Gaslighting is an insidious and powerful form of manipulation and emotional abuse that can have severe long-lasting effects on your mental health. It effects how you perceive everything in your world and can blind you to other abuse tactics.
Although it comes in many different shapes, gaslighting at its core is a technique used by an abuser to make you question the version of past or current events.
This manipulation tactic can take many forms from outright lies and denial of reality to more covert and subtle forms where an abuser twists words or withholds information to make you doubt your memory and perception.
In this blog post, we’ll unravel the effects of gaslighting, why it is so powerful, why people use this manipulation tactic, and how you can identify it in relationships and take steps to recover.
Why is gaslighting so powerful?
- It can be difficult to identify
What makes gaslighting so powerful is the fact that it can be difficult to identify, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the term or the concept.
You might feel like something is wrong but not be able to articulate what it is.
This is especially the case if the gaslighting is subtle or occurs over a long period.
Often victims feel that they are in a fog of confusion
Plus it can be challenging to explain this form of abuse to others who may not have experienced it themselves or may be skeptical of the concept.
- Gaslighting is isolating
Gaslighters often isolate their victims from friends and family members.
A gaslighter will discourage you from seeking help or support and may discredit anyone who tries to help you.
Often the target will feel like they are in a trance, disconnected from the world, but deeply under the spell of the abuser.
This isolation can make it more difficult for you to recognise the abuse and can make you even more reliant on the gaslighter.
- It undermines your sense of reality
When someone gaslights you, they’re telling you that your perceptions and memories are not working right.
This will inevitably make you question your own judgment and doubt your sense of reality.
It can be incredibly disorienting and confusing.
Gaslighting keeps you ‘off balance’
- It erodes your self-esteem and confidence
Gaslighting often involves making a person doubt their judgment and perception.
When you’re constantly told that you are wrong or that your memory is faulty, you may start to question your abilities to make decisions.
You may feel as though you’re losing your mind or that you can’t trust your thoughts and feelings.
Over time, this can lead to a loss of confidence and give rise to a sense of powerlessness.
This can be especially damaging if the gaslighting comes from a person who’s close to you.
This is because eventually, you may come to rely on the gaslighter for validation and guidance which will cause even more damage.
The Effects of gaslighting
Gaslighting can have profound effects on your life, as it can cause changes in the way that the brain processes information and perceives reality. Effects of gaslighting include:
One of the primary effects of gaslighting is a sense of confusion and disorientation.
The constant manipulation as well as the questioning of reality can lead to a state of mental fog, and uncertainty where you struggle to make sense of your thoughts and experiences.
This can result in feelings of helplessness, despair, and isolation.
- Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort that happens when a person holds two conflicting beliefs or values.
In the case of gaslighting, your beliefs about yourself and your reality are challenged and contradicted by your abuser.
This can create a sense of confusion, self-doubt, and loss of identity, as you struggle to reconcile your experiences with the abuser’s version of events.
- Fear, anxiety and depression
When you’re being gaslit, you may feel a constant sense of fear and anxiety, which can cause you to become hypervigilant and paranoid.
Over time, this constant state of fear and anxiety will have a negative impact on the brain, leading to changes in the way that it processes information.
Research shows that prolonged exposure to anxiety can cause the brain’s prefrontal cortex to shrink, which can lead to problems with memory, decision-making, and emotional regulation.
- Gaslighting can also have physical effects
You may experience headaches, insomnia, and digestive issues due to the constant stress and anxiety caused by the manipulation as well as the overwhelming feelings of fear and helplessness.
Why do people use gaslighting?
The primary goal of a gaslighter is to gain control and power over you, the victim, but a few other reasons why people gaslightlight others include:
- To avoid responsibility
Gaslighting can be a way for a person to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
By manipulating your perception of reality, the gaslighter can easily shift the blame to you. This allows them to avoid accountability and maintain their sense of superiority.
For instance, let’s say you decided to confront your partner about something hurtful they said to you.
But instead of taking responsibility for their actions and offering an apology, they respond by saying, “I didn’t say that. You must be imagining things.”
This is a classic example of someone trying to make you look and sound crazy.
- To project their insecurities
In some instances, someone can gaslight you as a way to project their insecurities onto you. The abuser might accuse you of being controlling or manipulative, for example, when in fact, it’s the gaslighter who is exhibiting those behaviors.
This can be a way for the abuser to avoid confronting their issues and instead deflect attention to you.
- To cope with their trauma
Some people gaslight as a way to cope with their trauma or past experiences.
They might have experienced other forms of abuse and neglect or might have been gaslit in the past.
In such a case gaslighting others can be a way for the abuser to feel more in control or to avoid dealing with their unresolved issues.
How to recover from gaslighting
Recovering from gaslighting can be a challenging process, but it is possible with the right support and resources. Here are a few steps you can take to regain your power.
Seek professional help
This is probably one of the most crucial steps you should take if you want to recover from the effects of gaslighting.
An experienced mental health professional or therapist can provide a safe space for you to process your experiences and work through trauma. It is important to find someone who has experience with emotional abuse. At the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Centre we offer a range of support servies.
They can also offer strategies to help you to ‘clear the fog’ and build back your self-esteem, self-confidence, and trust in yourself.
- Practice Self-Compassion
More often than not, gaslighting can leave you feeling ashamed, guilty, or responsible for the abuse.
Practicing self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding.
This means recognising that you were a victim of emotional abuse. It also involves being patient and gentle with yourself and learning tools to support you through the recovery process.
- Validate Your Experience
Gaslighting also leaves you feeling confused and unsure of what is real or what is not. It is essential to validate your experiences and feelings.
This means acknowledging the emotional pain caused by the manipulation and recognizing that it was not your fault.
It can be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or family member about your experiences or to join a support group for survivors of emotional abuse.
- Practice self-care
Lastly, yet importantly, you should make a habit of practicing self-care in all its forms.
Self-care is essential for healing from any form of abuse. This means incorporating activities that bring you joy into your routine. Activities such as painting, reading, a spa visit, or spending time in nature can be a great place to start.
Also, taking care of your physical health, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep, can help you feel more grounded and centered.
Learning to use Emotional Freedom Techniques for self care and self development can be a great dooway to start your jounrey of recovery. EFT (or tapping) is a portable, easy to learn self care tool that is available to all.