What is Gaslighting and Why it is so Damaging?
A term you’ve most likely been hearing over and over again has become a very real representation of a toxic behavior one experiences in relationships. And they don’t even have to be of romantic nature.
Gaslighting is a form of behavior that implies that your own version of specific past events is questionable. It makes you start doubting your own experiences, feelings, and emotions, having you believe you’ve somehow gotten it all wrong. It’s a form of manipulative behavior and it can definitely be considered emotional abuse.
The term “gaslighting” stems from a popular playwright from the 1930-ies, and later on a movie, called “Gas Light,” about a marriage in which the husband manipulates his wife until she questions her sanity and no longer believes her own perceptions of reality.
Different Forms of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can exist in many different forms, but it can seriously impact one’s sense of reality, having them question their own mental health and even their own sanity. Some of the most common gaslighting behaviors include:
- Calling someone crazy or telling them they’ve imagined their experience even though it’s not true
- Questioning someone’s memory about an event even though you know what happened
- Pretending you don’t understand what someone is talking about when you actually do
- Making someone feel small and their emotions not valued
- Pretending you forgot how the event took place when you remember everything
- Denying any promises or claims you’ve made even though you did
The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists five distinct gaslighting behaviors or techniques and these include:
- Withholding – refusing to listen and pretending not to understand
- Countering – questions your memory
- Blocking/Diverting – changing topics, questioning your thoughts
- Trivializing – makes your feelings seem unimportant
- Forgetting/Denial – pretending to forget what happened or denying promises and deals
Is Gaslighting Emotional Abuse?
Gaslighting happens gradually, usually not showing up until later in the relationship. That’s why the victim doesn’t figure out what is happening until this behavior has been going on for a while. It’s when the feelings of confusion, anxiety, isolation, depression, and self-doubt become too obvious and overwhelming that the person begins relying on her abusive partner even more, in order to form a new sense of reality.
It usually isn’t until someone notices this abusive behavior and points it out that the victim begins opening her eyes and potentially starts seeking help. Unfortunately, in most cases, the victim is in denial, usually defending her partner and rejecting the mere idea of gaslighting.
So, yes, gaslighting is true emotional abuse that leaves the person’s ego completely compromised, losing the sense of one’s own reality. Once you’re able to detect and identify the abusive pattern in your relationship, you’ll be able to change it and potentially find a way to prevent the damage to your mental health.
Long-term Effects of Gaslighting
Having your sense of reality as well as your self-confidence completely knocked down can be extremely detrimental to your mental health and the way you deal with any other relationship in the future, including the one with yourself.
Those who have been the victims of gaslighting often have trouble believing in themselves, their worth, and their capabilities. They have a hard time trusting their own instincts and in severe cases, the way they experience events and emotions. This can cause long-term effects that can severely impact their lives, even causing mental illness. The potential long-term effects include:
- Anxiety and depression
- PTSD symptoms
- Lack of emotional intelligence and social conduct
- Insecurity and fear
- Negative self-esteem
In most cases, gaslighting occurs in romantic and intimate relationships, but it can also be present in the workplace, between friends, and even in your own family. Even though it’s not as pronounced as it is with a partner, especially since there aren’t many heightened emotions in play, they are still seriously toxic behaviors that can impact your actions, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs.
Can You Recover From Gaslighting?
Even though gaslighting can have serious and severe side effects on one’s self-esteem and mental health, there are ways to recover and leave this awful episode behind you. But you have to be patient and trust the process, even though it takes time.
Once your self-esteem and self-trust are broken, it takes a while to build them back up, even with the help of a mental health professional.
Recognizing and Acknowledging
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize gaslighting behavior and acknowledge you’re a victim in a very toxic, abusive relationship. This is the first step towards recovering and healing. It might be really hard to see it and recognize it, but if you feel confused about past events and how you’re experiencing them, or you begin questioning how you’re perceiving things, it might be time to start asking yourself what’s causing it.
Whether in a romantic relationship, friendship, family, or workplace, these toxic behaviors tend to cause major mood shifts in your daily life, having you question and doubt your actions, emotions, and experiences. Noticing a pattern is the first step and it’s important to take the second.
An early sign of gaslighting in romantic relationships is the so-called “love bombing,” or overdoing it with the texts, surprise visits, and other slightly “suffocating” behavior all with the goal to manipulate you to spend as much time with your partner as possible, not leaving you any time for other people or yourself.
Getting Away From Your Abuser
The second step and possibly the most important one is to leave your abuser and get away from them in any way, shape, or form you can. The abusive partner may begin “hoovering” and tell you how much they love you, luring you back into the relationship. It’s just one more manipulation technique they have to keep you from leaving.
In order to break the pattern, it’s important to physically remove yourself from the abuser, disabling them from manipulating you and their hurtful behaviors. Cut off all communication and be adamant about no physical contact. If you have kids with a gaslighting partner, seek advice from an attorney and never deal with these things yourself.
Get Back to YOU
Once you’ve managed to break the toxic bond with your abuser, it’s time to focus on yourself and regaining your identity, self-esteem, your beliefs, and your own judgment. Take as much time as you need and find tools to help you work on your relationship with yourself.
Whether it’s therapy, kickboxing, or any other form of self-help and self-care, it’s important you take this time and focus on yourself. The mere fact you distanced yourself away from abusive relationships, psychological manipulation, and mental health gaslighting means nothing if you’re not going to work on improving your own self-worth and regaining the trust in yourself and everything you bring to the table.
If you’re afraid and don’t know where to start, you are not alone. Most victims of gaslighting, whether from domestic violence, a family member, or through workplace relationships don’t know how to begin the healing process. There are some great online resources you can explore, such as Avaiya University and Talkspace, and find the professional help you need to reduce the mental health impact of gaslighting and help you get back to you.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can severely impact one’s sense of self, self-esteem, self-worth, and even their own reality. It’s important to recognize the signs, get away from your abusive partner, find a way to bring back the trust in yourself, start believing in your own worth, and acknowledge that you were a victim of manipulative and toxic behavior that shook you at your very core.