A form of manipulation in many abusive relationships, gaslighting is a strategically deceptive and often covert type of emotional abuse. The abuser uses vulnerabilities of their partner to psychologically manipulate them into questioning their recollections, judgments, and eventually their reality as a whole.
At its core, gaslighting can be devastating for the victims as they start doubting their own sanity, wondering if they might be going crazy. Once they start losing confidence in themselves, victims of gaslighting become increasingly dependent on their abuser, which means they’re much less likely to try and leave.
What’s in a Name?
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play and the 1944 Hollywood movie “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman. Her abusive husband slowly begins systematically manipulating her into thinking that she’s going insane through a long game of deceptions. He uses his intricate web of lies and deceit to alter her perception of what’s real and breaks her sense of self-worth in order to control her.
The husband starts flickering the gas-powered lighting, creating strange noises, and moving objects around their home, and then denying any of it is happening. He continually lies to her, saying she’s forgotten, she’s imagining things, or that she’s simply making it all up. In the end, she is saved when another man comes inside her home and agrees that the lights are indeed flickering, confirming she’s not crazy.
Unfortunately, gaslighting can often be extremely challenging to identify because the abusers introduce it gradually over an extended period of time. That being said, someone who is experiencing being gaslighted will often feel anxious, depressed, or confused, and unable to determine why they feel that way.
Some of the gaslighting signs to look out for in abusers include blatantly lying all the time; using flattery as a crutch; constantly denying things; misalignment between their actions and their words; using emotional topics as bargaining chips; projection of themselves onto you; always saying other people are lying, or consistently telling you that you’re going crazy or that you are crazy.
Other gaslighting signs in victims include lying to avoid hurtful comments; constantly apologizing; second guessing everything; always being in the wrong, and unable to do anything right. If any of this seems familiar, the good news is that there is a way out.
Help Is Available
The first step after recognising you’re in an abusive relationship is to make a conscious decision to no longer allow yourself to be manipulated and controlled. The next thing you should do is get some help from a mental health professional who will be able to help you clearly identify everything that’s been happening and explain your options for how to safely get out of the abusive relationship.
Gaslighting often creates excessive amounts of anxiety and understanding how an abusive relationship has affected your confidence is extremely important. Learning some new coping skills and better understanding this cycle of abuse will ultimately become the foundation for rebuilding your sense of self-worth, which will ultimately help you avoid getting into damaging and abusive relationships again in the future.
Remember that relationships are sometimes difficult to navigate at the best of times, but even more so when your partner is gaslighting you. However, once you become aware of the abuse, you’re already a step ahead of them and on your way to a happier, more fulfilling life.