Gaslighting is a form of psychological or emotional abuse that can happen to anyone. It can occur with couples, among family members, at work and in social friendships.
Gaslighters mislead their victims, creating doubt and manipulating them into questioning their own feelings, memories and perceptions. If you're being gaslighted you can lose your confidence and self-esteem, and even come to believe you deserve the abuse.
Our member Lindsay George says: “It’s a distortion of the truth that can result in victims feeling confused, anxious and depressed. You may question your sense of reality, memory and, more seriously, examine your own sanity.”
Where might gaslighting happen?
“In families it can be parents who contradict their child’s version of reality,” says Lindsay. “It could be inconsistent behaviour where rules are changed and the child is praised for something on one occasion but criticised the next.
“This can be upsetting and confusing for the child and they don’t know who or what to trust.
Gaslighting at work could be a person in authority abusing their status to achieve more power, or a colleague who wants to manipulate the outcome of a situation to their benefit. Individuals may be undermined and excluded from conversations or meetings
“Power games are often played out," says Lindsay, and the end result can be devastating. All too often it damages the individual's confidence and ability to form trusting other relationships.”
What are the signs of gaslighting?
Gaslighting may not be as visible as other forms of abuse. Lindsay says it can be more subtle but just as damaging.
“It can leave you constantly second guessing yourself, as well as feeling overwhelmed, confused and unconfident in your decision making. You may feel the urge to apologise all the time as you believe you must be in the wrong.”
Other signs might be feeling like you’re walking on eggshells around your partner, fearful you’ll do or say the wrong thing and create an argument, which you’ll get the blame for.
“Another example is when your feelings are dismissed and you’re told how you are supposed to feel," she says. "It makes you question your gut reactions and lose your sense of reality, which is often the intention of the gaslighter.”
What does gaslighting sound like?
Gaslighters may use phrases that make you question your memory of events, such as 'That’s not what happened' or ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about'.
They may put the blame for misunderstandings on their victim - ‘You’re overthinking it', ‘You’re too emotional, too sensitive’, or even ‘You must be crazy’.
Or if challenged, they may seek to justify their actions - ‘I did that because I love you’, ‘You know I’d never do anything to hurt you’, ‘I was only joking’.
What causes gaslighting?
The goal of a gaslighter is usually about power and control.
“It’s often someone who needs to be right as it validates them as an individual and gives them a sense of control,” says Lindsay.
When a gaslighter feels their version of the truth is threatened, they may lie or discredit their victim in their need to re-establish a sense of power and command.
How do you respond to gaslighting?
If you suspect someone is gaslighting you, Lindsay suggests that you note down the incidents.
“You may forget particular situations and time can blur your memory of events,” she says.
If you feel confident enough, you can call the behaviour out and try to establish clear boundaries.
“Sticking to boundaries is essential in regaining your power and control," she says. "It helps stop your gaslighter taking away your control and undermining your sense of reality and of yourself.
If the behaviour continues but you’re not confident with your suspicions, you should seek an outside opinion from someone you can trust, like a friend or family member. Or you can seek professional support from a trained and registered counsellor.
How can counselling help with gaslighting?
Counselling gives you a safe space to learn more about what’s happening, develop coping strategies and deal with the behaviour.
Lindsay says: “It can help you work through painful and unwanted emotions. Conflict can be a common occurrence in any relationship, so it's helpful to discuss how to handle it better.
“It’s important to establish that this was not the victim's fault and that they didn’t deserve for it to happen to them. It’s also important to explore and set healthier boundaries.”
Counselling can also help you feel supported and stronger in deciding whether to continue in the relationship or not, and to learn how to regain your sense of power and control either within or without it.
Am I gaslighting?
“We may think of gaslighters as having a well-defined plan to undermine and emotionally abuse another person,” says Lindsay. “But you may be the one who is gaslighting without intentionally meaning to.”
If you recognise signs of gaslighting in your own behaviour, you can seek help through a qualified therapist.
“They will support you in developing your sense of awareness and teach you new strategies to deal with conflict," she explains. "This can improve not only the relationship you have with others but also your own self-esteem and confidence."
What is counselling?
Find out how counselling works, what therapists do and what happens in a therapy session.
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Where and how you can get access to counselling and psychotherapy, including free and paid for services
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