Gaslighting

Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

I want to write my own reactions and experiences to the well written article I posted on this blog about gaslighting, a slow and sneaky form of emotional abuse.  To understand the context behind the name, please read the article (it sums it up very concisely): http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/gaslighting-a-slow-burning-emotional-abuse-tactic-0121154

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that, put in colloquial terms, is a form of “crazy making.”  The abuser manipulates the victim into doubting her own sense of reality, eroding at her ability to trust her perceptions, thoughts and feelings.  This is a very powerful form of emotional abuse because it usually isn’t immediately obvious, it’s subtle, and it slowly wears away at the person over time.  As the article puts it, it’s a “slow burn” as opposed to a more noticeable explosion.

This can happen in all sorts of relationship dynamics: parent/child, friend/friend, spouse/spouse, boss/coworker, etc.  It’s such a powerful form of manipulation because it insidiously sneaks into the victim’s head.  It convinces the person that she can no longer trust what she sees and hears.  It’s much easier to get a person to do what you want if she feels she must depend on you to be her reality check.  The abuser gaslights a victim that will be vulnerable to this to begin with, whether it’s a child who easily believes authority figures because she’s too young to know the difference, or if it’s an adult who comes from an emotionally invalidating or neglectful childhood home where her feelings and thoughts were never given much merit to begin with.  The adult victim may already have trouble believing in herself and her convictions, may have already been a victim of gaslighting for many years as a child, or may simply believe she does not deserve to be treated any other way or to have a voice of her own.

The abuser gaslights with more success if he can isolate his victim—he may do this literally, by ensuring that victim does not have much contact with anyone else.  Or, this may be done on an emotional level, where the abuser makes the victim feel so full of self-doubt and shame that she feels unable to reach out for support and another opinion.

In my experience, I also find that people who tend to gaslight are also people who tend to put others in a “double bind.”  They are very good at putting others between a rock and a hard place, or lose/lose situations, where the person feels helpless in how she responds to the gaslighter because there is no right way to respond.  This doesn’t always happen with abusers who use this emotional abuse tactic, but I find it’s quite common.

So what do you do if you are in a relationship with a person who you suspect is a gaslighter?  Keep in mind, this form of manipulation happens along a spectrum, where it can go from being subtle and infrequent to extreme and abusive.

1) First, pay attention to how you feel around this person.  Though they are good at making the victim doubt her intuition, pay attention to the intuition. Do you feel bewildered, confused, ashamed and/or anxious after being around this person?  Do you feel this way around anyone else?

2) Get feedback from someone you trust, someone who knows you.  They can help provide a more balanced version of reality.

3) Get help.  Therapy can help you learn to set boundaries, trust your thoughts and feelings, seek healthy support and safely remove yourself from an abusive situation.