When we begin to talk, we are most vulnerable.
However, gaining the courage to speak and tell our story often provides the greatest strength.
You never know who your tale, could light a fire under to open theirs.
But first to get talking, light a fire under yourself. Light the gas fire and get going...
What is gaslighting exactly, I hear you ask?
gaslighting (the present participle)
1. manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.
This term has been thrown about a lot of late, to describe friendships, relationships, family environments, and work environments. And gaslighting is present, both maliciously with intent or unconsciously to gain submission or control. We all have been victims, or perpetrators of gaslighting at some point in our lives and through our variety of communicative modes – body language, tone, text, and speech.
Has anyone ever said something to you that stopped you in your tracks and made you question your very sanity?
Did it make you doubt your memories and your perception of reality itself?
Let’s role-play it out in character format, creativity, after all, is the mother of invention.
In Relationships, it may take the form of -
Alan is a controlling partner and begins to sprinkle (...think Salt Bae) a little gaslighting into exchanges quite early in the relationship. The last time Anita saw Alan, they agreed to do something on Saturday, but when you bring it up later in a message or on the phone, Alan backtracks:
“No, silly, I said Sunday. I’m busy all day Saturday.”
As things progress, Anita begins to notice further inconsistencies between what Alan says at different points in time. Anita suggests going to a Thai restaurant one evening because Alan once said they really liked Thai cuisine. Only, you might get this response:
“I’m not a huge fan of Thai, but I know a great Mexican place we should try.”
Or even visa versa, Bob is keen for his partner of four months Beatrice to meet his family, and they had discussed it on a few instances.
Bob: “I’ve told my family that you’re coming to our Easter lunch. They are excited to meet you.”
Beatrice: “Didn’t we agree that we’d wait a little bit longer before doing the family thing?”
Bob: “We spoke about this the other day and you said you were happy to come.”
Beatrice: “I said it’d be nice to get to know your folks, but I also suggested we give it another month. You seemed to agree with me. But it’s done now, and I don’t want to disappoint them, so I’ll come.”
Another step, that the gaslighter may take is to graduate from reacting to your statements or questions with lies to starting conversations with lies about something they or you have said or done. In this instance, Candice and Colin have an exchange. You may hear:
Candice: “Do you remember you said I could borrow your credit card? Well, I’ve just ordered a new pair of shoes. I’ll pay you back soon.”
Colin's resolve begins to weaken, as he has become used to this conversation and situation, as Candice relies less and less on subtle deceptions and switches to more barefaced lies.
Colin begins running a bath and leaves the room to do something else whilst the abuser waits. When Colin returns, Candice has jumped in and takes his place. She insists:
“I came in here a few minutes ago and opened the taps. You must be imagining it if you think you did. Perhaps you heard me do it and got the idea in your head.”
Even with Family relationships, gaslighting can be observed:
Daniel, a child is often a focal point for aggressive behavior by one or both of his parents, and is often told off or punished regardless of whether he was to blame.
One morning, his mother Debbie was late leaving the house to get Daniel to school, through no fault of Daniel himself. Debbie insisted it was Daniel's fault nonetheless:
Debbie: “You’re going to be late for school now because of all your mucking about this morning. Why can’t you just behave yourself and do as you’re told?”
Children naturally test boundaries set by authority figures, including parents and teachers alike. This happens from a very young age and is a vital process that teaches kids self-control and accountability. Enforcing reasonable limits is healthy parenting, but some parents are so unwilling to see their rules broken, that even the smallest indiscretion is met with harshness:
Debbie: “You are such a naughty child and I really don’t know what we’re going to do with you.”
Now imagine a situation where a beloved family dog passes away and the child Emma is distraught with tears flowing freely. Her father figure, Edward, might flippantly toss the child’s feelings aside by saying:
Edward: “I don’t know why you’re crying so much, you never really loved the dog. You’re just acting and forcing crocodile tears to gain attention. You should be ashamed of yourself when I’m the one who is really sad here - I loved Echo.”
As Emma grows into a young adult and then an adult, the forms of gaslighting change somewhat. Emma may have developed some awareness that things are not normal and that one or both of their parents is manipulating events for their own benefit, or also adopt that behaviour as acceptable herself and continue to gaslight others.
If sought out - Edward quickly must adapt his gaslighting technique. One way to do this is by relying less on a complete denial of what was said or done but insisting that things have been taken out of context and misunderstood. Phrases such as these come out of the woodwork:
“That is not what I meant at all. You haven’t understood what I was trying to say.”
“You’re making up your own story to fit what I said when it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Sometimes parents wish to convince their teenage child that their friends and partners don’t actually like them. To do this, they may spout words such as:
“You know your friends don’t really like you, right? They are just using you because you have a car.”
“Fred is going to leave you soon, you mark my words. He doesn’t love you and is only waiting for someone better to come along.”
“Faith told me that she and your other classmates only invite you to parties because they feel sorry for you.”
“Why do you let Frank treat you so badly? Can’t you see that he is taking advantage of you?”
Upon hearing these phrases and others like them, the teenage child may begin to question whether these things are true. Even if they know their parent to be a manipulative liar, it can be hard not to let their comments get to them. Just as with all gaslighting, it plants the seed of doubt, and sometimes that seed may grow and destroy a relationship that is important to the child. And leave them feeling stuck and resentful towards a parent that is seeking to control and guilt trip them.
A parent may also take advantage of this level of control by effectively retelling an event and insisting that the “facts” were different than what the child thinks they were. An example might be a situation where a sibling once got in trouble at school for fighting. The parent might turn this around like so:
“You caused me no end of headaches when you were younger. Like that time I was called into school because you were caught fighting. I was so embarrassed. You embarrassed me”
In the Workplace (where we are most likely familiar with the term - Gaslighting) it might go a little bit like this:
Georgia was being asked to perform a particular duty, and then report back to her boss that it was done, only for them to reply:
“Why have you been wasting your time on that when I told you to do X instead?”
Georgia became a little agitated by this (which is natural) as she had put time and effort into performing the task as she thought had been instructed, and tries to defend herself, her boss Greg responds with a common retort:
“Don’t you think you’re over-reacting just a little bit?”
Hank was promised a raise after a certain amount of time, only to be told this when he raised it with his boss, Hugh:
“I never said I’d give you a raise. I said I’d think about it based on your performance and that remains somewhat lacking.”
And then there’s often the colleague, Hamish, who has been scheming to get a promotion ahead of you who will casually drop some of the following lines into the conversation to undermine your confidence and make you doubt your worthiness when it comes to moving up the career ladder:
Hamish: “I heard the boss wasn’t happy with that report you sent him. Someone’s in trouble!”
“Weren’t you in that email? I guess the boss doesn’t trust you with that sort of information yet.”
“I only said you need to up your game a bit. Jeez, someone’s a bit sensitive today!”
Of course, it might be actions (inclusive of the act of emailing) as well as words that form the gaslighting. Another act of gasliighting in an office environment might be that Hamish has turned off your computer screen while you’re away from your desk or moved some equipment to a different place than you left it. Some of these acts can be formally documented in a diary, and used in the court of law as proof of covert bullying.
Never underestimate the power of a diary!
Hell, you can even gaslight Yourself:
Have you ever told yourself, or has your Inner Critic piped up with:
“I’m being too sensitive”,
“it’s not that big of a deal”, or
“I just need to suck it up”?
We gaslight ourselves, as if we are programmed to ignore our own feelings and straight away skip to the finishline. Something happens to you during your journey, you are supposed to process the feelings associated with that event at some point, to then come to the solution or healing in finality. But for many of us, including myself, we often tend to skip over the processing of our thoughts and emotions and brush off our actual feelings attributed to the experience.
To some, this might not be a problem, and it won’t result in any long-term emotional damage. To others, however, self-gaslighting can trigger many other mental health issues if not corrected. Over time, these subtle forms of self-gaslighting lower your self-confidence and can affect your emotional stability, ability to solve problems and degrade our sense of self. Several psychologists suggest that it can also lead to anxiety, depression, confusion, and shame.
Look out for any warning signals such as: dismissing your own experiences, apologizing for your emotions, comparing your feelings to others and being critical of yourself, or doubting your self-worth.
Remember, gaslighting is designed to confuse you and make you feel insecure, and this can take many different forms.
The psychologist Elinor Greenberg has described three common methods of gaslighting
· Hiding. The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves.
· Changing. The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way the victim dresses or acts, they want the victim to mold into their fantasy. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that he or she is in fact not good enough.
· Control. The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so only they can influence the victim's thoughts and actions. The abuser gets pleasure from knowing the victim is being fully controlled by them.
To combat gaslighting, one must practice affirming your own self-worth. Allowing yourself to feel your initial feelings, and not push them away by telling yourself lies, or believing lies told by others. Affirm to yourself that your feelings are valid and that you will allow them to be processed accordingly.
Try it yourself.
A. Someone offends you at work
B. You feel hurt. You do not appreciate the action of your colleague.
C. You affirm that your feelings are valid and that you will work to find a solution.
Dont accept Gaslighting from anyone! And most of all, don't gaslight yourself! You are more deserving than that!