Gaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality. Like all abuse, is based on the need for power, control, or concealment. Some people occasionally lie or use denial to avoid taking responsibility. They may forget or remember conversations and events differently than you, or they may have no recollection due to a blackout if they were drinking. These situations are sometimes called gaslighting, but the term actually refers to a deliberate pattern of manipulation calculated to make the victim doubt his or her own perceptions or sanity, similar to brainwashing.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
The term derives from the play and later film Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, who try to convince her that she’s ill in order to keep her from learning the truth.
Gas Lighting Behavior
As in the movie, the perpetrator often acts concerned and kind to dispel any suspicions. Someone capable of persistent lying and manipulation is also quite capable of being charming and seductive. Often the relationship often begins that way. When gaslighting starts, you might even feel guilty for doubting the person whom you’ve come to trust. To further play with your mind, an abuser might offer evidence to show that you’re wrong or question your memory or senses. More justifications and explanations, including expressions of love and flattery, are concocted to confuse you and reason away any discrepancies in the liar’s story. You get temporary reassurance, but increasingly, you doubt your own senses, ignore your gut and become more confused.
The person gaslighting might act hurt and indignant or play the victim when challenged or questioned. Covert manipulation can easily turn into overt abuse with accusations that you’re distrustful, ungrateful, unkind, overly sensitive, dishonest, stupid, insecure, crazy, or abusive. Abuse might escalate to anger and intimidation with punishment, threats, or bullying if you don’t accept the false version of reality.
Gaslighting generally concerns control, infidelity, or money. A typical scenario is when an intimate partner lies to conceal a relationship with someone else, gambling debts, or stock or investment losses. The manipulator is often a narcissist, addict, or sociopath, particularly if gaslighting is premeditated or used to cover up a crime. When the motive is purely controlled, a spouse might use shame to undermine his or her partner’s self-esteem, loyalty, or intelligence with criticism
Effects of Gas Lighting
Gaslighting is insidious the longer it occurs. Initially, you won’t realize you’re being affected by it, but gradually you lose trust in your own instincts and perceptions. It’s more hurtful in relationships built on trust and love, which are strong incentives to believe the lies and manipulation. We use denial because we rather believe the lie than the truth, which might precipitate a painful breakup.
Gaslighting damages our self-esteem, trust in ourselves and reality, and our openness to love again. We may believe the truth of the abuser’s criticisms and blame and judge ourselves even after the relationship is over. Many abusers put down and intimidate their partners to make them dependent so they won’t leave. Examples are: “You’ll never find anyone as good as me,” “The grass isn’t greener,” or “No one else would put up with you.”
Recovery from a breakup or divorce can be more difficult when we’ve been in denial about problems in the relationship. Denial often continues even after the truth comes out. It takes time for us to reinterpret our experience in light of the newly discovered facts. It can be quite confusing, because we may love the charmer, but hate the abuser. This is especially true if all the bad behavior was out of sight, and memories of the relationship were mostly positive.
Recovery From Gas Lighting
Learn to identify the perpetrator’s behavior patterns. Realize that they’re due to your partner’s serious character logical problems and shame, not yours. It’s critical that you have a strong support system to validate your reality in order to combat gaslighting. Isolation makes the problem worse. Join Codependents Anonymous and seek counseling.
Once you acknowledge what’s going on, you’re more able to detach and not believe or react to falsehoods, even though you may want to. To assess your relationship and effectively confront unwanted behavior. It’s common for victims to want to mentally redo the past and criticize themselves for not having trusted their instincts or stood up to abuse. Don’t perpetuate self-abuse. How to stop self-criticism, Raise Your Self-Esteem, and Be Assertive and Set Boundaries to stop the abuse.