You may now be very familiar with the term gaslighting. In recent years, and with credit to a problematic political climate, gaslighting has become mainstream, a word used in headlines around the world to describe how seeds of doubt are being sown among the general public. However, gaslighting has primarily, since Ingrid Bergman’s widely-revered performance in 1944, been associated with interpersonal manipulation and mental health.
The term, gaslighting, means to cause doubt in another person’s sense of truth, which typically manifests as a victim being led to question their environment, feelings, and even identity. They are manipulated by an individual or, in some cases, a group, shifting the power dynamic and balance of their specific relationship against them. What may begin as mild elements of doubt and seeming forgetfulness can soon become extremely dangerous and detrimental mental abuse.
Identifying the signs of gaslighting is problematic. This is because the victim often feels anxious and without worth, believing themselves to be the cause of various issues. Over time, the gaslighter, seeking greater power and control within the relationship, will use the victim’s insecurity as a method of control.
Fundamentally, gaslighting is characterised by forms of lying. The gaslighter will create a sense of doubt in their victim by denying, warping, and manipulating the truth, intent on making them feel “crazy”. A victim may be certain that an event or conversation took place, only to be challenged on its actuality. Phrases such as “I never said that”, “This isn’t the way you put things before” or “That’s not what happened at all.” may be used to trigger uncertainty in an individual. Dialogue like this can be delivered with such insistence and anger that it leads the victim to feel vulnerable and inclined to make mistakes, labelling themselves as forgetful or crazy.
Lying may also take the form of creating paranoia by describing negative comments others will make about the victim. Sometimes framing their delivery as honest and constructive, gaslighters will tell of how other people, such as family and friends, aren’t happy with the victim, criticising their identity. This tactic both devalues the victim and can lead them to change themselves, usually in a way that pleases the gaslighter. It is also a method that isolates the victim, leading them to believe that their friends and family are unhappy with them.
When reading these signs here, they may seem easily identifiable, especially within the confines of a romantic relationship, however, they are typically delivered within the context of repetition, anger, and false senses of trust and hope, where a victim feels weak. Gaslighters will continue to assert their certainty, ensuring that their version of the truth is accepted. Often they will become aggressive so as to wear out the victim, exhausting them emotionally and physically. They may also build a sense of trust, that they are the only person that the victim can trust. This technique leads to codependency, which is often a goal of gaslighting.
Ultimately, the aim is to lead the victim into a sense of being at fault, that arising issues are due to their actions and that they are the problem. They may find themselves apologising more or instantly doubting their own worth, unaware that, in actuality, this isn’t the case. Gaslighters may also turn their apologies against the victim, verbalised as “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Gaslighting can be found in many types of relationship, not only romantic. Victims may be within friendships, corrupted by an individual or group, or families, such as a mother-daughter relationship. Or, in the term’s most current and widespread form of usage, within a sociopolitical context.
If unchecked, gaslighting can severely deteriorate mental health, physical health, and even lead to suicide. Due to the nature of gaslighting, it can be incredibly difficult to recover from. The victim must regain their sense of reality and rebuild their worth while also dealing with issues of trust and vulnerability.
Should you wish to talk about your own situation, I am available to offer support.