Whether it’s a spouse, family member, friend or boss, being gaslighted will lead to you doubting your own sanity…
As you may know, Dark Angel and I do spiritual advisory sessions with clients to help them with their issues in life.
One of our clients had a husband who cheated on her regularly, and lied to her all the time.
But he always turned the tables and accused her of being the liar.
He distorted the truth and made her doubt herself.
Yet she knew she never cheated and always told the truth.
But her husband was continually angry and frustrated with her, which led her to blame herself for the state of the marriage.
As a result, her lift was miserable. Not surprisingly, she was very depressed.
Up until talking to Dark Angel and I, she had no idea what was actually going on
We explained that her husband was gaslighting her so he could manipulate and control her.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is emotional abuse. It involves manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the things going on around them.
Victims of gaslighting are often pushed to the point of questioning their own sanity.
Gaslighters come in many forms – spouses, bosses, friends and family members, even parents. It’s typically worse when it is a spouse or relationship partner that’s doing it.
Where does the term gaslighting come from?
The term isn’t exactly self-explanatory. It comes from a 1938 mystery thriller play called Gaslight by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. In one classic scene the lead character, Jack, an overbearing and criminal husband, makes the gas lights flicker when he is nefariously prowling the apartment above. Intent on making his wife Bella believe she’s insane to cover up his criminal activities, he tells her she’s imagining it.
In 1944, the play went on to be made into a movie, also called Gaslight and starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The story and main characters were changed somewhat from the play, but the basic plot was the same: a husband trying to drive his wife mad so she doesn’t cotton on to his unlawful behavior.
This is where the term was born. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that academics in the field of psychology adopted the term gaslighting. From there it became part of common parlance.
How to spot a gaslighter
According to Robin Stern, PhD, author of the book The Gaslight Effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life, a typical gaslighter twists everything to being the other person’s fault.
This is especially devastating if it’s in a marriage or relationship.
Stern gives the following signs for victims of gaslighting to look out for:
- No longer feeling you’re the person you used to be.
- Questioning whether you are being too sensitive.
- Feeling that everything you do is wrong.
- Always thinking it’s your fault if things go awry.
- Apologizing all the time even when you don’t need to.
- Feeling less self-confident than you used to be.
- Having a sense that something is wrong, but unable to identify what it is.
- Being more anxious than you used to be in the past.
- Questioning whether your responses to your partner are wrong – like wondering if you’re being unreasonable or just not being loving enough.
- Making excuses for your partner’s behavior to your friends and family.
- Finding it hard to make decisions.
- A feeling of hopelessness and despondency.
- No longer enjoying the things you used to enjoy.
The gaslighter’s modus operandi
Gaslighters become masters of pushing your buttons. They get to know your vulnerabilities and what you’re sensitive to. And they use this against you, making you doubt yourself – your judgment, memories, and even your sanity.
They’ll make your feelings seem trivial by saying things like, “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”
They’ll tell you people can see you are losing it and are talking about you behind your back. The gaslighter might say, “You do realize the whole family is talking about you.”
A gaslighter will also say things to you that they later insist they never said. They might say they are at work. When you find out they weren’t and confront them, they’ll say, “What are you talking about? I told you I was going to see an old friend, I didn’t say I’d be at work.”
Or they might hide something of yours, such as your sunglasses. When you can’t find them, they’ll say, “Seriously?! You’ve lost your sunglasses again!”
It might be a memory you both share, like going to a given place together. But the gaslighter will say, “You weren’t there with me. I should know!”
At every turn, the gaslighter will distort the truth – to the point that you will begin to doubt yourself and your own reality.
Gaslighting is a form of dark psychology
In the end, those that gaslight are practising dark psychology, which is all about manipulating others for your own ends. There are many techniques for mind manipulation, but gaslighting is a key method of control. It can be highly abusive, and has led to victims committing suicide.
To deal with the dark psychology of gaslighting takes strong resolve. Most simply don’t have this.
Not surprisingly, those with a propensity for manipulation seek out weaker people who they can dominate and abuse.
For example, a man will look for a compliant woman to be his wife. He will charm her at first, then he’ll use a whole armory of techniques to completely break her resolve, gaslighting being one of the most common dark psychology tactics used.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Clearly people that gaslight are dysfunctional in some way – otherwise they wouldn’t do what they do. Thus psychologists have placed compulsive gaslighters under the umbrella of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder believe the world revolves around them. They have an extremely high sense of self-importance.
They are self-absorbed and aren’t able, or are unwilling, to understand and empathize with the emotions of other people.
Narcissists crave attention and will do anything to get it, such as lying about their achievements in life – sometimes to an almost absurd degree, such as claiming they are military veterans who displayed valor in conflict, when they did no such thing.
Due to their grandiose view of themselves, they get inordinately angry when criticized; they literally cannot take it and will go all out to make the person criticising them feel small and regret their words.
Unsurprisingly, narcissists are highly critical of others and become envious and jealous very easily.
Narcissists have no qualms about using other people for their own personal gain, and expect special treatment from others, be it individuals or organizations. They consider their needs over everybody else’s.
How do you deal with gaslighters?
On a practical level, the first thing to do is become consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions.
This will help you see the reality of your situation. That you aren’t in the wrong. And you aren’t crazy.
You’re being gaslighted.
Once you realize the truth, you will gradually be able to build your inner strength and self-reliance, not to mention confidence.
Your reality will no longer be validated by the person gaslighting you. You’ll be dealing with your own reality on your terms.
What might be most challenging is dealing with uncomfortable feelings, such as guilt when the person gaslighting you calls you a liar, or says you aren’t loving enough or aren’t doing a good job of your daily tasks.
You may also get moments where you still doubt your sanity. But the more consciously aware you are, the more you will become confident that it is not you that has the problem, but the gaslighter – who is essentially abusing you.
You can also secretly record conversations you have with the gaslighter and review them later. If you assess these conversations objectively you will soon see the reality of how you are being manipulated and controlled.
You can’t argue with a gaslighter
It’s worth recognizing that trying to make a gaslighter see what they are doing won’t work. Arguing them won’t get you anywhere. Nor will trying to prove a point.
What they are doing is wrong, but they will never admit it.
The only way forward is to look at how you feel. You may be miserable and depressed and consumed with a sense of hopelessness.
The bottom line is: if life doesn’t seem worth living, then the answer is to get out of the clutches of the gaslighter – even if they are your spouse or romantic partner.
Don’t waste your energy on trying to change them or make them see what they are doing. Don’t try to prove to them you are right.
Just get away from them. They are an abuser and are unlikely to ever reform.
Have compassion for yourself and build up enough strength to get out of the situation.
As Robin Stern, PhD, says, “[Become] the architect of your own reality.”
This is very much what Dark Angel and I did with our client who was being gaslighted by her manipulative husband. We taught her how to be consciously aware of both her thinking patterns and emotions.
This came as quite a revelation to her. “I literally felt like I’d woken up,” she told us. “Like I’d been asleep all my life. I saw things for what they are. And I knew then that it wasn’t me that was the problem, like he kept telling me over and over, but it was him all along. It was abuse, pure and simple.”
During our coaching sessions we showed her how to use her mind to build confidence and regain her self-esteem.
Eventually, she found the self-resolve to leave her husband and divorce him.
Now she’s pursuing a career in helping other people deal with abusive relationships and providing the assistance they need to get out of them.