Inspired by the 1940 and 1944 films “Gas Light,” where a husband systematically manipulates his wife in order to make her feel crazy, the term “Gaslighting” is now commonly used to describe behaviour that is inherently manipulative.
Gaslighting, at its core, is a form of emotional abuse that slowly eats away at your ability to make judgements. Essentially, a Gaslighter spins their negative, harmful or destructive words and actions in their favour, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you.
This is often done by making you feel “overly sensitive,” “paranoid,” “mentally unstable,” “silly,” “unhinged,” and many other sensations which cause you to doubt yourself.
How to Know Whether Someone is Gaslighting You
Gaslighting is so harmful because it promotes anxiety, depression, and with enough frequency in our lives, can sometimes trigger nervous breakdowns. So the question now it: are you being gaslighted? How can you know whether you’re experiencing this subtle form of manipulation in your life?
Review the following tell-tale signs:
Something is “off” about your a person in your life … but you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.
You frequently second-guess your ability to remember the details of past events.
You feel confused and disorientated.
You feel threatened and on-edge, but you don’t know why.
You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
You never quite feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable or harm you in some way.
You feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, e.g. you’re neurotic or are “losing it.”
You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or are too sensitive.
You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood and depressed.
You find it hard to trust your own judgement, and given a choice, you choose to believe the judgement of another.
You feel scared and as though “something is terribly wrong,” but you don’t know what or why.
You find it hard to make decisions.
You feel as though you’re a much weaker version of yourself, and you were much more strong and confident in the past.
You feel guilty for not feeling happy like you used to.
You’ve become afraid of “speaking up” or expressing your emotions, so you stay silent instead.
Tactics Used by the Gaslighter
Gaslighters use a variety of subtle techniques to undermine your reality and portrayyou as the disturbed and messed up one.
These include, for example:
Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things—that never happened!” “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.” “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (anyone)?”
Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you, e.g. “Why are you being so sensitive?” “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!” “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”
Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more. For example, “I don’t remember that, you must have dreamt it!” “You’re lying, I never said that.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re changing the subject.”
Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favour, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth. For example, “I didn’t say that, I said _____” “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head—that’s what all good fathers do.” “If you remember correctly, I was actually trying to help you.”
Not every instance of gaslighting is as blatant as hiding items or directly denying someone’s perceptions. Most abuse includes an element of gaslighting. Abusers rarely say out loud, “I’m choosing to abuse you.”
A physically abusive person says, “I’m doing this for your own good. You shouldn’t provoke me.” In truth, victims do not cause abuse.
A sexually abusive person says, “This isn’t happening. I love you. You like it. It doesn’t hurt.” In truth, abuse is not loving behavior. Children do not ask for assault. The pain is real.
A ritually abusive group stages abuse so bizarre and extreme that victims do not believe their own memories. Real bloodshed and torture are combined with drugs and misdirection, adding to the sense of unreality.
Everyday gaslighting Gaslighting occurs in more subtle ways as well, any time someone responds as if your reality does not exist.
An adult says to a crying child, “There’s no reason to be sad. Give us a nice smile.”
A partner says, “That’s too hard for you. I’ll do it.”
A friend snaps, “I’m not angry! Why are you starting a fight?”
After being called on a racist or sexist comment, the speaker says, “Just kidding!” or “You’re too sensitive!” or “You’re looking for reasons to be offended.”
How to Fight Back Against Manipulation
As with any subtle form of manipulation, the first step in freeing yourself from gaslighting is to recognize that it’s actually happeningand to determine who the abuser is. In most cases this will be pretty obvious. The next step, then, is to take a firm stand against the reality this abuser is attempting to impose on you – and that’s the hard part. When you’re in the habit of trusting someone else’s version of events above your own, it can be hard to go back to accepting what you perceive as being the truth.
Adding to that, the nature of gaslighting means that any attempt to stand up to your abuser is likely to be written off as “another fantasy.” Your complaints are likely to be met with very convincing and logical-sounding explanations, which is why it’s extremely important to commit yourself 100% to breaking the pattern.
Often the victim of this type of manipulation is aware of what’s happening, but the possible consequences of standing up to the effect seem less bad than “just letting it happen.” Often, if the problem is happening in a relationship, a necessary part of breaking free is steeling yourself to the fact that you have to be prepared to lose this person.Ultimately, if you’re in a situation where you feel dependent on your spouse or partner, you’ll allow them to manipulate you because you fear the alternative: being alone. But you have to ask yourself whether it’s better for you in the long term to be stuck in a manipulative relationship, or to break free and reclaim your own ability to make choices and decisions according to your own free will.
There’s no easy solution. Breaking the pattern requires you to assert yourself as someone with a right to have an independent opinion and worldview – and if you’ve been accepting someone else’s worldview for years, it’s going to take guts to change that. In many cases, the easiest way to break free is to remove yourself from the situation altogether and get a fresh start where you can rebuild your sense of self without manipulative influences.
It’s important to recognize in any case that the manipulation is really happening no matter what the gaslighter says, and that there are people who can help you. Turn to trusted friends, independent support networks or therapists, or other people in your work organization (preferably those higher up the chain than the person doing the gaslighting).
Breathe into doubt When you notice any of these signs, allow compassion for yourself. Breathe into your truth. “I don’t know what to believe. I feel crazy.” Bring kindness to your experience of confusion and doubt.
Keep a record If you have enough privacy, it can bring relief to record your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Your journal can receive your conflicting impressions without the need for certainty. If someone questions your memory, you can look back at your notes. If items mysteriously appear and disappear, you can take strategic photographs of problem areas.
Listen within To rebuild self-trust and repair your reality, tune in to your internal signals with interested curiosity. In her book The Power of Focusing, Ann Weiser Cornell teaches Inner Relationship Focusing, a simple method for connecting with yourself. When you notice a sensation or emotion, you can keep it company, listening for its truth without expecting it to change.
“Something in me feels anxious, and I say hello to that.”
“My belly feels tight, and I say hello to that.”
“I don’t know what I feel, and I say hello to that.”
If you feel judgmental of what you notice, you can turn your listening attention toward judgment.
“Something in me hates that I feel anxious, and I say hello to that.”
“Something in me wants my belly to relax, and I say hello to that.”
“Something in me says I should know what I feel, and I say hello to that.”
As you listen inside, your vague sensations will become more clear. As parts of you feel fully heard, they will shift and heal. As you practice listening, you will regain confidence in your perceptions.
Ignore motives In the movie Gaslight, Gregory’s manipulation of his wife is part of a hidden plot to find her aunt’s jewels. Sometimes gaslighting helps an abuser maintain a more sympathetic self-image as well as concealing abuse. While it is happening, gaslighting often lacks an apparent motive, which adds to the victim’s confusion and self-doubt.
You do not have to figure out why someone is gaslighting you. You do not even have to label the behavior as gaslighting. You can simply say hello to your confusion and desire to understand.
Seek out support It can be tempting to ask others to confirm your perceptions of gaslighting. Unfortunately, others may be unaware of what is happening and do not have your moment by moment observations. Turn your attention toward what is true for you.
“Something in me is uncertain, and I say hello to that.”
“Something in me desperately wants confirmation, and I say hello to that.”
Instead of taking a poll on whether your perceptions are correct, seek out people who support you in welcoming all your perceptions.
Rebuild self-trust As you repair your relationship with yourself, the effects of gaslighting will gradually fall away. Over time, your boundaries will heal, and you will naturally say no to emotionally abusive behavior.
(Originally published in the American Magazine (1928-sep), and included in the Philo Vance investigates omnibus (1936).
by S.S. Van Dine (pseud. for Willard Huntington Wright)
THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author’s inner conscience. To wit:
The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.
The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
This blue Victorian gown, designed by Irene, was first seen on Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist in the 1944 adaptation of Gaslight. It was used again on an extra in the the 1949 film That Forsyte Woman.
The gown is now in The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design which is owned by Larry McQueen.
Don’t Focus On Whether Or Not Someone Likes You Instead of being concerned about whether someone likes you and focusing on how your heart pounds and if you feel butterflies when you’re around them, wonder instead whether you get excited because your chemistry is reacting to meeting another dysfunctional person. Ask yourself instead, does this person have most, if not all, of the qualities you want in a relationship?
Be Your Own Best Friend One reason why people stay in unhealthy relationships is the fear of being alone. One reason for this is because you haven’t developed a best-friend relationship with yourself. Try to reach a place where you actually enjoy your own company. And if that doesn’t help, know that being alone is healthier and preferable to being in an unhealthy relationship filled with hostile drama.
Stop Expecting Someone Else To Fix Your Problems You are responsible for whatever needs fixing in your life, your financial debts, your career, taking care of your body and so forth, not your partner, your best friend or your parents. You will feel much better about yourself and your new confidence will be very attractive.
Know Your Boundaries And Stick To Them We are constantly sending out hints to other people about how we want to be treated. These are called “boundaries,” meaning your deal breakers for what you will and won’t accept. How much importance you attach to honesty, respect, and reliability are just as important as personal space, time alone, or how much physical affection or romance you require. When you uphold your boundaries, you don’t allow others to manipulate, guilt, or control you, and your inner self will thank you
Trust Your Inner Warning Signals Your body is innately sensitive to other people’s energies and intentions. Check your own inner warning signals, which will alert you that you’re with a toxic or drama-addicted person. Some warning signals you may be getting are:
- You feel used, because it’s a one-sided relationship, with you doing all the giving - You feel guilty, like you owe the person something - You feel angry at him or her and at yourself - After the person leaves, you feel drained and tired - You have a desire to avoid the person.
Trust your intuition here. These feelings won’t be present in a healthy relationship.
Write A Letter To The Person You’re Upset With Even healthy relationships can hit a rocky patch from time to time. At times like these, it often helps to write a letter to the person you’re upset with. Pour out your feelings, and hold nothing back. Then, in a ceremonious way, burn the letter. You can also send a more restrained version of the letter to the person, after waiting a day or two for a cooling-off period. This way, your letter will reflect your ongoing feelings instead of reactive emotions. It can be the starting point for a mutually beneficial conversation that will get you back on track.
Just Say No To Guilt Based Requests If you feel you are being manipulated and have no choice to comply, stand firm. They might cry, threaten to hurt themselves, say that no one loves them, or remind you of the times that they helped you. But by telling guilt-trippers no without guilt or excuses, they will either find another victim to harass or will realize that these methods aren’t healthy or effective.
Don’t Walk On Eggshells Around Angry People If someone displays their anger in a physical way, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. However, if it is someone who just gets mad at the slightest provocation but rarely takes responsibility themselves, then release the fantasy that you will find the winning combination that will finally make them happy and peaceful. They most likely will need professional therapy. Tip-toeing around until they calm down doesn’t help anyone.
Stand Your Ground Accusatory people are always looking for a fight, tell them firmly that they are mistaken in their accusations but do not engage in an argument or wander off-topic. Do not engage in blaming wars or you will get into an unending battle.
Stop Trying To Rescue Victim-Martyr Types Since whatever advice you suggest will most likely be met with “I’ve already tried that, it doesn’t work.” It is best not to invest a lot of time into trying to provide a solution to their problem. Once victim-martyrs sense that you are out of ideas to help, they will move on to bending someone else’s ear about their current problem.
Remove Yourself From A Relationship When You Notice A Red Flag Take your time to get to know someone before you fully commit to a relationship. At the first red-flag, such as not honoring a commitment, or showing a lack of respect; extricate yourself from the relationship immediately before getting any more involved.
As a compassionate, openhearted soul, you want to give. It’s in your nature to care for others and ensure their health and happiness. Occasionally others may take advantage of your kindness which is why it is so important to enforce your boundaries in all of your relationships.
It may feel uncomfortable for you to put these rules into effect, it might feel like you are placing conditions on how you will help people, but if you refuse to do so, you’ll deplete your own energy reserves very quickly. It all boils down to respect. If the people in your life truly care about you, they’ll respect your decisions.