The Mental Abuse and Manipulation of Gaslighting

by 26Health Staff

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you begin to question your own judgment, memory, or experience based on another person’s comments; comments that dismiss or cast doubt on your own perception or feelings? If so, you may have been a victim of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a traumatic form of psychological or mental abuse by a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist. These individuals initially disguise themselves as a dear friend, a doting partner, a loving family member, or a supportive co-worker or supervisor. Their primary goals are to take away your power (usually with the hope of gaining it for themselves) and to deflect from their own issues and project them onto you.

Gaslighters Want “Only The Best” For You

The gaslighter might be a supervisor who thinks you’re gunning for his/her job. They could also be a partner or parent who wants to exhibit control over you, a friend who is jealous of you, or a co-worker who thinks they are in competition with you. Gaslighters often feel insecure and powerless and divert attention from their own problems by focusing on and exacerbating, yours.

Oftentimes, this makes them look like “the hero” because they “saved” you or have to “put up” with you, and, over time, this gives the abuser more power and control. They’ll say things like, “It’s a good thing you’ve got me around looking out for you” or “What would you do without me?” It starts out seeming supportive and caring and the criticisms are very subtle.

Echoes of Stockholm Syndrome

The subtlety and impression of caring reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome. Not only are victims unable to see what’s happening to them, when they finally do grow suspicious, but they also can’t bring themselves to think for even a minute that the abuser would ever do anything to hurt them – let alone go to the extremes that they do. In fact, in most cases, victims can’t imagine their lives without that person.

The abuser then begins to drop little hints here and there, saying, “Hmm…your partner has been running late an awful lot lately. I wonder why that is.” Or maybe something along the lines of, “Well, that work presentation might not have gone very well but you’ll do better next time.” Only, you weren’t actually complaining (or noticing) that your partner was running late recently and you had felt your presentation was amazing.

Concern for you becomes the main focus. Except the concern is imagined, or more likely created, by the other person to make you doubt yourself. The abuser will use a series of orchestrations to turn their allegations into “truths” to make the victim feel that they are the one imagining things. They will make them think they’re “misinformed”, not remembering things correctly, not that bright, or even paranoid, delusional, or crazy.

Signs That You Are Experiencing Gaslighting

So how do you know if this is type of mental abuse is happening to you?

1. You find wedges or distance between yourself and others with whom you used to be really close, yet you have no idea when or why that distance happened.

2. You feel and/or are told by others (particularly from the person in question) that you are being paranoid, delusional, imagining things, or crazy.

3. You find yourself or the other person using dramatic words and terms such as “ruin” or “destroy.”

Keep Track

If you think you are a victim of gaslighting, it’s helpful to document the behaviors and activities:

– Keep a log of the things the abuser says that seem degrading, dismissive, or just don’t make sense.

– Look at the frequency and significance of the events and in what areas of your life they seem to be targeting, such as your relationship, your friendships, or your job.

Should you discover that you are a victim, immediately begin to break off ties. People who gaslight are either not aware that they’re doing it or have been doing it for so long, it’s become “normal” behavior to them. Most of the time, they don’t care and cannot be reasoned with. Don’t engage with them any longer. When in doubt, review your documented notes to reassure yourself that you are now back in control and aware of the situation.

Healing After Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse and healing from abuse takes time. You can’t beat yourself up over it or take it personally. When this person is done with you, they will happily move onto someone else. Do not blame yourself; they were doing it before you came along and they’ll probably do it again. Therapy and staying involved in activities that bring you joy can help. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally.