Have you ever been in a situation where another person – partner, friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance – tries to tell you how you perceive things or how you feel is wrong?
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You might be a victim of “gaslighting” – a term coined to describe a particular type of emotional abuse that leaves its victims feeling minimised, crushed, smothered and second-guessing themselves. The victim will be left questioning their own feelings and instincts.
Sometimes, they can even feel as though they are going crazy.
If you’re being gaslighted, you’ll probably find yourself being told things like “You’re crazy, it’s all in your head!” when you question something you are pretty sure is true. “You’re wrong, that never happened!” is another favourite. Or “What is wrong with you?”
This can leave you questioning your own perception of reality and even your own sanity. You were sure you were right…but the other person is so adamant you aren’t and that you are imagining things.
The term “gaslighting” was inspired by Gas Light – a 1938 play that was also made into a film in 1940 and 1944. The plot featured a husband systematically manipulating his wife whenever she saw that the gas lights in their house were being dimmed, he would try to make her feel crazy and tell her she was seeing things. He was actually dimming the lights so he could search for hidden jewels.
A gaslighter generally spins their harmful, destructive and negative behaviours in their favour. They deflect the blame for their behaviour and point the finger at the other person. They’ll say that the victim is “overly sensitive” or “silly” or “paranoid” or “unhinged” or “mentally unstable”.
Gaslighting is also known as “crazy making” – and is commonly adopted by narcissistic, sociopathic and psychopathic personality types. Their behaviour is insidious, and given enough time, they can completely erode their victim’s sense of self.
In a relationship, gaslighting usually happens gradually. The abusive partner’s actions can often seem harmless in the beginning, but over time, the patterns increase leaving the victim feeling confused, isolated, anxious and depressed. They can actually start to rely more and more on the abusive partner to define reality.
The abuser will do it to control their victim, and also to deflect their own terrible behaviour because they cannot admit they are wrong. For example, if you confront someone you are certain has been unfaithful, and they throw it back at you that you are delusional, because they’ve actually been unfaithful, but can’t admit it. They’d rather throw your sanity under a bus.
Gaslighting is quite common in a romantic context, but you can find it in all sorts of other places, too.
If you’ve got a particularly toxic colleague who likes to play games with people, for example. Cult leaders are often gas lighters too as they alienate their victims and get them to alter their perceptions of reality so they can manipulate them. Even lawyers use a spot of gaslighting as a tactic when cross-examining people in court.
If you recognise these signs and think you might be a victim of gaslighting, don’t be afraid to take a stand.
You are a valuable person and no other person has the right to tell you otherwise. You do not have to prove yourself to them.
If someone is repeatedly telling you that you are crazy, know that they are a “crazy maker” and it’s not you who has a problem, it’s them. They have mega issues.
Normal, healthy people don’t go around trying to manipulate others by attempting to warp their sense of reality.