Gaslighting. I’ve been talking about this a lot on social media the last week and I’ve heard a lot of people ask what it means. The term itself doesn’t explain much, but Gaslighting is one of the most sinister and controlling form of relationship behaviour that exists. So, what is it?
The dictionary definition of gaslighting is to manipulate someone via psychology into doubting their own sanity. The sad truth of it is if you’re reading this post and are being gaslighted by a loved one the chances are you don’t even know. Gaslighting is a form of abuse.
It’s a creeping, gradual form of control seeping into every facate of the psychology of your relationship. The Gaslighter begins with small efforts to warp your reality, denying saying things you know they did, rewriting history to suit their narrative. Over time this becomes the default defence mechanism for the controlling party of the relationship. Until you don’t know whether you are right or wrong anymore.
Gaslighters use the things closest to your heart as weapons, using children and family against you. Classic gaslighting is attacking the very basis of your personality. Your identity. They will try to turn people against you, slowly drip-feeding friends and family suggestions that you’re a liar, or unreliable, or worst still emotionally or mentally unstable. Eventually someone in the grip of gaslighting will begin to believe the constant negative projection from the abuser as reality.
Gaslighting in Life
This might be hard to translate into a situation. Someone told me they’d read an article in the media on gaslighting but still couldn’t grasp the concept so I’m going to simplify it anecdotally. I’ve been watching someone I love live with gaslighting for years.
Gaslighting is telling someone with severe anxiety issues that you can’t stay with them because “They can’t be happy without pills” when you have no intention of leaving. But you’ve fucked up and need to control the situation in any way you can. Telling them you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them, when in fact the reverse is true. You are moody, difficult and lazy, but you tell friends and family that your partner is, you tell her it enough she begins to wonder if it’s true.
Picking on her physical appearance so much that she’s scared to eat, dieting permanently for fear of gaining a little weight and you leaving her. You tell her she’s lucky to have you, when in fact the reverse is very true. She is worth a million of you, and you know that. Therefore, you must manipulate and control her to keep her in her place. To avoid her realising how much better she could do.
You tell her she’s a bad parent to mask your own shitty half arsed parenting using her child against her. You take her weaknesses and magnify them and use them to cut her down. She’s scared to drive, you call her useless and say its pathetic. Refusing to accept her fear came from you forcing her onto a busy A road just after passing her test. Knocking her confidence by shouting at her making her fear crashing and killing her own baby. Making her doubt her abilities despite everyone else telling her there was nothing wrong with her driving.
Gradually your reality becomes her truth. She doubts her ability to do anything well, doubting her own judgement. Looking in the mirror she sees your version of her staring back. Ugly, useless, flaky, lazy. Reality is completely warped. Her self esteem is shattered into a million spiky shards which cut her when she tries to think of herself in any positive way. Her drive is gone. Unsure of her professional ability, she becomes withdrawn. Loses her fire and spark. She becomes dependant on you. You’re her rock. Before you came into her life she didn’t need a rock, she was her own stability. You have manipulated her into a psychological trap.
This is so hard to write. I feel so useless knowing I can see this so clearly and she’s even told me she knows I’m right. Yet she loves him and needs him. She doesn’t, she really doesn’t need him. For bystanders gaslighting is frightening to watch.
Like a Horror Film
Witnessing the total transformation of a gaslighted person. From an amazing, formidable capable person into a broken shadow of what they used to be is like watching a horror film. When you’re screaming at the screen for the person not to go into the basement and still they go. You can see the ending way before they do. But there is simply nothing you can do about it.
If you’ve read this and recognised any of these patterns of behaviour the chances are you’re being gaslighted. Please have a good think about the reality of your situation. Think about if you feel you’ve changed, if you feel in control of your life. If the answers to these questions are unpalatable talk to someone, a friend, family, anyone. Get some perspective.
If you read this and recognise behaviour you engage in, then you need to ask yourself why you need to control your partner. This speaks more about your own insecurities and weaknesses than it does anything about them. If this is you you’re being abusive. Stop it before you destroy the person who loves you.