“You’re too sensitive, stop being so dramatic”
“I never said that”
“You are confusing things ”
If these statements sound familiar to you, it might be that you are a victim of ‘gaslighting’. Gaslighting is a form of subtle emotional manipulation that causes victims to question their reality. It is a psychological game of control and intimidation often practiced to incapacitate a person.
Anyone can become a victim of these gaslighting games irrespective of age, intelligence, and gender. It is not confined to romantic relationships and can occur in different relationships. To many, it often goes unrecognized as a well-accustomed part of the relationship. It is not rare then to find yourself trapped in this cycle of abuse.
The more powerful “Gaslighter” tries to define the reality of “Gaslightee” (who is less powerful in the relationship)- and the victim consciously and unconsciously allows that to happen.
The abuser manipulates reality in a systematic fashion by engaging in any of the following behaviors:-
- Altering facts or lying to create confusion: The abuser may remove things from certain places and later deny their existence to puzzle the victim into not believing his/her own perceptions. This holds true not only for inanimate objects or facts about a situation but also applies to the gaslighter’s behavior in general.
- Use of positive reinforcement to win the victim in the initial stage of a relationship. Convincing him/her into believing that “Maybe the person abusing is not that bad”. It is all planned to get complete domination over the victim.
- Their actions and words are mostly incongruent:- The gaslighters are good at talking. However, focusing on their actions is the key to identifying the abuse.
- They wear you down over time:- A good way to guess if you are gaslighted is to understand how you feel in the presence of a gaslighter. They make you feel helpless, crazy and make you question your worth as a person. You end up feeling apologetic and second-guessing the reasons for perpetually feeling so helpless most of the time. The goal of such behavior is to crumble your ability to think clearly.
- They try to brainwash people against you: A gaslighter is a master in finding people who will stand by him/her. By portraying the victim as a person who is not right they try to distance people from him/ her. This leaves the person feeling isolated, giving the abuser the power that they crave.
Susan had been married to Jacob for two years but she always found herself asking the question “what is wrong with me?” In the initial days of marriage, she used to feel scared of upsetting Jacob. He used to mock at her and call her a sensitive worthless loser. He occasionally praised her to win back her trust just to break it again. She argued to prove her point but was always attended with indifference. It felt that she had no grounding.
As another year passed by, she started losing faith in herself and wondered if she was capable of any relationship at all. She felt lonely and hollow. Despite receiving the worst verbal abuses from him, she found herself apologizing and feeling disoriented. When she recalled incidents of abuse by him, he labeled her to be inconsistent and denied the occurrence of those events. Susan’s best friend and sister did not believe her when she shared her helplessness describing Jacob’s behavior towards her. While Jacob started using silent treatment as a means of punishing her, she found herself digging deep into the pit of unknown gaslighting behaviors.
The two most common denominators of gaslighting behavior are consistency and subtleness.
Dr. Stern, associate director at Yale center for emotional intelligence shares that “When someone is abused there are visible signs that point towards the obvious. If a person is hit or threatened for instance – it can be understood how he/she has been hurt by what is visible. But when someone manipulates and the abuse is more hidden – the victim can end up feeling crushed and minimized”.
Even your close group of friends and family might not be able to comprehend and support at these times. Despite the evidence to the contrary, you might continue to blame the circumstances. You end up believing that something is wrong with you because you cannot name or put a finger on it.
The “frog in the frying pan” analogy aptly explains this type of concealed abuse. As the heat turns up slowly, the frog realizes what is happening to it. Similarly, when a torn self-esteem and blurred vision of future hits the victim, reality starts to seep in.
Gaslighting can cause you to question your own judgment, memories, and beliefs and shake your psychological roots. If you feel that your confidence has eroded at the hands of abuse like this. It is time to seek help – only when something is named and understood, can it be identified and healed.