The term Gas Lighting is inherited from the 1940’s movie, Gas Light, where a man slowly manipulates his wife into believing that she is crazy. Psychologists have described Gas Lighting in different subjective ways, but all revolve around the same core meaning – systematically manipulating someone into questioning their own reality.
Gas Lighting, at its very core, is an ‘advanced’ form of emotional abuse that slowly brainwashes the victim and leads them into a constant cycle of self-doubt, mental instability, and paranoia. Research has shown that this technique is mostly used by dictators and, narcissistic people who find joy in preying on susceptible people.
So have you been feeling smothered in your relationship lately? Do you find yourself second-guessing your existence every now and then? Are all your relationships – friendships, social groups, work-life – feeling a bit ‘suffocating’ to you? What could be wrong?
Well, you could be experiencing a Gas Lighting problem. It actually works better than it sounds – the whole point is making you a victim without even realizing it.
Take Kathy for example. After her last pregnancy, she has been a stay-at-home mom, just looking after the kids. But now, two years later, she’s ready to get back into the real world and start working again. So she confronts her husband, Mike, about starting a shop. Mike is not so thrilled about the idea. So he goes, “What about the kids? Who will look after them? You have been spending too much time obsessing over this shop, you barely even have time for us. You don’t care about us anymore!” Then he storms out. Now Kathy is confused. All she wanted was a little support from her husband, but all she got was a cold, misunderstood reply that leaves her questioning her own ideas. See?
So how do you know you’re dealing with a Gas Lighter?
The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to undermine the victim’s reality and make them feel like they are the one with the problem. “Some gas lighters do want to make you feel crazy so they can control you,” says Stephanie A. Sarkis. “Others may simply want to feel sane themselves who can’t admit that they’re of two minds and so blame you for misunderstanding them.”
The good news, perhaps, is that people who gaslight aren’t that complicated. Basically, here are some of the tactics used by gas lighters.
Some lies are perfect, but some are just too plain to believe. Gas lighters not only lie but also do it with a straight face. And the saddest part, for any normal person, is that the lies they tell are too easy to detect. But perhaps that’s the point. Once they tell you a huge lie which is easy for you to detect, you start to question their sense of trust and you’re not sure anything they say is true anymore. Repeat this a couple of times and you are mentally unstable before you even know it. Mission accomplished.
Denial and Avoidance
Any victim of gas lighting, at some point in their life, refuses to acknowledge their feelings and thoughts. The gas lighter takes advantage of this by making the subject doubt themselves even more – it’s a complex form of neurolinguistic programming. So you may find yourself saying things like, “No I never said that, you must have dreamt it,” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t remember any of that.”
Twisting and rephrasing statements
You know how they say “If you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth”? Gaslighting works the same way. You know they said something because you heard with your own ears. But they come back later and deny it entirely. And they do it so perfectly and consistently that in the end, you start thinking to yourself – maybe they never said it. The second-guessing even becomes more intense when they twist their statements with fake compassion saying things like, “I was actually trying to help you if you remember correctly.” Psychologists believe that it is this type of manipulation that has led many women who are victims of domestic violence to defend their abusive husbands.
Using your weaknesses against you
A gas lighter knows all your weaknesses – well, the ones that mean the most to you, to say the least. It could be your kids, your body, your past – just anything that makes you feel insecure about your being. So those may be the first things they will attack. First, they will mention your strongest insecurity to grab your attention, then they will go ahead to tell you why your life would be so much better if you got rid of certain aspects in your life. See how that’s controlling?
In a Boondocks episode, Grandpa has a crazy girlfriend, but the only reason she is crazy is that her friend keeps telling her what to do, and she doesn’t realize that she is been incited into a new personality that doesn’t reflect who she is entirely. In the end, her friend drives her to commit suicide after Grandpa ends the relationship. That’s as bad as gas lighting gets.
Demeaning you and minimizing your character
A stricter name for a gas lighter would be a control freak. Basically, he/she has to be ‘better’ than you. This becomes particularly easy when everybody around you seems to believe it when he/she says that you’re crazy or irrational. So by discrediting you and trivializing your feelings and thoughts, making them look stupid, the gas lighter maintain control over your decisions and gets to bear some power over you.
A gas lighter, above everything else, needs you to believe that he/she is the right way. This calls for some complex form of phony confidence so that, with time, you start to believe that they have everything under control. But they don’t. In fact, research has shown that gas lighters are almost always unstable. But to you, the victim, the compulsion runs so deep, you actually start to believe in their versions of everything.
Tossing in encouraging feedback to befuddle you.
The same person who was chopping you down a few hours ago, saying that you don’t have self-esteem, is now applauding you for something you did. This includes an extra feeling of uneasiness. You think, “Well perhaps they aren’t so terrible.” Yes, they are. This is a computed endeavor to keep you unbalanced—and once more, to scrutinize your world.
The scariest thing about gas lighting, perhaps is that it happens slowly and gradually. A few lies here and there, some sarcastic comments every now and then, until the effects start clamping up on you. Think of it as a frog that innocently jumps into a pot of water on fire when it’s still cold, but as the water heats up, the from slowly cooks in the heat without realizing that it’s slowly dying.
Turning your social circle against you
Gaslighting is all about manipulation. While it may be easy to manipulate you (since they already know you on a personal level), this could prove a little harder on people who are close to you – parents, family, friends. A gas lighter knows that to gain total control over you, they will have to do away with close people around you who would otherwise warn you of what’s going on.
The best way to do this is by making you lose faith in them. So he/ she will say things like, “Yeah, I talked to your friend Kate too and she thinks you’re weird too.” But this does not always mean that they did talk to your friend Kate. In fact, it likely means that they never did. Lying to you about your closest people’s opinions of you makes you feel like you can’t trust anybody, and predictably, you have no otherwise than to run back to the gas lighter. First the isolation, and then the control.
Ironically, the gas lighter constantly tells you everyone else is a liar. By telling you that everyone else is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. Again, this leads you to turn to the gas lighter because by now, you believe that he/she has you back. But they don’t, and it’s going to take a really long wake-up call for you to realize this.
Gaslighting can be traumatic for most victims, from self-doubt to poor perception and emotional imbalance. Here are some of the things to do as soon as you realize you’re a victim of gas lighting
What to do after realizing you’re a victim of Gas Lighting
- The first thing you need to do when you realize you’re a victim of gaslighting is to look at the whole situation from a broad angle. Think about who is gaslighting you, and how you ended up in that situation in the first place. You will need to be sure that you’re indeed being gas lighted before making moves.
- You need to be alone more, and paying attention to yourself is a good place to start. You will need to get rid of all the feelings of confusion and self-doubt so you can regain your sense of self-worth. So take some time off to clear your mind, breath, and center yourself.
- Talk to your loved ones about it. Again, you need a broad perspective on this. The most probable people to have noticed that something was off would be your loved ones – friends, family, etc. again, think about your relationship with the gas lighter. Decide whether it’s worth saving or just too much work. Should you decide to stay in the relationship, it would be a good idea to minimize the connection with the gas lighter.
- Reclaim your personal power. Ultimately, as a victim of gaslighting, you should work on shifting your perspective from being the prey to the predator. Find some motivation and empower yourself to reclaim your confidence, personal clarity, and control.