Updated: Feb 20
Gaslighting is a weaponized way of communicating that has destructive consequences. I am embarrassed to admit that I have spoken to people in these hurtful ways. I am sorry. Please forgive me for speaking to you this way. I hope we can learn and grow to tame our tongues, check our pride, filter our thoughts before we speak, so that we speak to one another with respect and dignity.
The term "gaslighting" comes from a play (1938, Patrick Hamilton) and film (1944, Alfred Hitchcock) called "Gaslight". In the story, a husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind by dimming the gas lamps. When his wife hears sounds and sees gas lights dimming around the house, she asks her husband about them. The husband makes his wife doubt herself by telling her that what she is hearing and seeing is imaginary. The term "gaslighting" came to represent a type of manipulation in which you question the person's reality.
Gaslighting is questioning another person's perspective and telling them that they are wrong. It is trying to manipulate, control, and exert power over someone's point of view. When someone is gaslighting you, you may second-guess yourself ("Maybe I'm wrong"), your memories ("Maybe I remembered incorrectly"), and perceptions ("Maybe I am not seeing this accurately"). After a person gaslights you, you may feel belittled and think that there is something wrong with you. You may begin to think that you are at fault, to be blamed for, and that you're being too sensitive.
Gaslighting can cause you to question your judgment, memory, self-worth, abilities, and overall identity ("I don't know who I am anymore."). If there is ongoing gaslighting in a relationship, over time the victim will question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, experience a loss of confidence and self-esteem, and develop a dependency on the gaslighter.
Examples of gaslighting:
Countering: “Are you sure about that?” "You're wrong." "You have such bad memory." "I disagree with you." That is not right." "I don't believe you." "What are you talking about?"
“You are confusing me. "You are so confusing." “I do not know what you are talking about.” "I don't understand."
They say they do not understand what you are saying because they refuse to step down from their position, to consider your perspective, and refuse to listen to you.
"You're overreacting." "It's not that big of a deal." "You're being too sensitive." "No one thinks that way."
"I didn't say that." "I don't do that." "It's not me, it's you." "I don't remember." "It's not my fault." "I'm right." "I don't do anything wrong." "I am not the problem."
Lying "You're making things up." "That never happened." "You are crazy". "Everyone agrees with me."
"You are not making any sense." "You are flawed, so I can't trust you." "I don't understand you." "You're not making any sense.""That doesn't count.""What are you talking about it?"
"(Repeating what you say in a mocking or sarcastic tone)" "Really?" "You're doing it that way?" "You're doing it wrong." "Hahah" (Not with you, but laughing at you) "I can't believe you think that." "I can't believe you do it that way."
They spread rumors and gossip about you to other people, painting you in a negative light. They publicly shame you. They may play the victim. They may say they care for you and be worried about you, to justify their talking about you negatively. People will believe them and become allies with them. They may even do an intervention on you because they see you as such a problem.
"That's not what we're talking about." "What are you talking about?" "Stop changing the subject." "Don't turn this back on me."
Minimizing your thoughts and feelings
"I don't care how you feel." "No one cares what you think." "Calm down." "You're overreacting." "Why are you so sensitive."
Blaming, Berating, Belittling, Attacking, Criticizing, Correcting, Questionning
"What is wrong with you?" "Why can't you do anything right?""You messed up." "You have issues." "You're so dumb." "You're so stupid." "I can't trust you." "You've ruined my life." "I hate you." "You are the worst." "You are not smart." "You are so inefficient." "You're just like your your mom." "Why are you like this?"
Using compassionate words as weapons
"You know how much I love you." "I'm not trying to hurt you." "We're on the same team. I'm trying to help." As a preface to..."This is what is wrong with you... this is what you need to do to fix this..."
"That is not what happened." "Your memory is so bad." "You said you..."(When you didn't say that)
"I'm so tired." "I'm so stressed." "I have to act this way because of you." "I have a lot on my plate.""Do you know how hard it is to live with you?""I do so much for you.""I'm having a bad day."
Why do people gaslight?
People gaslight because they want to control the other person. They want people to do what they tell them to do. They want people to do things their way. They want to be in control.
Gaslighting is modeled behavior. They learn to gaslight people because they saw people in their life do it. "This is just our family dynamic so it's okay." "This is how we treat each other in our family." "This is just how we talk." They see that gaslighting as a way to get what they want from people. They see gaslighting as an effective way to control people. They think they are entitled to gaslighting behavior. "This is just the way I am. This is my personality. I am a blunt and direct person. I can't deal with passive people who beat around the bush. I am just being myself." "Don't tell me how to speak to you. I can speak however I want." "We would not get anything done if I didn't act this way."
Hurt people hurt people. Gaslighting can become a negative relational pattern. A tit for tat. We do not like being told what to do. We don't like being told we are wrong. So when we feel attacked, disrespected, treated unfairly, then we want to retaliate. "If you are going to treat me this way, then I'll treat you that way too."
There is a component of narcissism in gaslighting. They think they are better, smarter, more righteous, higher functioning, more successful, more efficient, more productive, knows more, is more important, has higher status, has more experiences than you. They believe that they are better than you. "You are not good at what you do, so what you are saying doesn't matter." They think they deserve admiration for who they are, their good character, and hard work. "Your life would be better if you just listened to me and did what I tell you to do." They feel justified to gaslight you.
There is also a component of rigidity and fixed thinking in gaslighting. They may be gracious, patient, and tolerant in other areas of their life, but in the context where they gaslight, they are inflexible. There is an inability to accept or be considerate of you, your thoughts, and actions. They have drawn a line, an expectation of you, and when you cross their boundary, they feel entitled to gaslight you.
How gaslighting works
Gaslighting is a dynamic of control. People exert power to gaslight people. They first gain your trust, where there is no gaslighting behavior. Then they begin to suggest that you are not reliable, that you have bad memory, that you lack discipline, that you are immature, that you lack integrity. "You are not a real man. You are a bad parent. You are not succeeding. You are failing. You are a bad person." Over time, you internalize these words and believe them to be true. The more this happens, the more power and influence the gaslighting person has. The victim is unable to trust themselves to make positive changes in their life, so the person becomes dependent on the gaslighter to make decisions in how to live their life.
Examples of gaslighting relationships:
Intimate relationships and friendships: Gaslighting isolates the partner, undermines their confidence, and makes them easier to control.
Child-parent: Parents and caregivers can shame, yell, and belittle to control their children.
Medical gaslighting: A medical professional can dismiss a person’s health concerns as not real, just in their head, and label them a hypochondriac.
Racial gaslighting: We can gaslight a racial or ethnic group in order to discredit them. For example, they may say an activist asking for change is irrational, too extreme, and crazy.
Institutional gaslighting: Gaslighting can occur at the systemic level within a company or organization. For example, they may portray whistleblowers who report problems as trouble makers. Leaders may suppress the people's concerns in the community.
How to stop gaslighting people
If you are aware that you are gaslighting people, take intentional steps to be a better listener and engage with self-reflection.
Listen. Allow people to speak. Consider other people's perspective. Invite people to speak. "What do you think?" "I want to hear your opinion. Tell me more. Explain what you mean." Even if you disagree or don't understand the person, bite your tongue, and listen to what people are saying. Resist your impulse to correct, criticize, and give them your opinion. Try to summarize what they are saying. "What I am hearing you say is that you think things are unfair here." At the very least, parrot what they are saying, "I hear you saying that you are unhappy." "You said that there is a different way to do this."
Look in the mirror. Have the humility to admit that the world does not revolve around you, not everything has to be your way, you are not the boss of everyone. Learn to introspect and acknowledge areas of growth that you can work on. Admit your imperfections. Consider wounds and baggage you may be carrying and can work on unburdening. Maybe your gaslighting behavior towards people is part of a defense mechanism of projecting your own loss, pain, and insecurities onto others by trying to control them.
And yes, I can hear the pushback: "But what if, objectively, they are wrong and I am right? Don't I have a right to correct them?" I would say, it's not always about being right. You can win the battle but lose the war. If you need to correct someone, I would suggest asking for permission first. "Can I respond to what you're saying?", "Can I share with you my perspective?" If they say "no", please respect that boundary. Bookmark it and ask them again later for permission to express your thoughts. If they do not consent to you correcting them, it actually will make their progress slower. They (and you) will dig your heels in deeper to your point of view. I know this seems inefficient, to have to ask for permission, and to back off if they do not want to hear you, but in the long run, this is the most effective way for people to gain insight.
The effects of gaslighting.
Signs that you someone in your life may be gaslighting you:
You doubt your feelings and reality: You think that the way people treat you is not that bad or that you are too sensitive.
You question your judgment and perceptions: You are afraid of speaking up. You don't express your emotions. You think that sharing your opinion makes you feel worse in the end, so you stay silent.
You feel vulnerable and insecure: You often feel like you "walk on eggshells" around your partner, friend, or family member. You are constantly filtering your thoughts and calculating what words to speak. You feel on edge and lack self-esteem.
You feel alone and powerless: You think people perceive you as strange, odd, crazy, or not okay.
You internalize what they say you are: You often think you are wrong, unintelligent, inadequate, or insane. You find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
You are disappointed in yourself and who you have become: You feel like you are weak and passive, and that you used to be stronger and more assertive.
You have a sense of impending doom: You feel like something terrible is about to happen when you are around this person. You feel threatened and attacked.
You apologize a lot: You apologize all the time for what you do and who you are.
You feel inadequate: You feel like you are never "good enough." You try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable.
You second-guess yourself: You wonder if you remember the details of past events. You stopped trying to share what you remember out of fear that it is wrong.
You assume others are disappointed in you: You assume you are letting people down.
You constantly think about what's wrong with you.
You struggle to make decisions because you don't trust yourself: You avoid decision-making altogether.
You defend the gaslighter and feel dependent on the gaslighter: I would fail in life if it weren't for them.
What to do if someone is gaslighting you
Get some space: Physically leave the situation. "I need a break." "Please give me space."
Keep evidence: Write in a journal, save pictures, text conversations, and emails so that you can look back on them later and remind yourself what actually happened.
Set boundaries: Tell people what you are willing to accept in a relationship. "Please let me speak." "Please don't dismiss my perspective."
Get an outside perspective: Talk to a friend or family member about what you are going through. Having another person's perspective can help make the situation clearer to you.
Safety planning: It may be helpful to have a plan when you don't feel safe. Make a list of safe places to go. Have modes of transportation available. Keep emergency contact details. Make a list of self-care activities to help you cope. Make a plan to safely leave the relationship, home, or situation.
Heal the hurt and pain. Love, kindness, gentleness, compassion, thoughtfulness, grace, mercy, hugs, warm soup, sunsets, sunrises, kids laughing and playing, and a vacation are some of the ways to begin healing hurt and pain.
Rebuild your self-confidence. Find your voice. Re-establish your sense of self.