Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group of people make someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.
Mostly, gaslighting happens in romantic relationships. Abusers do it to control their victims.
The resulting effects of gaslighting may make it even harder for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. The victim questions his or her instincts and relies more and more on the ‘reality’ that is created by the abuser. It also heightens a sense of dependency on the abuser. Gaslighting wears down the victims’ self-esteem and self-confidence, leaving them dependent on their manipulator.
Gaslighting may also occur when someone believes their narrative is more valid than someone else’s. Persuading someone else to question their own reality provides the abusers with a sense of superiority.
Gaslighting isn’t the same as someone lying to you, expressing a different opinion, or saying you’re wrong about something. It’s more nuanced, which may make it harder to recognize.
It happens most times in three recognised stages, though not every gaslighting dynamic involves all three stages mentioned below.
The first stage is disbelief. Picture this: Someone denies your recollection of events. You were quite sure about your version of events. However, you brush off this situation as a one-off. Sadly, you are wrong. The individual always has a different story from yours. After a few more times of thrashing your memory, the situation graduates to the second stage: defence. You are left with no other option but to fight for your sanity. Tired of the constant “bickering”, you accept their version of reality to avoid conflict and do whatever you can to earn their approval. But this denial of reality drains your energy, disconnecting you from yourself and leaving you feeling low and hopeless. Depression, the third stage slowly sips in.
At this point, you need help. If you’ve noticed some signs of gaslighting, you must take steps to address it and reclaim your emotional space. Seek to get some outside perspective, maybe from trusted friends and family members not directly involved in the situation. Allow the people I mentioned offer you their perspective, help you get some clarity, and provide emotional support.
It’s often easier to question yourself about an argument or discussion that happened days ago. Recording events immediately after they happen provides evidence you don’t need to second-guess. Jotting down highlights from a conversation or using a Smartphone app to record your argument offers something to review when your memory is called into question.
You may not feel comfortable confronting the person, but your notes can help you recognize what’s happening. Hold on to the things that make you who you are. Don’t lose your identity.
Finally, support from a mental health professional can go a long way toward helping you recognize and come to terms with gaslighting and begin working through it.