Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that’s used to make you feel as though you can’t trust yourself. Someone who gaslights you might make you feel like you’re crazy or make you doubt things you know to be true. In essence, gaslighting makes you question your reality.
The term “gaslight” originates from a 1940s movie of the same name. In the movie, a man manipulates his wife with the end goal of institutionalizing and controlling her. He convinces her that she is a kleptomaniac. In the process, he makes her feel crazy when, in reality, she’s not.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. If you think someone might be gaslighting you, it’s important to get support so you can decide how to move forward and heal from the relationship.
Signs of gaslighting
The first step to healing from gaslighting is to recognize it. Unfortunately, gaslighting can be notoriously difficult to spot while it’s happening to you.
In the film Gaslight, the wife, Bella (who is being gaslit), starts questioning her sanity and perception of reality. This is what happens when you are being gaslighted. It’s such a challenging behavior to become aware of because the nature of gaslighting itself makes you doubt yourself. You might think, “Is this gaslighting, or am I being dramatic?” “Is this abuse, or did I do something wrong?”
Although we tend to think of gaslighting as something that happens within romantic relationships, it’s essential to know this type of abuse can occur in any relationship. For example, your boss, doctor, teacher, or parent can gaslight you.
Because of the self-doubt it causes, gaslighting can be incredibly hard to notice. But some signs that someone is gaslighting you include:
- They insist something happened when you know it didn’t
- They tell you you’re lying when you’re telling the truth
- They twist facts around so you end up being the one to blame
- They call you crazy when you try to confront them about their behavior
- They always refuse to accept your version of events in any way
- They tell you they wouldn’t have to behave in the way they do if you didn’t make them (they make you take the blame for things that are not your
- They minimize the harm they cause you; for example, they might insist something hurtful was just a joke
- They isolate you from loved ones who could back up your perception of reality
- They repeatedly lie to you and insist it’s the truth, even when you’ve caught them red-handed
- They tell you that other people also think you’re crazy or to blame (whether or not others do think so)
- They inform you they behave the way they do because they love you, and if you can’t see that, then it’s your problem
- They deflect any blame away from them and onto other people, including you
- They minimize your needs; for example, when you ask them for more support around the house, they might say you’re too needy
- They pretend to “forget”; for example, they might insist they “don’t remember” incidents in which they’ve hurt or betrayed you.
- They invalidate or deny your emotions; they might even say you don’t feel the way you feel (or you don’t know how you feel)
- They withhold important information, setting you up to fail
- They accuse you of being paranoid or not trusting them enough
Although gaslighting can look and sound many different ways depending on the context, you might hear a gaslighter say things like:
- You’re crazy. That did not happen.
- You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that big of a deal.
- I wouldn’t have had to hit you if you hadn’t made me so mad.
- You know that I only do that because I love you.
- Your friend only supports you because you didn’t tell her the whole story.
- Are you really going to treat me like this after everything I’ve done for you?
- It was just a joke. Lighten up.
- I don’t remember what I was doing last night. Would you stop bothering me about it?
- You’re paranoid, and you need to trust me more. How insecure are you?
- You think you’re perfect? You obviously don’t remember it right then.
- You’re not really that hurt, stop being so dramatic.
- You’re delusional.
- Now, you’re just confusing me. What are you even talking about?
- Did your friend tell you that nonsense? You know I’m the only one you can really trust.
- Boohoo, poor you. You don’t even have any real problems.
- Your friends only put up with you because they don’t know the real you.
- You secretly hate me, you just don’t know it.
- You need help. I don’t even know what to say to you.
- How does gaslighting affect you?
- Gaslighting is psychological or emotional abuse. And like all forms of abuse, it can have a profoundly harmful effect on your mental health.
Many people who have experienced gaslighting face the following effects:
Lack of trust in yourself
By definition, gaslighting makes you doubt yourself and your perception of reality. After being told continuously you are mistaken, your memory is wrong, and you are crazy, it’s easy for people who have been gaslighted- especially over a long period- to start questioning themselves.
After experiencing gaslighting, you may find it harder to trust your sanity. You might find yourself frequently questioning yourself and being plagued with self-doubt.
Being the victim of gaslighting can also make you feel powerless in your own life. You may have been in a situation that was difficult or even dangerous to get out of. You may have been aware the situation was toxic, but the person who abused you may have made it impossible for you to leave.
The person who abused you may have also gaslighted you into believing you had no power. They may have even made you feel like the abuse was your fault or you deserved it in some way. This may have caused you to resign yourself to any abuse inflicted upon you.
Criticism is often a big part of gaslighting. You may have been told over and over again you were crazy, delusional, unworthy, and more. Understandably, this may have negatively affected your self-esteem over time.
When you are told these criticisms repeatedly, you may start to believe these things about yourself. This is especially true if the gaslighting happened while you were still a child.
Another essential aspect of gaslighting is isolating you from friends, family, and loved ones. The person who abused you may have tricked you into believing nobody else loves you. They may have alienated you from your loved ones so that you wouldn’t have any support.
If you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a long time, then you may find your relationships with other people are no longer as strong as they could be. The time you spent isolated may have made loved ones drift away. This is significant, as having a solid social support network is imperative to healing from the mental health effects of gaslighting.
Depression and anxiety
You might also become depressed or anxious after experiencing gaslighting. Depression and anxiety are severe mental health conditions, and the causes of them are complex. Although gaslighting doesn’t directly cause either depression or anxiety, it could heighten your risk of developing these conditions.
Research shows, for example, that women who are the victims of domestic abuse or other trauma are more likely to develop mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Research has also linked childhood emotional abuse with depressive symptoms as an adult.
One study found that victims of emotional abuse were more likely to report depression, anxiety, stress, and neuroticism and that the effects of emotional abuse could be even more damaging than physical abuse.
How to heal from gaslighting
If you have been the victim of gaslighting, there are ways to heal. Holistic mental health treatment can be a profoundly impactful experience. Going to mental health treatment doesn’t mean your abuser was right and you are “crazy.” It simply means you deserve treatment and care to heal from the abusive ways in which you were treated.
At The Center, we have a unique trauma recovery program to help you dig deep and examine how gaslighting has affected you. Our Whole Person Care approach treats you as a unique individual with physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. We can help trauma survivors regain their life, balance, and happiness.
Our emotional abuse treatment program can help you heal the deep wounds that have been inflicted upon you through gaslighting and emerge as your true and best self.
1 – https://www.britannica.com/topic/gaslighting
2 – https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/abuse-trauma-and-mental-health
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6375578/
4 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7683637/