Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves manipulating someone until they question their own sense of reality. I call it crazy-making and I can always tell when I’m being gaslighted because I start to feel “crazy.” I experienced a marriage where Gaslighting was prevalent, and I’ve coached many people who didn’t even know what gaslighting was but were glad to find out and start healing from its effects. It can be defined as an abuse of the truth or a misrepresentation of reality. The intention behind gaslighting is to trigger you into doubting your own memory and perhaps even your own sanity. It is all about control and having the power in a relationship. And this can be any kind of a relationship; it’s not limited to romantic unions only. A boss, a friend, a co-worker, even a therapist can be a gaslighter.
The term “gaslighting” originated from a movie named Gaslight that was popular in 1944. It was about a husband who slowly manipulates his wife into thinking she’s going insane by maneuvering a gas light to flicker and go off and come back on. His scheming is how he made his wife feel irrational and often a victim turns back toward their abuser (in this case, her husband) for help. The effects of gaslighting can be soul shattering because the gaslighter’s goal is to destabilize the targeted person’s sense of self, to make them question their truths, and to erode their confidence in their own instincts. Victims can struggle with anxiety and depression. Some feel suicidal and suffer from panic attacks as well as severe stress. Some shut down completely.
Gaslighting gives the abuser a sense of power and is all about being in control. At the same time, it can have traumatic effects on the target’s self-esteem and mental resilience. If you question your sanity; chances are good that you’re being gaslighted. They slowly erode your faith in yourself and your knowledge of the world. It’s like you’re in a pot of water and they gradually turn up the heat. If you’re lucky, if your intuition checks in; you’ll jump out of the pot before it boils. I had no idea what had happened to me, but I had the sense that I needed to leap before it was too late.
There’s a number of signs that you’re dealing with a gaslighter and they’re not all obvious. A traditional gaslighter will rely on the “crazy making” technique but the lies, snide remarks and emotional triggering can wear you down. When I left my relationship; I sought therapy because I didn’t know what happened to me. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had given away my power to gaslighting and this type of user is a liar by nature. They lie about anything; they lie about inconsequential things. So, it often takes a while before you find out about the prevalent lies. They deny responsibility for anything. Confusion is one of their primary tools; “you must be crazy; I didn’t say that” is a common phrase. The most important thing to remember is that Gaslighting is toxic. It can erode your trust in people, in general. You’re never really sure if someone is lying to you. Thus, you’re never certain who you can and can’t trust.
I stumbled my way to a book on gaslighting. I saw a tiny ad in an Oprah magazine asking me if I felt crazy. yes, that was me. It was 2006 and I ordered the book that sane day. The book was THE GASLIGHT EFFECT by DR Robin Stern. I devoured it in one day, crying all the way through it. Was I crying because I had been victimized? A little; but I was mostly crying because I had an answer. I had a resolution to my burning request from the universe – what had happened to me? How do I find myself? The next day, I started re-reading it and taking notes. Since then, I’ve read approximately every book I could find on Gaslighting and Narcissism. They often go together. But gaslighters aren’t necessarily narcissists. But I’ve never met a narcissist who wasn’t a gaslighter.
Are you ready to turn off the gas? You’re not the crazy one. Take control of your life.