The dictionary definition of gaslighting is:
“to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”
When gaslighting is done well and repeated (in often extremely subtle and insidious ways) over months or years it can cause confusion and extreme self-doubt in the victim. It is important to note that people who experience chronic gaslighting aren’t weak or stupid,. They are victims of cruel actions.
A victim is someone who is harmed, injured, tricked or duped. Gaslighting does all those things.
The Gaslighter will exploit any existing insecurities they see in a victim, any traumas or self doubts already present, leaving victims drained, paralysed and dazed as they question the evidence of their own senses.
It diverts the victim from what are often horrendous psychological and/or physical abuses delivered by the perpetrator.
When victims challenge the perpetrator they are met with a mixture of calm blank expressions, accusations, confusing word salad, or complete invalidation and dismissal.
- “Why are you lying – you always do/want/say this?”
- “Oh so you were trying to get something out of me were you?”
- “You are just making things up now”
- “You’re just trying to hurt me”
- “How dare you accuse me!”
They can even make you question what is real.
In one extreme case a Gaslighter even tried to repudiate which university his victim went to. Her university friends had to confirm with her that it was true.
”You didn’t actually study there”
Victims of gaslighting will get caught up in a destructive cycle of exhausting arguments trying to find the ‘truth’.
This creates drama and attention for the perpetrator who will ‘feed’ off the emotional intensity of the victim’s reactions as they try to validate their experience.
Within the framework of a reasonable relationship discussion creates understanding, connection and accountability.
Within an emotionally abusive relationship gaslighting is used to manipulate, destabalise and control the other person.
For most abusers it is an enoyable ‘game’ that brings a sense of power to the dynamic.
One of the key issues many victims report is the “constructed insecurities” created by the perpetrator which are drip fed over time.
For example: “I’m an angry person” or “I’m so needy” when neither of these statements have been true before or exist outside the dynamic of this toxic relationship.
This forces the victim to focus on the (created and cruelly donated) ‘problems’ rather than the monstrous behaviour of the Gaslighter.
When none of these ‘problems’ actually exist victims will spend days/months/years trying to be ‘better’ in order to please the perpetrator and meet their ever changing goal posts.
Common symptoms victims experiene as a result of Gaslighting might be:
- Utter exhaustion (even when living a healthy lifestyle)
- Depression – but you just don’t know why
- Lack of confidence
- Loss of ‘voice’
- Lack of Self Worth & Identity
- Brain Fog
- Sense that “I’m a failure”
- Addiction – eating, drinking, shopping, surfing the web
- Zoning out from life