“You’re crazy. Everybody thinks so.”
“I’m sorry that you think I hurt you.”
“It’s your own fault that I hurt you.”
“You are too sensitive.”
Have you ever been told any of the above? If yes, you might have been the victim of gaslighting.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is the manipulation of a person so that they question their reality.
The victim might:
- Be convinced that their feelings, cognition, and instincts are not to be trusted.
- End up with a muddled sense of right and wrong.
- Feel ashame of doing things that aren’t harmful.
- Be compelled to do things they find shameful.
Gaslighting might be unintentional or even well-meaning. Nonetheless, it is toxic behaviour that must end.
The term originated from a play, Gas Light, by British playwright Patrick Hamilton. Gas Light is about a man named Jack and his wife Bella. Bella had a wealthy aunt who lived in the flat above theirs. Bella’s aunt had been murdered for her jewels but the murderer was never caught.
Every night, Jack visited the aunt’s flat to search for the jewels. He lit up the gas lights of the flat, causing the lights in the rest of the building to dim. When Bella observed the lights in their house dimming, he persuaded her that they weren’t and that the footsteps she heard were her “hearing things”.
Jack was trying to convince Bella that she was insane, gaslighting her.
How to tell when you’re getting gaslighted?
Gaslighting isn’t always intentional. What does happen though, is that the victim’s self-esteem is severely damaged. Gaslighting may happen in different types of relationships: employer-employee, friends, parent-child, or a romantic couple.
There are a few elements to gaslighting. The gaslighter might try to:
- Trivalise your feelings: “You are so easily triggered!”
- Invalidate your fears: “You are being paranoid.”
- Discredit your sense of right and wrong: “You see this as evil only because you are blind to the truth.”
- Say things and later deny it: “No, I didn’t say I would cook dinner today. Now we have nothing to eat because of you.”
- Get you dependant on them for emotional support: “You are too dumb to do it right. Better let me do it for you.”
Do you find yourself feeling this way?
A victim of gaslighting might experience these symptoms:
- Constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You find yourself constantly apologizing.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You often wonder if you’re being too sensitive.
- You are always blaming yourself when things go wrong.
- You have the intuition that something is wrong, but are unable to put a finger on it.
If that’s you, please know that it’s not your fault.
What should you do if you’re the victim of gaslighting
The thing about gaslighting is that it becomes obvious once we’re aware of it. Which is great! Because then we can make a conscious decision to break the cycle. That might mean stepping out of the relationship or alerting the gaslighter to their harmful behavior.
The gaslighter might not necessarily be one person. It could be an organisation. Or a religious system.
I grew up deeply religious. The faith community I belonged to meant well, but their teachings were suspect.
The central doctrine posit that we are all sinners condemned for eternity. But that’s okay, because a saviour came to grant us salvation. Now, due to our sinful nature, we cannot trust our own minds and logic, and must rely completely on this saviour.
Trivalise your feelings — check. Discredit your sense of right and wrong — check. Get you dependant on them for emotional support — check.
Wow. Textbook gaslighting. Why wasn’t it obvious to me before?
Chow Ping Lee is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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