What it Really Feels Like to be Gaslighted

Gaslighting is a type of abuse that can make you question your sanity. Narcissists love it, addicts make good use of it and your loved ones can use it to make your life hellish. It’s not a nice thing to be gaslighted.

Gaslighting is when someone manipulates another person through psychological means to make them question their reality. The term gaslighted originates from the film Gaslight released in 1944 and the play it was based on Gas Light from 1938.

The basic plot of the film revolves around a husbands manipulation of an aspiring opera singer. He manipulates her surroundings to make her believe she is going mad.

Having been gaslighted more than once in the past I know how hard it can be. That slow loss of your sense of reality is quite an awful thing to experience. I am thankful to have stuck to my instincts and eventually removed myself from those situations.

However, for a lot of people, this may be a daily reality for them. No one, not a single person, deserves to have their sense of self taken away from them by someone else.

Examples of Gaslighting

I have been watching Bates Motel recently which serves as a modern prequel to Psycho. The main premise of the show revolves around the development of Norman Bates’ dissociative identity disorder. However, in almost every episode Norman and his mother Norma constantly attempt to gaslight each other and those around them.

It’s a really interesting commentary on how the truth can be bent to try and alter someone else’s perception. I don’t want to get into spoilers for those who haven’t seen it so I won’t go into great detail. Both characters have significant control issues that stem from a lack of control earlier in their lives. This need for control leads them to try and manipulate the situations unfolding around them and assert the truth they want forcefully.

We can find excellent real-life examples as well. The ever polarising President Trump is perhaps the most notable example at present but he’s far from the only example.

Gaslighting is a common weapon in a politician’s arsenal. They manipulate the truth, the data, the numbers, all of it. Just to bolster their position and make the public believe their party has done or is doing a good job.

If you’ve ever heard a politician or party say something that doesn’t quite sound right, they may well be trying to gaslight you.

Trump doesn’t try very hard to hide it though. His lies and manipulations are clear as day. His handling of the coronavirus and the black lives matter movements provide sufficient evidence. America still sees rises in cases that could have been avoided. The President doesn’t talk about how he has failed to control the spread of the virus though.

Instead, he simply shouts louder about the number of tests conducted in America. ‘If we did fewer tests we would have fewer cases.’ And while yes, if you did fewer tests you would have less confirmed cases but the number of actual cases would still be the same. The same number of people infected, they just haven’t been recorded.

The way the President frames these tweets to focus on the wrong information is his attempt at gaslighting the world. Any news article he disagrees with will be branded as ‘fake news,’ another attempt to gaslight.

How to understand if you are being gaslighted

The list below is some of the things you should look out for in your situation. If you resonate with some or all of these, please consider seeking additional help:

  • The person is telling blatant lies. Sometimes they might just outright lie to you. But they will stick to their story so adamantly that it forces you to question the truth. Regardless of what proof there is.
  • You always apologize and they trivialize the way you feel. If someone is dismissing your feelings by calling you too sensitive this is a classic gaslighting technique.
  • You’re markedly less happy over time. We all deserve to be happy but being in a relationship where these tactics are being employed can gradually take away your shine. It can happen so slowly that for a long time you don’t even notice it.
  • What they say and what they do don’t align. Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation, it is important to look at what the person is doing as opposed to what they say.
  • Spreading lies about you to others. Gaslighters can spread lies about you to other people to prop up their position. They get people to back them up and stand against you. Then they use this against you in conversation.
  • Refusal to take blame. If you call them out on something and they refuse to talk or avoid talking about it. Perhaps they will shift the blame to you. Anything but taking responsibility.
  • You feel trapped and isolated. A victim of this can feel very alone. You may spend a lot of time feeling confused or stupid or crazy — just like they tell you.

I was Gaslighted by a ‘Friend’

A few years ago I found myself at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I had dropped out of University because of my mounting debt. Having worked unfulfilling jobs to pay it down I became disillusioned with life.

I was depressed, totally unhappy, and in desperate need of change. While talking to someone I thought was a friend; they mentioned a job opportunity that better aligned with my values. To take this job I would have to move halfway across the country.

I’d paid off all my debt but I didn’t have any savings. They had a lodger just move out so it seemed like it was meant to be. I took the room and quickly realized I was being manipulated.

This person has a habit of attaching themselves to people who struggle with depression. He painted himself as an ally and a savior to those with mental health struggles. However, when guilt became his preferred method of contact I realized that he likes to keep depressed people around so he can feel superior.

I was dealing with a narcissist. This man thought very highly of himself and his help was conditional on it making him feel good. Almost daily he would insert himself into situations he wasn’t welcome in and talk down to me. Including very personal issues like my struggle with my weight or my family situation.

He would compare me to people who had upset him in the past despite the fact I had not done anything. If I didn’t participate in the things he wanted me to I would be made to feel like a bad person and I was using him.

As someone who was in the process of healing this was an incredibly toxic environment to be. But I was trapped.

The job turned out to be very part-time so I was falling back into debt. I was being used for rent money and being vilified just for existing. I spoke to some friends and quickly arranged a sofa to crash on to get out of that environment.

I was being gaslighted the entire time. This person would tell blatant lies, trivialize my feelings, force me to apologize, spread lies about me, tell me lies about other people, I was isolated and felt trapped and I was so much less happy for the two months I stayed.

If something doesn’t feel right about your situation then it’s time to do something about it.

What do you do if you are being gaslighted

If you think, even a little, that this might be happening to you I implore you to trust your instincts. Gaslighting is remarkably effective and it’s used to make you question the truth. You’ve got to double down on your emotional awareness.

Speaking to a therapist or a counselor can help with some of the doubts you may have. Gaslighting is quite common and therapy can help you unpack these feelings in a safe environment.

Keep a log of conversations to help distinguish between the objective truth and the distorted reality perpetuated by the gaslighter.

If you can you should leave the situation. Anyone is capable of gaslighting. If it is your boss then you should consider speaking with HR or leaving. If it is your partner, then this may not be the right relationship to be in. I understand it’s not always easy but you deserve more respect.

Talk to your friends and family. They can help. They may well understand and be able to offer advice. Talk to your old friends particularly. No one knows you better than your oldest friends. Ask them if you still seem like yourself. Their insights could be a surprising reality check.

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

Be gentle with yourself

We’re often most unkind to ourselves. Some of us have a natural disposition to have a low opinion about who we are. A gaslighter can take advantage of this and we’re the perfect target.

I have a low opinion of myself and in the past, people have recognized this and used it to trap me. These are not the kind of people you should be around. We need cheerleaders. People who are interested in building us up, not keeping us down.

It would be great if the first person to do this was yourself. So please, always be gentle with yourself. Be kind, treat yourself with love and respect. Don’t let another person take advantage of you. Don’t let them control your reality.

If you think you are being gaslighted, trust yourself. It’s probably true and you don’t deserve it.

Money, sex, power. Rock and roll’s the devils work. Follow me, it’s the 21st century.

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