What Is It?
You might have heard of gaslighting, but what does it mean? Gaslighting is a form of manipulation. It is a stealthy way of abusing a person. Gaslighting is where the a person denies or misleads the other person’s experience. This can cause the person to question their own reality.
Why is it called gaslighting?
The term comes from a play from 1938 called Gas Light. Throughout the plot, the husband adjusts things throughout their house, like turning the gas lights down or making noises throughout the house. When the wife mentions the changes (like the dimming lights or the bumping upstairs), the husband denies it. This causes the wife to question her own mind and reality. This results in the wife relying on the husband to determine what is real or not. The purpose is to control the wife, so the husband could search the upstairs apartment for riches without her questioning what he was doing.
What Does It Look Like?
These are just some of the way gaslighting can show up in a relationship. Gaslighting often results in a distortion of reality, an invalidating of emotions, or both. We can also gaslight ourselves by minimizing our experiences and emotions. Whether it is from yourself or someone else, trust yourself. Your feelings are valid.
If someone says one of the examples below, it does not necessarily mean they are gaslighting. Gaslighting is intentional.
If you notice that you do some of these things in your relationships, talk to someone about it and ask for help to learn how to communicate in a healthier way.
Gaslighting can look like:
- The person may lie to you obviously or stealthily. When they are called out on their lies, the person will deny it and try to shift the blame.
- “I did not do that.”
- “[This person] is really mean to me.” (This lie could be to isolate you from your support system.)
- They may act confused. They may pretend to not understand what you have said. They could also not listen to what you are saying. They may also shut you down when you are trying to talk to them about something.
- “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
- “We are not talking about that.”
- “What are you even talking about?”
- “I don’t remember that.”
- The person may change the story or discredit your version of it. You may approach them about something they did, but they will deny it. This goes together with lying. They could say something like:
- “That didn’t happen”
- “You are remembering it wrong”
- “You are making things up.”
- “It was actually…remember?”
This is not the same as remembering things differently! This is where they shift what has happened. Usually, the new version makes them look better.
- They might say things to other people to discredit you or change how people see you. This can also show up as discrediting your relationships with others. The person may say someone said negative things about you when they did not or that you said something negative about someone else when you did not.
- “Oh, [your name] is crazy.”
- “You won’t believe what [your name] says about you.”
- “[Your name] has been saying…about you. I don’t know why they would say such mean things.”
- The person may minimize your emotions, thoughts, or experiences. They do not validate your feelings or brush off your emotions.
- “It is not that big of a deal.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “I don’t know why you are so upset.”
- Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they may blame you or someone (or thing) else.
- “If you hadn’t…, I wouldn’t have…”
- “It’s your fault.”
- “If you weren’t such a…, I wouldn’t have…”
- “I was upset from work.”
- When the person is called out, they may say really loving things to get out of the situation.
- “I would never hurt you on purpose. I love you.”
- “I love you so much. I just get upset sometimes.”
- “You are the only one for me. I didn’t mean it.”
- When faced with a difficult conversation about something they did to hurt you, they may shift your attention to something else. They bring the focus away from the situation at hand and begin talking about something else. This may impact how you view the situation and convince you that it is not important if they will not talk to you about it.
- “You didn’t tell me how your day was. How was your day?”
- “We did not finish talking about…”
What Does It Feel Like?
If you are experiencing gaslighting, it can feel like:
- Doubt. You may question your thoughts, emotions, reality, and experiences. You could also downplay what you are feeling and try to make yourself believe it isn’t that bad.
- Lack of trust in yourself. You may not trust your own judgement or perception. This can cause you to ask others for their opinion. You may also rely on others’ judgement.
- Lack of self-worth. You may wonder if you are the person they have been saying you are. Gaslighting can make you feel unimportant, unintelligent, unworthy, wrong, or “crazy.” Remember, you are not any of those things. That is a product of being gaslit.
- Disappointment in self. You might feel like you are weak or that you are not as strong as you used to be.
- Confused. You might feel confused the with constant shifting stories.
- Apologizing. You might spend a lot of your time apologizing.
- Taking blame. You may blame yourself for the situation or wonder what is wrong with you.
These are some of the ways you might feel if you are experiencing gaslighting. Gaslighting can make you feel like you are walking on eggshells, uncertain, or ungrounded. It might notice yourself holding on to past hurts or uncomfortable emotions because they have been invalidated.
Questions To Ask Yourself
If you think you are experiencing gaslighting, there are some questions
you can ask yourself to gain some clarity.
- Do I often doubt myself or my version of events?
- Does the person call me dumb, crazy, or too sensitive?
- Do I feel confused and have a hard time following the conversation when I talk to the person?
- Am I scared to say how I feel?
- Do I rely on the person to tell me what the truth/reality is?
- Have I stopped hanging out with other loved ones lately and becoming more isolated?
- Do I feel unimportant because of my relationship with the person?
- Do the person’s jokes make me feel poorly about myself?
- Have they continually lied to me?
- Have they lied to others about me?
- Have they lied to me about others?
Answering yes to one or more of these questions can indicate you may be experiencing gaslighting.
Things You Can Do
If you are experiencing gaslighting, there are some things you can do to help you feel better and reclaim your power.
· Keep a journal or documentation of events (screenshots, etc.). If you are in a situation where the person is denying or misplacing blame, you can go into your journal/proof to reassure yourself to the events that happened. It can remind you of the events to validate your experience.
· Take some space. Give yourself some space from the person so you can have time to yourself. Distancing yourself can help you gain clarity. This could be physically distancing yourself, reducing communication, or practicing relaxation techniques. Check out the Wellness Sessions for ideas.
· Practice self-care. Take care of you and your own wellness. Check out the Self-Care section for ideas.
· Talk to someone. Find someone you feel safe talking to about your situation to help you gain clarity. This could be a loved one, a counsellor, or spiritual leader. Find a space where you feel safe.
If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.