The dictionary definition of Gaslighting is “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception and sanity.”
Sounds horrible…and it is, but most people don’t see it coming and many don’t even know that it has happened.
A recent client came to see me with very low confidence, something they could not have imagined even a year previously. What came to light was the way their partner was highlighting and criticising their actions, beliefs and even thoughts.
What had started as a whirlwind romance had, over time, turned into a very negative and harmful relationship but my client, a very successful and previously confident businessman didn’t see the warning signs and didn’t notice the slow but steady changes in the way their partner talked to and about them. He gradually found himself feeling unsure of his thoughts and decisions and blamed himself almost exclusively for the changes in their relationship.
The gaslighters often don’t know what they’re doing (not a defence, just a fact.) They may have learnt their techiques from early childhood, whilst witnessing or experiencing this behaviour in others close to them.
Essentially, starts slowly, the odd reference to something the victim has forgotten to do, their “obvious” mistakes or the “clear” negativity towards them of others. This does two things; it makes them doubt themselves (to the point where they may think themselves to be ill.) It also distances them from people they were previously close to. The easier it is for them to be further manipulated.
Ideally, the perpetrator wants them to feel incapable, reliant and helpless, but why?
The answer lies in the mind of the gaslighter. They draw comfort and strength from suppressing others, in making themselves the centre of that person’s world and indispensable. This makes them feel better about themselves, the strong one, the leader, more important.
So how do you stop yourself being gaslit?
Firstly, identify the mechanics of your relationship, and this relationshop might be with a friend, family member, partner or colleague.
Don’t expect the relationship to improve over time, that’s very unlikely. So you have three options; to sever the relationship altogether, stand up to the perpetrator, or if they’re not possible, to distance yourself emotionally.
Easier said than done? You can turn to true friends (apologising if you have to for having cut them off), ask for their help…if only to prove to yourself that you’re not going mad!
Don’t expect your gaslighter to agree with you if you challenge them, they’re likely to turn it round to you being a terrible person for even having those thoughts. Self defence will set in very quickly and you’ll either get anger or “woe is me, how could you think that of me.”
Your main focus has to be on distancing yourself emotionally and mentally. You may not be able to put physical distance between yourself and them but don’t be put off. They don’t usually hang around long once they’ve been rumbled, although they may become very vocal about your supposed short-comings to you and others around you before they give up.
This is where you need support. Most victims feel pretty silly once the mist clears and they see just what has really been happening. They fear that others will find out and judge them…which, if it helps, doesn’t often happen. They’re usually just relieved to have you back to your old self.
If you feel you need a professional outsider, who can help you move forward at this point, I’m your girl! Within a few short sessions we can start a process to reset you and your self confidence. To help you become better than ever. You may even have learnt some valuable lessons from your gaslighting experience.
So call, text or email today. Even that small act is a step in the right direction and will make you feel just a little better.