Gaslighting was among Oxford Dictionary’s words of the year for 2018 and with good reason. In essence, it is a form of psychological manipulation that forces people to actually question their memories, their thoughts, and much of the events happening around them. This is the basic gaslighting definition that most people are familiar with.
If it persists, a victim can be pushed to even doubt their own sanity. As it is covertly done and, often, over a period of years, the victim might not immediately realize that it’s actually happening. Such is the danger of gaslighting and why some people have to get counseled after the ordeal.
However, it doesn’t just happen in relationships. In the politically charged moment we are all living in, gaslighting phrases can even be heard from those in power.
What is Gaslighting: Origins of the Term
The term was first used in a George Cukor play, which was later adapted into a film. In the Gaslight movie, actor Charles Boyer plays the role of an abusive husband who torments and manipulates his wife, played by actress Ingrid Bergman. The story follows his every attempt to convince her that she is going mad.
The gaslighting movie shows him changing small things in their environment and when she notices, he insists that she is simply mistaken. The husband often tells the wife that she is either remembering things incorrectly or is simply delusional. This basically illustrated the widely accepted gaslighting meaning.
This film is also considered by many to be the term gaslighting origin.
Effects of Gaslighting in Relationships
As we’ve established, most people can’t even tell that they are with a gaslighter until it’s too late. However, by learning more about it and being aware of its signs, you’ll be better at spotting all the red flags. Here are some of the things to be mindful of:
- You feel more anxious and less confident than you used to be.
- Wondering if you’re being sensitive / invalidating your feelings.
- Always thinking that it’s your fault when something is wrong.
- Finding yourself apologizing often and too much.
- Feeling as if something is off, but you’re unable to identify it.
- Always excusing your partner’s wrong behavior.
- Keeping things secret from your friends and family to avoid confrontation with your partner.
- Feeling isolated from your loved ones.
- Decision-making is becoming harder and you’re always afraid of disappointing / angering your partner.
- No longer finding pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.
These are just examples and the effects of gaslighting are certainly not limited to just these. Often, people would have different experiences with it, but this list should provide you with a guide on what to watch out for.
We’ve already learned the gaslighting definition, but to better understand the difference between it and narcissism, let’s first talk about what a narcissist actually is. According to Psychologist Stephen Johnson, this is someone who has buried their true self as a response to trauma, and has chosen to replace it with an alternate persona. This “false self” is often grandiose—they are conceited and self-absorbed.
Gaslighting can happen in association with someone’s narcissistic personality, but it isn’t a disorder in itself. Narcissism, on the other hand, is a disorder that can manifest in various ways. The two do have overlaps, which you should also be mindful of. These include:
Both narcissists and gaslighters are prone to exaggerating the truth (about themselves and others) and frequent lying. However, while narcissists lie in order to boost their self-worth, a gaslighter does it to stay in control of another.
They don’t react well to criticism and rarely do they admit any flaws. Those who have narcissism may even react aggressively when you challenge their inflated sense of self. They might throw tantrums, deny, or even shift blame to you. The same goes for gaslighters. For them, relationships are no different from competitions and “offense is the best defense.”
Another thing they have in common is the way they project idealized images of themselves to others. For those with narcissism, the message they want to tell others is that “I am better than you and I am special!” This is something that might manifest in their romantic, professional, social, and other relationships.
For those who are prone to gaslighting, they do this to appear more dominant and suppress the other person in the relationship. This can also appear in romantic, professional, and social relationships. It is even prevalent in politics and in the media, which we will discuss further later.
The point is they want to show how much power they have over you and others.
What is an example of gaslighting? Most people make the mistake of thinking that this only occurs in abusive romantic relationships. This is not the case at all.
Are your parents gaslighting you? It might be difficult to comprehend or believe for some, but there are instances wherein parents do this. Most would do this in order to keep control of their child and assert dominance over them. It can happen to anyone at any age, so it’s best to know what the signs are.
They Impose Their Own Preferences on You
Always remember that tastes and preferences are subjective. Gaslighting parents say “Our family loves the beach” and therefore insinuate that you must like it too, which takes away your power to choose. If you tell them you dislike something and they proceed to invalidate your statement, they are also removing your ability to give people the proper information they need to treat you right.
Gaslighting Parents Will be Dismissive of Your Feelings
There is no such thing as “should” or “shouldn’t” when it comes to your feelings. Your feelings are valid, even if you find your parents dismissing yours. Gaslighting phrases such as “you’re being too sensitive” or “you’re just imagining things” should be noted as well.
They ignore your opinion or worse, think of your ideas as silly. Here’s a difficult pill to swallow for many: everyone is entitled to an opinion, regardless of their age. It is all too common for people, especially those older than you, to confuse their disagreement with ignorance.
They Habitually Dismiss Your Opinion
Gaslighting parents insist they are right and you are wrong, while also disregarding evidence. This isn’t to say that someone correcting you can be considered a form of gaslighting. Instead, this pertains to parents who habitually dismiss your opinion and suggestions, while also insisting they are correct and you are wrong—despite evidence pointing to the contrary.
They Deny or Shift the Blame When Called Out
You might find them blaming you for their actions when you do point out what they’re doing wrong. Things like “You made me do this” or “It’s because of your actions” are common among gaslighting parents. This is also why some children end up blaming themselves for things they had no control over or simply weren’t their fault.
It takes quite a strong will to not be broken by such actions. However, spotting the red flags early on can help you break the cycle before things get worse.
Gaslighting at Work
Can you truly be gaslit at work? Most of us practice a degree of assertiveness when at work. However, even the best of us can be subject to a degree of gaslighting at work. Here are the most common characteristics of a gaslighter when it comes to the workplace:
- Persistently paints you in a negative light. This includes questioning your credibility and the work you produce. Of course, this goes beyond the usual criticism we all receive at work. Gaslighters base their accusations on judgment instead of facts.
- A gaslighter will throw negative humor and sarcasm towards the gaslightee. Some people would just brush this off to avoid confrontation at work. However, be mindful of the words they use towards you. If it’s belittling you or marginalizing you as a person, then speak up. Should you do so and they respond with a “I was just joking” then consider it a red flag.
*Belittle Definition: “make someone seem unimportant.”
- Professional Exclusion: One of the most common gaslighting behavior at work. This pertains to a person being bypassed for advancement or development opportunities despite being qualified and capable for the job, without reasonable justification.
- A gaslighter can also make use of workplace gossip to assert control over someone. Gaslighting someone this way can make them feel as if they have to cater to the gaslighter’s needs to avoid further trouble. This could include personal and character attacks, often painting the gaslightee in a negative light.
Gaslighting at work is actually a lot more common than you think. Some people simply choose to look past it, not understanding the ill effects it might have on their mental health. If you notice red flags, make sure you take appropriate action such as reporting the incidents early on.
Gaslighting in Friendships
Manipulation can happen in friendships, too, without one party realizing it. This is quite scary for many, especially if they consider their friend groups to be safe spaces. Fortunately, there are ways of telling if you have gaslighting friends.
Here are the signs of gaslighting in friendships:
- Splitting and lying. Gaslighting friends love seeing a fight and it excites them to know they made it happen. It makes them feel as if they have power over you or the entire group. They might tell you falsities that could lead you to isolating yourself from everyone else. This is what the gaslighter wants, for you to see them as your only friend.
- Another example of gaslighting friends is when they aggressively try to form a bond with your spouse or partner. You might find them trying to exclude you from the interaction or trying to one up you during conversations. Again, this type of person sees everything as a competition. Stealing your partner is nothing but a game for them.
Gaslighting behavior in friends is not always apparent. You can know someone for years and not see this side to them, until you experience it for yourself. So, don’t blame yourself for not seeing red flags sooner!
Gaslighting in Media and Politics: Donald Trump
What does it mean when someone is gaslighting you? Just look at the way Trump is able to make his followers believe that he is capable and worthy of the presidential seat. The Trump Twitter account alone is full of falsehoods yet so many still believe in him.
Even from the beginning, he has been accused of his degree of manipulation. Trump gaslighting the American public includes him falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of starting conspiracy theories. The same goes for him lying about the existence and effects of climate change. He’ll even go as far as bullying a child – such is the case with Greta Thunberg – in order to make himself appear correct.
We’re sure no one has forgotten the way he has exaggerated the facts behind his win. While he did win by a narrow margin, Trump hailed his own victory by calling it a “landslide.” It’s far from the truth and displays typical gaslighting behavior.
In the book, Gaslighting America: Why We Love it When Trump Lies to Us, author Amanda B. Carpenter breaks down the formula that Trump uses to manipulate facts to benefit him. It’s a closer look at why most Americans seemingly accept all the horrifying lies that Trump has been feeding them since he took office.
How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship
Robert Stern, who has counseled hundreds of gaslighting victims, has listed some advice to help those who were subject to it slowly recover from the ordeal. According to him, the antidote is self-regulation and emotional awareness. You need not define crazy. Instead, believe that you are not losing your mind.
Knowledge and practice go hand in hand. It’ll take some time to build up confidence and re-learn how to be happy by yourself, but the process is worth it. Keep these in mind:
Identify the Problem
Recognizing and accepting that there is a problem is the first step. Most people who experience gaslighting often live in a state of denial for the longest time before finally taking action.
Separate Truth From Fiction
How to deal with gaslighting? Keep a journal so you can take a more objective look at every situation. Write down important details as you experience them so you cannot be manipulated into thinking otherwise. There are many bullet journal ideas you can use to help you with this.
Are You Trapped in a Power Struggle?
If you keep having the same conversation with them, but they have done nothing to acknowledge your opinion, then consider your suspicion confirmed.
Manifestation isn’t just about attracting what you want in your life. It also teaches you to aim for better things. Visualize how much better your life will be without the toxic relationship you are in. Practice it regularly until the visualization no longer brings you anxiety, but only positivity. This can even help give you the courage to finally move on from it, too.
This practice helps put your thoughts in order and can also improve self-awareness. It teaches you how to listen to yourself better, by filtering the thoughts you entertain. If you are being bombarded with falsities by your gaslighter, mindfulness will help you center yourself, and separate the truth you know from the lies you are being fed.
Always Allow Yourself to Feel
Do not look for external validation when it comes to your feelings. Your emotions are real and having them is okay. No, you are not being too sensitive. Acknowledging that our emotions are part of what makes us human will remove any guilt associated with negative feelings and will make you more assertive should someone belittle them.
Prioritize Yourself Over Protecting Relationships
It will be challenging and painful, but you will have to learn how to cut ties with your gaslighter—even if it’s someone you are committed to. This includes your parents, a best friend, a sibling, or a partner. Give yourself permission and know that there is nothing wrong with it. Your mental and physical health should be above everything else.
Does Unconscious Gaslighting Exist?
Conscious gaslighting tends to be more prevalent, but unconscious gaslighting does happen to a certain degree. This can be seen in instances where information is selectively omitted or spun, not necessarily because of malicious intent but mostly due to circumstance.
For example, a group of people might unconsciously lead you into believing something is true when it is actually false. They have likely been fed the wrong information and as such, are unaware of their unintentional gaslighting behavior.
We hope that our article has helped you better understand what gaslighting someone truly means. To define gaslighting as simple manipulation is dismissing the other forms it can take, so we hope our examples helped create a clearer picture of what it really is.
Gaslighting can be very dangerous if you allow it to persist. Empower yourself and avoid this situation by learning more about it and practicing self-awareness in every relationship you have.