When British playwright Patrick Hamilton wrote a mystery thriller called Gas Light in 1938, little did he know that the term “gaslighting” would enter the world of psychology and academic discourse, and be used for years and years to come.
By now, most of you are familiar with the psychological term “gaslighting”. For those who aren’t, gaslighting constitutes a form of emotional abuse and is a common technique used by abusers to manipulate and gain control over their victims by making them question their sense of reality and their sanity.
Psychology Today defines gaslighting as:
“Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.”
The problem with gaslighting is that it can be difficult to identify, because:
a) most behaviors/phrases that constitute gaslighting are nowadays normalized
b) victims of gaslighting often close their eyes to their abuse and justify their gaslighters
c) most gaslighters are masterful manipulators
That’s why I decided to compile a list of the five signs that can help you identify a masterful gaslighter — and walk away from them.
Let’s dive right in.
1. They Subtly Trivialize Your Feelings
Trivializing your emotions and minimizing the importance of your thoughts and feelings is a typical technique gaslighters use to gain control over you.
Now, a masterful gaslighter will trivialize your feelings as well but will make sure they do it in a subtle way.
For example, they won’t dismiss your feelings simply by telling you “you’re overreacting” or “you’re too sensitive”, but they’ll use gentler words, such as “you’re a strong person, you should let it go”, or “there’s no point in being sad, everything happens for a reason”.
Another example includes trying to cheer you up when you’re sad by telling you a couple of jokes or changing the focus of your conversation. This way, they might give you the impression they’re trying to make you feel better, when in reality, they actually want to disregard your feelings.
2. They’re Trying To Confuse You by Using Fake Compliments
Has anyone ever thrown a phrase at you that made you think,
“Did that person just offended me or gave me a compliment?”
That’s exactly how masterful gaslighters make you feel. They will try to throw you off balance emotionally by using a fake compliment or a kind word with every gaslighting attempt, ultimately leaving you confused and unable to identify their behavior as a form of emotional abuse.
For example, they might tell you things like:
- “Hey, you’re so clever I’m surprised you made such a stupid decision.”
- “You know how much I love you, but I must tell you you’re making things up.”
- “You’re such a strong person, so it’s about time you got over it.”
3. They Use Freudian Projection
Psychological projection, sometimes also called “Freudian projection”, is a defense mechanism people subconsciously use by projecting their undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else.
The theory of psychological projection was developed by Sigmund Freud, who first mentioned it in an 1895 letter, in which he discussed a patient’s tendency to avoid her feelings of shame by imagining that her neighbors were gossiping about her.
In other words, Freudian projection involves accusing others of having certain feelings or emotions you are experiencing. And that’s exactly what masterful gaslighters do — they just do it consciously.
As a result, they’ll always accuse you of feelings or thinking things you know you don’t. For example, they might come home angry from work one day, snap at you, and then tell you that you were the one who’s angry and was looking for a fight.
They’ll also put the blame on you for their mistakes and wrong behavior. You’ll hear them saying things like “I wouldn’t get so angry if you hadn’t provoked me” or “I just flirted with that guy/girl earlier because you weren’t paying enough attention to me.”
4. They Combine Real With Unreal Events To Convince You
As I mentioned above, a gaslighter’s ultimate goal is to manipulate and gain control over you by making you question your sense of reality.
A technique they use to achieve that is combining real with unreal events whenever they want to convince you about something that didn’t actually happen.
For example, let’s say they want to convince you you said something you know you haven’t.
They’ll mention a real event (“we were sitting on the balcony that Sunday night”) and something you indeed said (“you were telling me about your friend Helen’s travel”) and then they’ll try to convince you you said something you didn’t (“and then you told me that *insert something*. Don’t you remember?”)
This way they manage to confuse you and — usually — convince you because you’re like, “Well I did say/do that thing that day they just described to me, so maybe I said/did that other thing as well and I simply forgot.”
5. They Make You Difficult for You To Turn Inwards
You know you’re dealing with a gaslighter when they have made it difficult for you to turn inwards in order to do some self-reflection and analyze your feelings and thoughts.
And by “difficult” I mean that every time you attempt to do so, you’re left feeling confused, disoriented, and overall, like you’re losing it. You might start wondering whether you’re being paranoid or something’s wrong with you.
Some other long-term effects of being in a relationship with a gaslighter might include:
- Feeling less and less happy but being unable to understand why.
- Knowing something is wrong but not being able to identify what.
- Apologizing all the time when you know you have done nothing wrong.
- Thinking you’re not good enough.
First of all, don’t blame yourself. Gaslighting can happen to anyone, at any time. You did nothing wrong, nor you are stupid, weak, or naive. However, you need to accept that gaslighting isn’t just a silly dating term.
It’s a form of emotional abuse. Once you identify it within your relationship, it’s imperative that you walk away from your gaslighter.
I know that such a decision can be hard, especially if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, are emotionally attached to your gaslighter, or financially dependent on them.
But, even though it might be difficult to see it now, staying in the relationship will bring you much more harm and pain in the long-term than walking away from it.
The least you deserve is someone who will treat you with respect and kindness.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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