By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is the attempt to manipulate a person or group psychologically. The perpetrator wants to get the victim to doubt their own perceptions. Gaslighting is done to obtain power and control over the victim. The process happens slowly and gradually until the victim comes to question their perception of reality.
The origin of the term is a play from the late nineteen-thirties, which was later turned into a movie. When someone is gaslighting, they are trying to convince you that you are insane and that what you’re seeing happen isn’t happening.
Abusers often resort to gaslighting techniques to try to convince their victims that they are not doing anything wrong. By destroying the victim’s sense of reality, the abuser gains control over that individual. Cults often engage in gaslighting to convince their followers that only the leader correctly perceives things. To be effective, the person doing the gaslighting has to get the victim to doubt their own perceptions. Gradually the judgment of the victim is invalidated, and they look to the abuser for their sense of reality.
One technique that is used for gaslighting is to repeat a lie that they want others to believe continually. Repeating something often enough and loudly enough can convince many people to believe that lie and to doubt their perceptions.
Gaslighting techniques, sometimes called disinformation campaigns, have become extremely common on social media. Something completely untrue can spread rapidly when an altered video or non-true news story is reposted often enough. Both antisocial sociopaths and narcissists make extensive use of gaslighting methods. Here are some ways that you can spot attempts to gaslight.
They tell blatant lies.
The lies are often so extreme that they are hard to believe. No matter how often they are challenged, the perpetrator sticks to their deception and attacks the victim. By using huge lies, they keep the victims from knowing when they’re telling the truth, and when they are lying. The goal is to keep the victim emotionally off-balance.
When challenged, they deny everything, even if you have evidence.
The person using gaslighting techniques never admits they’re wrong about anything. They explain away the evidence. Tell you that you miss read something or you are misinterpreting things. Their repeated denials can get you to question your perceptions.
They tell you that you are wrong, crazy, or just imagining things.
When confronted with something the gaslighter has done, they will deny that the actions ever took place. You may know you saw them doing something, but they will offer a different explanation. They’ll tell you that you didn’t see what you thought you did. That makes excuses that you’ve been stressed out recently, that you’re taking things too seriously. They may even tell you that something you remember didn’t happen or didn’t happen the way you remember it.
They withhold information from you.
The person doing the gaslighting will tell you that you don’t need to think about that. They will try to handle everything for you. As with other forms of abuse, they’ll try to cut you off from other sources of information. Abusers often take over controlling the finances and may object to your seeing your family or friends.
They wear you down over time.
The person using gaslighting never lets up. The lying and contradicting you, coupled with attacks on your perceptions, are relentless. They stick to their script, gradually wearing their victims down.
Their actions don’t match their words.
They often give you stories of what they’re going to do and why it’s for your benefit. But when you look at their actions, they don’t match the promises they made and are primarily for their own self-interest.
They distract from their behavior by projecting it on you.
Do you think your partner is cheating on you? If you confront them about this, they’re likely to accuse you of being the cheater. Criticize their drinking or drug use, and they’ll find something you do and accuse you of being addicted to reading books, watching your TV show, or eating your favorite dessert.
Degrading comments are followed by positive reinforcement.
They’ll tell you that you’re stupid or crazy. Often these degrading comments come in the form of jokes. After running you down repeatedly, they’ll offer you a small amount of praise for some minor things you did. The goal here is to get you to doubt your abilities and to be hungry for their praise and approval.
They block or are unsupportive of your growth.
Anytime you try to develop a new friendship or new interest, the abuser is likely to tell you that that person is no good for you, and you will never be able to handle the new activity.
Gaslighters hide things from their victim’s.
People who engage in gaslighting may have secret bank accounts, a second cell phone, and develop other ways to hide information.
Abusers try to change you.
They may tell you that you need to change your appearance, your habits, or your interests. They will often use derogatory comments about you to undermine your self-esteem, gradually changing their victims into the person they want them to be.
Abusers try to isolate you.
Techniques frequently used by those people who are gaslighting others are to cut them off from their families and friends. They tell you that people you are close to are jealous of your relationship and out to harm you. They may also tell friends and family that you’ve been acting crazy and are close to a mental breakdown. The goal is to eliminate any contact you have with other people so that no one supports your version of reality.
Have you been affected by gaslighting? What have you done to try to reestablish your independence?
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Hi, I just wanted to let you know that your post has been featured here: https://quantumlivingpsychology.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/15/gaslighting/
It was interesting to hear the signs of gaslighting in abusive relationships. I’m very thankful I don’t have personal experience with that. I hope your article will help more people understand what to watch out for so they know to protect themselves.
Thank you for entering the post and for leaving this comment. It’s always nice to know when something I’ve written is of interest to someone.
David ~ I forwarded this blog post to several friends and family members that I knew would get a kick out of it…..this is one of the responses I received and I knew that you would get a laugh from it…..”Very timely, I get the connotation but I thought gaslighting was when you farted and held the covers down over someone’s head🤣. At least when Larry did that to me that’s what he called it… There’s a reason we’re not married!”
Glad you liked the post. I don’t want to think about the name for what she is describing.