ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS. CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION, ARTICLES
Gaslighting: It’s all in your head, or is it?
Do you find yourself feeling uncharacteristically irrational, depressed, and emotional? Are you having a difficult time making simple decisions, and often find yourself feeling confused and unhappy? Have you ever found your instincts and feelings to be previously trustworthy and reliable, but you now question your own judgments to the point of feeling like you are losing your mind?
If this description sounds much too familiar to you, there’s a chance you may be a victim of gaslighting.
A term coined in the 1938 play Gaslight, “Gaslighting” stems from a husband’s attempt to intentionally manipulate his wife into believing she is going crazy. By repeatedly turning the gas lights down in their apartment and denying any change in atmosphere when she asks, over time the husband succeeds in convincing his wife that she is imagining everything, and eventually she begins to doubt her own sanity.
Most of us no longer live with gas lights and would be quite certain that something fishy is going on if our partner tried to do the same thing to us today using our iPhone or computer, or the TV. However, the phenomenon remains in the form of persistent emotional abuse where one person uses the same technique to wear down the other person’s ability to interpret and trust his or her own perceptions and beliefs. Over time, this gives the abuser a form of manipulative power or control.
What does the abuser seek to gain from treating their partner(s) in this way?
Through consistent denial, contradictions and lying from the abuser, the victim is eventually driven to a disorienting place of feeling that they cannot trust their own memories, perceptions, and sensitivities to what is happening around them. For an abuser looking to gain control over another, this lack of self-confidence and manners of instability can create the perfect victim for an abuser to gain control over.
Victims of gaslighting often become dependent on the abuser to define stable reality, to confirm to them “what’s really going on”. As their ability to rely on their own interpretations, self-trust and confidence breaks down, the abuser can succeed in manipulating the victim into relying on them for reassurance and support.
The victim’s fragile and dependent emotional state may make it difficult for them to recognize that abuse is happening, as well as making it difficult for them to leave the relationship and the reassurance they come to depend on.
Another unfortunate element characteristic of gaslighting is that the abuser will sometimes influence the victim into isolating themselves from friends and family. In this way, the abuser can disconnect the victim from other external and objective support systems, those of which may be more likely to suggest to the victim that abuse is taking place.
Who is susceptible to gaslighting?
Gaslighting is not limited only to romantic relationships. It can take place in friendships, parent-child relationships, professional connections, and as a form of school bullying. Situations may appear relatively normal, and in some cases, the person being gaslighted may not be directly aware of what is happening to them.
If you think you, a friend or family member may be a victim of gaslighting, the list below may help you to determine whether you are being mistreated.
Common signs of gaslighting include:
- Stubborn feelings of confusion and the sense that you are “going crazy”.
- Constantly second guessing yourself, your opinions, and your beliefs.
- Persistent anxiety over whether you are “too sensitive”, or are always “being too emotional”.
- You are finding yourself relying more on the opinions and validation of others, and less on your own instincts and gut feelings.
- An underlying sense that you were once much happier, confident, and at ease.
- You find yourself apologizing all the time, even when you have done nothing wrong.
- You make excuses to family and friends for your partner’s abhorrent or erratic behavior.
- Your arguments seem to go in circles.
- Feelings of hopelessness or depression in the relationship.
I think I may be a victim. What now?
The first steps in remedying a situation where gaslighting may be taking place is to identify the signs and for the person being victimized to learn to trust themselves again. Relying on one another and the ability to compromise are contributors in the foundation of healthy relationships, but dependence and co-dependency can only go so far before becoming harmful.
Ask for help.
If you feel you are in over your head or fear what the abusive person might do if you try to confront them, ask for help from a trusted friend, relative, or therapist. If you truly think you are in danger, or the abuser has made other threats towards you, call 911 or contact the closest family or domestic violence emergency center.
Remember, it’s not your fault.
Many people in abusive relationships feel ashamed about their situation and may come to believe what their abusers are telling them. They can become convinced that they somehow deserve or are responsible for what is happening to them, and it is important to remind yourself that what is happening to you isn’t your fault.
Everyone deserves a healthy relationship where they are treated with respect and dignity, and you owe it to yourself to protect your self-worth and independence. If you feel you are being bullied into feeling powerless and insecure, it may be time to reevaluate the condition of your relationships.
Written by Lindsay S. Dunlop.