What is Gaslighting?

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 6, 2019

What is Gaslighting?

When a lie is repeated often enough, we start to accept it as the truth – even when it may conflict with the facts, or our own experiences...

Has anyone ever denied saying or doing something mid-argument, that you 100% know happened? Perhaps they’ve refused to admit they are wrong, despite the facts contradicting them? If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you may have experienced a form of gaslighting first-hand.

What is it?

When someone tries to manipulate you into second-guessing things that you have seen, heard, or know to be true, this is considered to be ‘gaslighting’. In the broadest sense, the term gaslighting is used to explain when someone tries to convince others – individuals, a group, or a nation – that something that happened, or a commonly known fact, is wrong. A form of psychological manipulation, it most often happens between a single deceiver and target.

Ranging from disagreements to refusing to listen to someone’s point of view, or being unable to accept they’re wrong, regardless of evidence, people from any background can experience gaslighting at any age. Gaslighters may be their partner, a family member, friend or colleague. While we all have small disagreements from time to time, often stemming from pettiness or an unwillingness to be proven wrong, it’s when this stubbornness has a more malicious intent that it is most often considered to be gaslighting.

Is it dangerous?

man looking out window

Over time, extreme cases of gaslighting can have a huge impact. From making someone doubt their own memories of events, to causing them to question their sanity, it can impact someone’s self-esteem and confidence, cause them to doubt their decisions, ultimately pushing them to become more reliant on the person who is gaslighting them.

Creating an unbalanced power dynamic where one person is subjected to micro-aggressions and non-fact-based scrutiny, gaslighting can be a form of psychological abuse and control. Unlike many physical forms of abuse, where there may be signs that friends and family could pick up on, emotional abuse can be harder to recognise.

For those experiencing gaslighting themselves, it can feel like the ground is always shifting beneath them. If they recognise they are being manipulated, they may still second-guess or blame themselves for what is happening, further impacting their confidence and self-esteem.

Signs of gaslighting

There are a number of signs you can keep an eye out for if you are concerned someone may be gaslighting you, or someone you care about. These can include indicators such as blatant lying about small or big things, denial of saying or doing something you know to be true, or a clear disconnect between what they are saying and doing. Some gaslighters may use something important against the other person to undermine them, for example, if they have children, they may focus on making the other person doubt their ability to be a fit parent.

People who gaslight aim to wear their target down over time, using snide comments and occasional lies. Gradually, these lies may increase. At first, the target may not even realise what is happening. Gaslighters will continue to dismiss what their target is saying or doing until they begin to question themselves, using the confusion and self-doubt to make them turn back to the gaslighter for the ‘correct’ information.

What can I do?

If you think someone may be gaslighting you, it’s important to act. It can be easy to let things slide or dismiss them, but over time this behaviour could harm your wellbeing.

Remain defiant in the face of gaslighting. Trust your emotions and your own version of events

Try to see the situation from the outside. It can be helpful to talk over your concerns with friends or family you trust to give an objective opinion. Discuss the situation with several people to get different perspectives. If in doubt, ask yourself: if this was happening to someone I care about, would I be worried? If the answer is yes, it’s worth taking a closer look.

It can be easy to dismiss gaslighting behaviours if it seems unintentional, but this doesn’t make these behaviours OK; it can still be a form of emotional abuse.

Finding the right time, place, and way to talk with the person about your concerns can be a big first step. It may be tricky, but things can’t get better if they aren’t addressed. However, your safety must remain the priority. If you’re concerned that raising the issue could negatively impact you, then seek external help as soon as possible.

Remain defiant in the face of gaslighting. Trust your emotions and your own version of events. We all want to believe others have our best interests at heart, but that isn’t always the case. It’s important we put ourselves (and our wellbeing) first.

The expert advice...

Counsellor Rav Sekhon says:

"Speak to someone you trust to reality check what the ‘gaslighter’ may be saying or doing. This will provide insight from a rational perspective.

"Depending on what kind of relationship exists, talking about the issue with your partner may highlight what’s actually happening, before it gets worse.Relationship counselling may be helpful to enable you both to work through the issue.

"It’s hoped that one of the above options will be effective. If not, it could be an indicator that the relationship may need to end.

"Seek external support from local services if family or friends are not available. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, and for those affected, the consequences can be severe if it's not addressed early on."

For more information about emotional abuse or to find an accredited therapist near you, visit Counselling Directory or use the search box below to find a counsellor near you.

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