What is Gaslighting?

By: Centerstone

Approximately three in four adults have no idea what gaslighting is and likely do not know the signs. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse intended to skew someone’s perception of reality in order to control them. It typically happens between romantic partners, friends, or parents and children.

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that can present in many forms and may differ in each relationship dynamic. “There are times when someone may not know that they are gaslighting you, and there are times when it is done intentionally,” says Deirdre Guilloton, Licensed Marital and Family Therapist at Centerstone. The person who might be gaslighting you (intentionally or unintentionally) is doing it with the intent to control you.

Someone who is being gaslit may pull away from their natural support system or friends and family, no longer engage in hobbies or joyful activities, ask permission to do things, or apologize more frequently. Being gaslit by someone you love and trust may alter your perception drastically. People who experience gaslighting often think that something is wrong with them. They may say they “feel crazy” or that things don’t make sense. Ultimately it hinders their ability to trust in themselves. They experience increased low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Common phrases used to gaslight someone might be: You’re so dramatic, You’re imagining things, You’re not thinking clearly, You made me do that, You’re upset over nothing, You’re being paranoid, That never happened, I was joking—you take everything personally, You’re crazy, You know I never said that. While some of these might not always be used intentionally to gaslight you, they may still impact your mental and emotional health.

Here are some practices to help you or your loved ones prevent gaslighting:

  • Keep a journal. Try to record your interactions with the person if it is safe to do so. This can be effective when the gaslighter tries to convince you that something different happened. Journaling is not only helpful in preventing gaslighting, but it will also increase your self-worth and reinforce your experience.
  • Positive affirmations. “According to the theory by John Gottman, it takes five positive feelings or interactions to make up for one negative feeling or interaction, and in relationships, the ratio increases to twenty positive things per one negative thing,” says Guilloton. If you have low self-esteem due to being gaslit, try to write positive affirmations or record yourself saying nice things to boost your self-esteem.
  • Use “I” statements. “Practice saying phrases such as, ‘I had a different experience than you,’ or, ‘I remember this differently,’” says Guilloton. If it’s safe, compare experiences with the person who might be gaslighting you, and use “I” statements as a way to identify what you remember.
  • Find a support system. Seek support from a safe person, whether it is your therapist, church member, family member, or friend. Remember that not everyone is able to remove themselves from the person who is gaslighting them. Finding a perspective outside the relationship can help you better understand your experience.

Gaslighting and psychological abuse are difficult, but caring professionals are willing to listen and support you.

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