You might start thinking that you’re overreacting to certain situations and begin placing all the blame on yourself. If this sounds familiar, then you might be dealing with a gaslighter. Find out more about gaslighting and how to combat this toxic behavior.
What is Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” in which a man manipulates his wife into thinking she is losing her mind.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which one person makes the other person question themselves and their sanity in order to gain control over them. The person gaslighting makes you feel confused, isolated, ashamed, and powerless. A gaslighter does this by gradually wearing down a person’s trust in themselves while increasing how much they trust the abuser. You start to doubt yourself and believe the stories and lies the other person is feeding you.
Over time, being a victim of gaslighting can seriously harm your mental health. If you constantly hear things like, “you’re not remembering that correctly” or “you must be going crazy,” this verbal abuse breaks down your self-worth and self-confidence. Always being on edge or anxious can leave you feeling exhausted, stressed, and ultimately raise your risk of developing depression.
Unfortunately, everyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and sometimes it’s difficult to realize it’s even happening to you. While gaslighting happens more commonly between two people in a romantic relationship, it can also occur between you and your best friend, your boss, colleague, professor, and just about anyone else.
What Are Signs of Gaslighting?
There are many classic examples of gaslighting – some more noticeable than others – but nevertheless, it’s extremely frustrating. If you are constantly left questioning your own perception of reality, don’t worry, you are not going crazy. You are likely being “gaslit.”
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, here are the most common gaslighting techniques:
- Withholding – The abusive person pretends not to understand or refuses to listen to the conversation. Let’s say you confront a coworker about a rumor they are spreading about you. They might respond with something like “No, you must be hearing things. That doesn’t even make sense.”
- Countering – The gaslighter disputes the victim’s memory, even when the victim remembers the details accurately. An example is when the abuser said they were excited about an event you both are attending, but when you bring it up, they tell you they never wanted to go.
- Blocking or Diverting – This gaslighter quickly changes the subject and questions the victim’s thoughts to dominate the conversation. For example, they might say, “Where did you get a crazy idea like that?” or “I’m not going through this with you again.”
- Trivializing – The abuser downplays or belittles your concerns and implies that your feelings and needs are not important. Oftentimes, this looks like the other person saying, “You’re going to let something that small ruin the night?” or “Stop exaggerating.” This technique minimizes your emotions and makes you feel guilty for bringing them up in the first place.
- Forgetting or Denial – The gaslighter will forget important details or events that actually occurred. They might also deny promises that they made to the victim and cover up their dishonesty by yelling or keeping a straight face. An example of this would be if the abuser said, “You’re making stuff up again” or “That never even happened.”
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to spot this manipulative behavior. To cause some chaos, gaslighters will frequently mix in some positive reinforcement after they say something demeaning. This is usually just another way for them to have control over you. When you receive a compliment after being criticized the entire day, you might think to yourself, “Okay, maybe this person isn’t so bad after all.”
Someone who is gaslighting often projects their own flaws and insecurities onto their victim. This is an effective distraction technique that allows the abuser to turn the attention away from themselves to focus on you. And lastly, gaslighters will attempt to align people against you. For instance, they might start spewing lies such as, “Your neighbor told me they don’t like you either” or “Even this coworker says you’re useless too.” Remember, that this doesn’t mean those people actually said those things. Gaslighters are master manipulators, and they use this tactic to destroy relationships between you and others.
How Are Gaslighting and Addiction Connected?
Individuals struggling with addiction often resort to gaslighting to continue using drugs or alcohol without resistance from their loved ones. An addict may hide their alcohol in random containers. Someone using other substances may hide their pills or take them when they’re alone. When you confront them about their suspicious behavior, they tell you that you’re crazy or make you feel confused. Over time, you may trust the lies the addict is telling you and, in turn, you start to enable their addiction.
While gaslighting can occur in relationships involving addicts, it does not mean the individual is evil or doesn’t care about others. Addiction completely rewires a person’s mind until their only concern is getting drunk or high. This disease is characterized by an inability to control one’s use of drugs or alcohol and the uncontrollable desire for these substances.
How Do You Deal with Gaslighting?
Gaslighting can have a negative impact on your mental health, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from this manipulative tactic.
Gather evidence – Although reasoning with a gaslighter is nearly impossible, you can still gather evidence to prove you are not imagining things. Keep a diary to record the date, time, and details of what happened soon after it occurred. Share your experience with an outsider, someone who can act as a witness. Take pictures or screenshot text messages that can later be used if you need proof. If possible, you can also record audio to play back to the gaslighter when they say you’re lying or making things up.
Speak with a therapist – Gaslighting is a serious form of abuse. Speaking with a therapist can help you work through trauma and reframe your mindset. Being in an emotionally abusive relationship can take a toll on your mental health. Sometimes, the abuser may even attempt to turn other people against you. If this happens, a therapist will be there to provide a safe, confidential space for you to talk about your situation.
Walk away from the relationship – If a friend, colleague, partner, or anyone, is gaslighting you and you have called them out on their behavior and they ignore it, then it might be time to distance yourself. This person is having a harmful effect on your mental health and trying to assert their power over you. If it’s a romantic relationship, it might be difficult to leave depending on the situation. In that case, refer to the safety planning point below.
Safety planning – If the situation becomes physical or out of hand, have a safety plan in mind. Create a list of safe places you can go if the abuser becomes violent. Make trusted loved ones aware of your situation. And contact domestic abuse organizations for guidance on how to navigate the relationship and get the help you need.
Understanding what gaslighting means, and looking at different examples of gaslighting and solutions can help protect yourself against this abusive behavior. If something feels off, especially if your partner or another person displays common gaslighting signs and does so consistently, it may be time to talk to them, reevaluate the relationship or reach out for professional help.