Gaslighting is a term that has come to prominence in the last few years to describe behaviour in a toxic relationship. But what exactly is gaslighting, how can you spot it and how does it affect people?
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term used to describe a form of psychological abuse where one person or a group of people manipulate someone to question their own sanity, their memories or their perception of reality. It actually derives from a play and film, Gaslight, in which a husband convinces his wife that she has a mental illness. It can be carried out by more than one person, but it usually takes place within a relationship and can cause real distress and anxiety.
Signs of gaslighting?
There are many different ways that someone can ‘gaslight’ another person. Here are some things you should look out for if you are suspicious of gaslighting.
Countering – this is where your memory may be questioned. They may say things like, ‘That’s not what happened’, or ‘Have you forgotten how it really happened?’
Withholding – this is when a person pretends, they don’t understand what you are saying, in order to make you doubt yourself. ‘I don’t get what you are saying’, or ‘You’re not making sense’.
Trivializing – your reaction to a situation may be trivialised by another person and you may be accused of over-reacting or being too sensitive.
Denial – if the other person refuses to accept responsibility for their actions, blaming someone else or forgetting something happened, this is ‘denial’.
Diverting – this is when someone changes the subject or questions your thinking to make you think that it isn’t important or you have got the situation wrong.
Effects of gaslighting?
When you are the victim of gaslighting it can leave you feeling very insecure in your relationship. You may feel alone and powerless, convinced that you are the ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’ one, when in reality it is the other person.
It will make you question everything. Your sanity, your memories and your ability to think rationally. You will also question the other person in the relationship – do you really know them? You will doubt yourself and your feelings, convinced that it is you that over-reacts and is too sensitive. If gaslighting happens over a long period of time, it can make you believe what the other person is saying and seriously doubt your own sanity.
Gaslighting enables the other person to exert their power and control over you, leaving you feeling lacking in confidence and deeply unhappy. Your self-esteem will be affected and you may also suffer with anxiety, treading on eggshells around the other person, never knowing what to say or think.
However, you look at it, gaslighting is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation that has no place in a healthy and balanced relationship. If you feel like you are being subjected to gaslighting, please get in touch if you would like to know more about how our counsellors at Personal & Relationship Counselling in Plymouth can help. Please give us a call or email and we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.