Left unaddressed, gaslighting can take a significant toll on your self-esteem and overall mental health
You are overthinking... We all have often come across phrases in our daily life at least once or on repeated terms such as -- You have always been crazy; I don’t know what you want me to say; It’s your fault; Everyone agrees with me; That’s not how it happened; Your memory seems to be slipping; I did that because I was trying to help you.
Such phrases undermine our trust and belief. The more we hear them, the more we stop trusting ourselves. When some other person becomes a gatekeeper to your reality, then you are in a spot which is vulnerable to further manipulation. In other words, when someone controls or denies or tries to play with your thoughts, feelings or behaviours especially on a repeated term, then you are right to suspect reality doubting often termed ‘gaslighting’.
The term ‘gaslighting’ has its origin from a 1938 play, Gas Light, and its adaptation by Patrick Hamilton, known in America as “Angel Street” which later developed into the film ‘Gas Light’ by Alfred Hitchcock. Since the movie was an accurate portrayal of controlling the toxic actions used by manipulators, various psychologists and counsellors began to label this emotional abuse as gaslighting.
Gaslight is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the abuser misleads the victim (target), creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality. It can confuse the victim and cause the victim to question their own judgment, memory, self-worth and overall mental health.
According to ‘The National Domestic Violence’ Hotline’s fact sheet “Withholding, Countering, Blocking/diverting, Trivializing and Denial” are the five techniques which a gaslighter may use to manipulate someone. A gaslighter will often start with something that is true and sensitive to the victim. They may praise the victim initially and immediately confide in them.
They do so to attain power over their victim as they wish to control them either emotionally, physically or financially. Gaslighting can occur in any type of relationships be it personal (an abusive spouse or a parent), or professional (a co-worker or a boss) or, at public and legal institutions where the abusive person may use gaslight to isolate their target, undermine their confidence and ultimately control them.
The more this happens, the more power and influence the victim has on the abuser. The victim starts relying heavily on what others say and have no scope of trusting themselves. They end up doubting their memory, their perception and sanity. They feel confused, anxious and even depressed about their relationship, make excuses for the partner’s behaviour, are not able to understand the reason for unhappiness in their own life, always end up apologizing and are left with no option but to rely on the gaslighter's version of reality.
With time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can make it difficult for the victim to see the truth. At times, it can even lead to the mental health concerns including addiction and even thoughts of suicide.
Gaslighting is not always intentional or malicious. It is a psychologically manipulative tactic to get a person or a group of people to doubt their reality and memory. Almost anyone can be susceptible to this tactic. People gaslight for numerous reasons and every situation is different. Lying and distortion are the cornerstones of gaslighting behaviour followed by repetition. Repetition technique is a brainwashing tactic wherein if a person knows that something is a blatant lie, repetition starts to make them believe it.
Remember gaslighting works because it confuses people and shakes the confidence. But if the victim shows that he is not affected by the behaviour, the person trying to gaslight will decide that it isn’t worth it. Do not be afraid of speaking. When a person is in isolation, chances are that he may be more susceptible to self-doubt and when a gaslighter knows about this, will try to convince as per their best interest. Stand firm in your truth, i.e., believe in yourself, your feelings for the person doing the gaslighting, the goal is to have the receiving person (the victim) doubt their perception.
Keep simple conversations, start writing things or maintain a journal about day to day happening which will help you ground yourself in your own truth and will also make you feel confident in case you start feeling confused or low at your self-esteem. Start collecting evidence such as saving screenshots of texts and emails, taking photos of any damage done to property, keeping a record of the date and time of conversations. Start engaging yourself in physical activities like yoga, long run and meditation. These activities serve as an outlet for tension and distress. Left unaddressed, gaslighting can take a significant toll on your self-esteem and overall mental health.
(The author is a teacher at a reputed school in Delhi)