Gaslighting is quite the buzzword these days. A term describing a dangerous form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse, it is frequently misunderstood and, according to many, misused.
The term originates from Gaslight, originally written as a play (called Gas Light) in 1938 and produced as a film in 1944. In the story, a wife is manipulated by her husband into believing she is mentally ill. As part of his abuse, the husband dims the home’s gas lights and convinces his wife that she is imagining it.
Like the behavior and condition depicted in Gaslight, gaslighting is a tactic used to make the victim question their own sanity. The perpetrator employs the strategy to make the victim distrust their own sense of reality, whether in terms of feelings, beliefs, thoughts, or a combination. This generally allows the manipulator to gain the upper hand.
While the term is often applied to emotional abuse in romantic relationships, it can occur in other relationships, too — especially at work. Friends, family members, managers, coworkers and others can also participate in gaslighting.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make up your mind. You question every decision, and even when you’ve come to closure, you end up changing your mind. You’re not just questioning your decisions, either — you’re also questioning your very circumstances and wondering if the reality you know and believe is the real one. Your thoughts, events that have happened and more are all suspect now.
One trick a gaslighter deploys all too frequently is telling you that your emotions are somehow invalid. You get upset, and they tell you you’re overreacting. They also insist that you’re too sensitive and take things “too seriously.” They trivialize your emotions, making you feel like they don’t matter and you should simply make them go away and not bother them.
Maybe your self-esteem wasn’t high before, but now, it’s taken a nosedive. You feel anxious all the time. You’re extremely insecure — far less secure than you used to be — and are constantly on edge. You’re no longer confident in your choices, your decisions or yourself. Sometimes, you feel like you’re dispensable. (Just so you know, you absolutely are NOT dispensable!)
No matter what, it seems like you’re always the one saying that you’re sorry, even when you really don’t know if you did anything wrong (hint: you very likely didn’t). You have to apologize for everything — right down to the very way you feel and think.
Everything you do seems to be wrong. At work, your mistakes are magnified, and it’s impossible for you to do your job correctly. Or, if you’re in a romantic relationship with the gaslighter in your life, they turn their missteps on you, telling you you’re not doing enough to make the relationship work and every problem you encounter as a couple is your fault.
Perhaps they even turn problems that began with them onto you. For example, they might say your anxiety is the root cause of your issues, when they were the one who made you even more anxious with their behavior.
Ultimately, you’re not sure if you trust yourself — your mind, your thoughts and your actions. You’re wondering if you truly are insane, a belief someone else has instilled in you. This, above all else, is the very essence of gaslighting and why it is so very harmful to your entire psyche. You question yourself, and you simply don’t know if you can trust yourself anymore. But you’re the very person you should be able to trust the most.
If you're noticing these signs, it's time to consider whether this relationship and the toxic situation you’re in is worth it. While it may be difficult to sever ties, this type of behavior is harmful, and it's more than likely that you'll be better off without this person and their gaslighting ways.