Gaslighting: Mind Control Disguised as Love
Trusting is NOT YOUR FAULT & Knowledge is Power
If you would’ve asked me what Gaslighting was a few months ago I would have had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA.
Most people actually don’t know what Gaslighting is — you may have heard the term, but can you define it or recognize it?
Knowledge is Power and knowing about this technique in advance can help you spot it. It can be such a covert technique that it’s difficult to see. Because I wasn’t aware, I suffered much longer than I would’ve had to if I understood it prior to having it show up in my life.
The purpose of talking about Gaslighting now is to:
- Talk about my own personal experience
- Explain what the term means and what it can do to a person psychologically
- Spread awareness because knowing can help someone recognize and avoid it
I want others to understand this extremely covert and abusive technique that people, mainly narcissists, will use to get you under their control and make you feel like the way they are treating you isn’t actually reality.
Why? Because if it happens to you it can completely wreck you, and you may not even know what’s happening. You may believe it’s love, and that in itself is very psychologically damaging. It could take much longer to get out of the abusive situation if you believe it’s YOU and I would like to help people avoid this devastating trauma.
If you never have to deal with Gaslighting, I will be eternally happy for you, however if it does come into your life you can be prepared to face it head on and not let it come close to destroying you.
Where the Term “Gaslighting” Comes From
As with most terms that quickly become popular, a lot of people don’t know what Gaslighting really means. Does it just mean deceiving people or is it something more specific?
A Definition of Gaslighting:
The term Gaslighting actually comes from a 1938 Patrick Hamilton play called ‘Gaslight’ (and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations). The husband in the movie, Gregory, slowly over time makes his wife Paula doubt her sanity. Gregory tells her that she’s becoming forgetful and fitful, acting in irregular ways. He confines her to the house, and tells everyone she’s not well. At night she hears knocking in the walls. She sees the gas lighting dim, but he tells her she’s imagining things.
The scenes in which Gregory is flat-out lying to Paula, coolly watching her come to pieces, are utterly chilling. It’s abuse, and an insidious kind, since the abuser doesn’t leave any marks.
The term “Gaslighting” comes from the movie, and so its definition is rather specific: when a person lies for their own gain to another person so repeatedly and with so much confidence that the victim begins to doubt her own sanity. And, as the film puts it, a bit of Stockholm Syndrome develops as well: The victim, now uncertain that she can perceive reality correctly, becomes dependent on and attached to the Gaslighter.
If you can stomach watching Gaslight, it’s a great reminder that just because you feel like you’re going crazy DOES NOT mean you are.
Why Gaslighting Can Be Very Difficult to Recognize
The biggest problem with Gaslighting is that most people will not recognize it. If they are in a relationship, friendship or have another type of connection where they feel that the person on the other end actually cares about them, it is difficult to see it when it’s taking place.
We tend to believe the best in the people we love and it can be hard to believe that people are capable of Gaslighting us. As the definition explains, it is a form of mind control, similar to brainwashing except with brainwashing you know the person is your enemy. With mind control you think they are your friend and that they genuinely care about you.
If you have ever questioned your reality, wondered if what you thought was actually true when another individual continued to challenge you on it or felt completely responsible for the abuse that was delivered to you, then it is very possible that you experienced Gaslighting.
I wrote a blog recently titled “Is This a Case of Love or Abuse?”, which described Gaslighting before I really understood what it was. I was asking questions about whether I was abused in a particular mentoring relationship or not. I was so confused about the reality of the situation because I was constantly being challenged about my perception of events.
I thank the angels that responded to my article and answered my questions in a very pointed, wise and forthright fashion. I finally understood that what I experienced WAS abuse, and even more importantly, the reason I was so blind to it was because I was Gaslighted.
Don’t EVER Let Someone Tell You Who You Are
If you would’ve asked me a few years back if I knew who I was, I would’ve answered with a confident “Yes”.
I was very analytical, always looking deep into myself to see where I could grow. I read often and enjoyed digging into my psyche. I was confident in my identity, thinking I knew myself pretty much inside and out.
When ‘Jamie’ (pseudo-name and pseudo-sex) came into my life, I began to see me through ‘her’ eyes and it changed everything. She was wise, enlightened, charismatic, much further along in her journey of self-discovery than I was and I trusted her. She was known for being extremely intuitive and she quickly pegged me, telling me who I was, who I should be to get what I truly wanted in life and what was holding me back.
She began a friendship/mentorship with me and I looked up to her. The Gaslighting didn’t envelop me all at once — it was a slow process (and usually is with people like this). They don’t want you to catch on to what they’re doing so they drip on you until they have you where they want you, then they show more of their toxic ways as time goes on.
Jamie started to become the authority over me. The abuse began slowly and continued to develop over time. During the year I let this person mentor me, I was told that who I was and what I believed about myself and the worldwas wrong and that if I did certain things I could be a better human being. I was also told that no matter what, Jamie would still love me and was just telling me what I needed to hear to make a change.
Jamie even questioned whether I could be trusted. I would do something very natural and in complete integrity and Jamie would angrily question me saying “I don’t know if I can trust you. A friend would never act that way. How do I know you’re not just using me for something?! Do you really want to be my friend because I don’t know.” I was left shocked, confused and sad about the accusations, but they made me question myself. I wondered if I was doing something out of integrity or hurtful. I knew I wasn’t, but I still questioned myself.
When I finally got the courage to tell Jamie I felt she was being kind of mean and abusive, she told me that I was misinterpreting. She told me she didn’t want to have to be mean, but she took the risk with me because I was worth it and she loved me too much to let me keep living a facade and not realizing my true potential. She told me she had trouble trusting people and that she wanted to trust me, but was scared.
She would tell me that I had created the wrong meaning (when it was clear that she was saying something very specific) and if I was ever going to be successful in life I had to start getting more skilled at creating better meanings.
It all seemed to make sense — at least on one level. But in my head I was so confused. “It must be my problem” I thought.
It came to the point where I didn’t trust my own intuition anymore and began to trust my abuser’s words.
I didn’t know the term ‘Gaslighting’ or what it was so I had no idea that someone could actually make me question myself this way.
I knew a lot about abuse, however I had never heard of this type where someone makes another person question their reality. I didn’t even know that people were capable of something like this — and that I would actually be susceptible to falling for it!
Side Note: You may wonder why I couldn’t see it at the time. Maybe you’re reading this thinking “How could she not see that this was abuse?” That’s a great question and the reason why I’m writing this article. If we aren’t aware, it can be easy to get sucked in to someone else’s interpretation. We can’t always see it when we’re in the middle of it and I hope that after reading this someone will recognize Gaslighting if it happens to them — before they get sucked in.
Gaslighting: Signs to Look Out For
What I have since learned is that Gaslighting is a narcissist’s favourite tool and is a covert aggressive way of distorting another person’s perception of reality to the point that that person questions their sanity or memory. (The Sociopath Next Door — Martha Stout Ph.D)
Red Flag: It makes you think you’re going crazy and it’s a way for the abuser to hide and take absolutely no responsibility for the abuse. You stop trusting yourself and your perceptions of reality and defer to the abuser in order to tell you what is real.
When someone tells you certain things over and over, and you trust them as a mentor, friend or partner, you begin to believe that it’s YOU with the problem and NOT THEM. You feel like YOU are misinterpreting things and that THEY are right. It’s so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening — they plant small seeds of doubt and eventually you don’t trust your own instinct anymore.
Gaslighters in all forms want control over others and when they convince us that we aren’t seeing things clearly, we don’t recognize the abuse and they have MORE control. If we actually catch on and confront them on being abused, we quickly believe that we are just perceiving it incorrectly. They will tell us this in such a convincing way and use it to minimize the abuse that’s taking place, making you believe it isn’t even true. They will often play the victim so it takes the focus off what they’ve done, therefore they can avoid responsibility.
They make you think there’s something wrong with you — that you’re overreacting and oversensitive. I would often hear “No I didn’t mean it that way — I’m concerned for you and I want the best for you”. My abuser would say, “I talked to other people who were there and that’s not how it happened — you just misinterpreted”.
In hindsight, I probably should have gone to those people and asked for their interpretation, but they were closer to her than me and I didn’t feel right challenging her or them. Now that I see more clearly, I wish I would have.
The ones who tell you that they truly care about you, want the best for you, love you enough to treat you that way and wouldn’t spend the time and energy on you if they didn’t think you were worth it are the EXTREMELY COVERT ones and hardest to figure out.
They use phrases that could seem normal, but are used to distort the way you see things. They befriend you and care for you in such a way that you WANT to believe them. You want to believe they have your best interests at heart. Otherwise why would they treat you this way? In my situation, everyone looked up to Jamie and I was the only one who was questioning her. “It must be ME who’s wrong”, I surmised.
Narcissists Gaslight you by accusing YOU of whatever THEY are doing.
They don’t want you to see past their ‘smoke and mirrors’ so they turn the spotlight on you. Jamie put it all on me — it was my misinterpretation, my delusional way of seeing things because I was out of touch with reality. She was never wrong or responsible — she was always the victim and I was the one hurting her (or if it wasn’t me it was someone else).
Gaslighting is a powerful tool because it can completely get you under the other person’s control without you even realizing it.
It can drive you to the point where you have a nervous breakdown…and in all honesty, I almost did. When I felt that it was abusive, I was told I just couldn’t see clearly and that I was just making it mean something it didn’t actually mean.
The denial of the abuse was even worse than the abuse itself.
Protecting Yourself From Gaslighting Abuse
Gaslighting only works when a victim isn’t aware of what’s going on. When you understand the pattern, it will not affect you as much. You may be able to say to yourself, “Here we go again” and let it slide off your back.
So what can we do to protect ourselves from covert, narcissistic, abusive Gaslighters?
I can only tell you what has worked for me. I am not a professional counsellor, however I have had enough experience in my life to share what I believe are the best things to look out for in order to safeguard against Gaslighting.
1. Notice Inconsistencies and a Feeling of Being Controlled
Gaslighters will frequently lie (about themselves and others), exaggerate their achievements (and also look to remain humble at the same time) and build themselves up by putting others down. They will often distort the facts to the point that you question your own memory of events.
They tend to intermix the positive with the negative so that you believe they are inherently good. An example of this is “Oh honey, I would never hurt you. I love you too much to do that. I just see how broken you are and want to help make you better”. It creates confusion, brain fog, self doubt and paranoia. They make you feel vulnerable and insecure, believing that you’re losing your mind, second guessing yourself, feeling a sense of guilt, and they make it all your responsibility.
They will boost their fragile self-worth by dominating and controlling others. If you feel controlled, that you have somehow given your power away to another human being and that there are major inconsistencies between what someone says and does, know that this may be a case of Gaslighting.
My experience involved all of these things and I now know they are HUGE red flags in any relationship going forward.
2. If You are Confused, Get an Outsider’s Perspective
Ask for a reality check from someone OUTSIDE the situation, who you TRUST and who you KNOW has your best interests at heart.
Gaslighters often try to isolate their victims in order to stay in control. Develop your own support system outside of the group you are in with the Gaslighter. They may be trying to replace your experience, but when they have a group of supporters, it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture. Group abuse and manipulation can lead to a nervous breakdown or severe depression (this was much of my experience).
They often further manipulate their victims by repeatedly telling and showing them that they are the only person who really loves and understands them. Don’t buy it.
Spend time with friends and family. Check out your perceptions by talking to other people who witnessed what the Gaslighter is questioning. You need other people in your life who can confirm your reality and worth.
I am thankful that friends and family could see the things I couldn’t — that ultimately helped me get out of the relationship.
3. Be Confident in Who You Are and Stay Stuck in Your Ways
Be defiant and stay true to who you know you are and what you believe is right. Stand up for yourself and don’t give someone power and control over you to tell you who you are and who you should be.
Trust your gut instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, pay attention to that. Validate YOUR OWN intuition or gut instinct first before deferring your version of reality to someone else and their perception of reality.
Own your perception of reality and don’t rationalize with them. You know yourself better than anyone else — beware if someone is trying to alter the way you see yourself.
You will most likely feel deep down that something feels wrong from the beginning. You may start to get a sense that you are losing yourself — pay attention to the alarm system inside you and listen to it.
I knew something was wrong and I ignored it. I didn’t have enough confidence in my own intuition, so I let someone else have power over me. It is important to NEVER give your power away.
4. Know that Communicating With Them Will NOT Make it Better
Don’t go to them hoping they will understand. You will never get what you want in this area when dealing with a Gaslighter. When you try to get them to take responsibility, you are leaving yourself open to get sucked deeper into their web. Recognize that there will never be accountability.
They will never admit to what they’ve done and they will continue to lie and manipulate. Accept that they have their alternative facts and way of seeing things — and you have yours.
Opt out of unnecessary interactions with a Gaslighter because they put your sanity at risk. Be aware that you are unlikely to be able to change them — at least on your own.
Gaslighting is the only way they know to manage their world. They know it and it works for them. For that reason, they are not likely to respond to rational appeals to change. To give up Gaslighting, it usually requires that they willingly go through intensive therapy.
In my experience, talking to them will not help your case, internally or externally. For them, the goal of the conversation will always be to exchange power, not understanding. When you try and help them understand your perspective, you will never win.
They will continue to try and twist your experience and make it mean something different. They are much more interested in invalidating and controlling than reconciliation and understanding. That is why i can’t have a conversation with my Gaslighter — it would not have the positive results I hope for so I choose to not go there.
5. Observe Whether Your Self-Doubt Has Skyrocketed
My self-doubt completely skyrocketed during my Gaslighting experience and I have learned that plummeting self-esteem and increasing self-doubt is a big warning sign.
A Gaslighter’s behaviour can often resemble Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so you often feel like you are walking on eggshells with this person and you feel trapped and powerless.
You may find yourself doubting your feelings or your sense of reality, judgment and perceptions. You wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. In other words, you worry that you might truly be crazy, neurotic or losing it. I certainly did.
You also worry about talking to people about it because you believe they might see you the way your Gaslighter does.You often convince yourself that it’s not that bad and you don’t express your emotions because it just isn’t worth the fight. I was terrified to talk to anybody about this because I thought they would agree.
You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are — and you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong. You feel like you are never good enough. You frequently second-guess your memories and wonder if you accurately remember the details of past events. Yep, guilty as charged!
You may have lost a lot of confidence in your thoughts and feelings and find yourself double-checking your interpretation of reality on a regular basis. Sometimes you sink into feeling helpless, hopeless and depressed. This happened to me daily.
You have begun to find it hard to make decisions because you distrust yourself so you often go to the Gaslighter to get advice before making a decision. It came to a point where I wouldn’t do anything without seeking the advice of my Gaslighter.
If You’ve Experienced Gaslighting, Take Time to Heal
If you have suffered from this type of abuse already, don’t be hard on yourself. Anyone is susceptible to this type of manipulation — it can be very insidious and it’s good to be on alert going forward.
Take the time you need to cry, get counselling and truly heal. Don’t tell yourself that you can just choose a different meaning or let it go — it takes time to heal. When you do heal, you may be able to help other abuse survivors.
If you recognize yourself in this article, you will probably need professional help to dig your way back out of the devastating effects of gaslighting. A therapist can offer you practical advice and support to help you recover. They can help you reprogram your self talk about what is reality and let go of the wish for it to be different. They can help you move through the emotions when you choose to go ‘No Contact’ (the only way to heal fully).
This is NOT YOUR FAULT.
Know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Being uncertain about your own perception of reality is a terrifying feeling and one I wish on nobody.
It can be a scary feeling to feel like nothing you once relied on to understand the world around you — your sensory experiences, memory, intuition — is as trustworthy as you once thought.
You can question yourself constantly and life can become very foggy and confusing.
If you’ve experienced Gaslighting already and want to talk, please reach out. Know that there can be healing.
There can also be prevention. I hope this article is read by at least one person who is saved from the heartache and confusion of Gaslighting.
Sharing my story will be worth it if it does.