What is Gaslighting? | Divorce Strategies Northwest

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting. Most of us have heard the term before; many use it regularly. Some of us have been victims. What is gaslighting and how does it play out in real life? How do you know if you or someone you love is being gaslighted? 

Gaslighting is a sophisticated form of emotional abuse. This insidious technique of manipulation causes you to second-guess yourself– your feelings, your perceptions and your memories. Gaslighting is tactically tampering with the truth. It is repeatedly questioning a person’s sanity, and what they believe (and know) to be true, with the intention of rendering them compliant with the abuser.

Gaslighters spin their negative, harmful and destructive words and actions in their favor, deflecting blame for their abusive deeds, and pointing the finger at you. One of the most harmful forms of gaslighting is when it occurs in a marriage relationship– it is a hallmark of domestic abuse.

Gaslighting undermines your entire perception of reality, and can slowly creep into your psyche though relationships, friendships, family life and work life. You feel neurotic, hyper-sensitive and an overwhelming sense of alienation. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed to feel imbalanced, irrational, and to doubt every part of themselves. Over time, they will become overly insecure, emotionally unstable, and depressed, not only at home but at work, school, or in other roles they assume.

Signs of Gaslighting

Signs you are a victim of gaslighting may include:

  • No longer feeling like the person you used to be
  • Being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
  • Frequently wondering if you’re being too sensitive
  • Feeling like everything you do is wrong
  • Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
  • Apologizing frequently
  • Having a sense that something is wrong, but unable to identify what it is
  • Questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (wondering if you were unreasonable, or not loving enough)
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior
  • Avoiding sharing with friends or family members, to avoid confrontation about your partner’s behavior
  • Feeling isolated, hopeless and misunderstood
  • Finding it increasingly hard to make decisions on your own
  • Feeling unexcited about the future
  • Taking little pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Frequently second-guessing your own ability to remember the details of past events, leaving you psychologically powerless
  • Feeling confused and disorientated

“Gaslighting abusers are expert in manipulation; they know your vulnerabilities and sensitivities, and they use that knowledge against you. They cause you to doubt yourself, your judgment, your memory and even your sanity. Over time, gaslighting eats away at you, until you’re a shell of the former person you once were.”

Leah Hill, Founder and CEO | Divorce Strategies Northwest

Gaslighting in Action

Gaslighting abusers are expert in manipulation; they know your vulnerabilities and sensitivities, and they use that knowledge against you. They cause you to doubt yourself, your judgment, your memory and even question your own sanity. Over time, gaslighting eats away at you, until you’re a shell of the former person you once were. It promotes anxiety and depression, and with enough frequency, gaslighting can trigger a nervous breakdown

Examples include:

  • Trivializing how you feel
  • Telling you that people are talking behind your back
  • Saying things to you that they later deny having said
  • Insisting things never happened, when you are certain they did
  • Undermining your sanity– making you feel crazy

Gaslighting and Narcissism

Gaslighting is a favored tactic of narcissistic abusers. Narcissists believe they are superior and that the world revolves around them. Although we may experience gaslighting from many sources, it is one of the most common tools a narcissist uses. Self-absorbed and uninterested in others, narcissists steal the oxygen from any room unless it serves a purpose for them. Narcissists crave attention, excessive praise and can be very demanding. They have grandiose, superior views of themselves, their intelligence, their lives and their future.

Lacking empathy, a narcissist rejoices in others’ sorrow and has an inability or disinterest to understand what another person is feeling or experiencing. They commonly prey on your vulnerabilities, causing feelings of mistrust, confusion and a loss of safety. Narcissists use manipulation, isolation and bullying as a way of achieving their personal goals, regardless of their affect on others.

Narcissists use gaslighting to manage situations and maintain control. If you bring up an inconsistency or challenge their request (with your own point or opinion), the entire conversation will be a confusing, circular disaster, where the combative narcissist demands control. Finally, you tire of the conflict; you give up and give in. Each time this selfish, destructive pattern is repeated, you lose another piece of yourself and your individuality.

A person with narcissistic personality disorder may:

  • Project an inflated sense of self-importance
  • Create an impressive persona to impress and exploit others
  • Exaggerate their achievements
  • Respond to criticism with anger
  • Use others for personal gain
  • Have no remorse for mistakes or misdeeds
  • Does not care about the consequences of his actions
  • Be highly insensitive to needs and feelings of others
  • Expect special consideration or special treatment
  • Be highly critical of others
  • Uninterested in problem-solving
  • Twist conversation to his own gain, at other’s expense
  • When confronted, changes the subject, or gets angry or defensive
  • Become envious and jealous easily
  • Easily agitated, lack of emotional regulation
  • Immature– takes any challenge as a personal attack
  • Have a tremendous need to control conversations and situations
  • Does not discuss openly, has a hidden agenda
  • Does not share ideas, feelings, emotions– uses manipulation
  • Use threats and intimidation to keep others close to him
  • Frequently lashes out in anger / rage, relaxes only with compliance
  • Be a conversation controller– must have the first and last word
  • Say “I’m worried about you,”you need help,” “you’re nuts,”people are worried about you….” etc.
  • Criticize your friendships and family relationships, causing doubt, fear and withdrawal. This creates further isolation, achieving the narcissist’s goal.

Getting Help

Recognizing that you’re a victim of abuse is the first important step toward getting help. Consulting with a therapist trained in Domestic Abuse can help you unwind the negative messaging that your spouse has inflicted upon you. Expert support can help you sift through your doubts and fears, and understand the realities of the ongoing trauma you are living within.

Gaslighting is one of the more toxic forms of emotional abuse. A victim who is gaslighted over an extended period of time will lose their perception of reality, question their sanity, doubt their memories, and will find themselves in a constant state of self-doubt and stressful confusion. Allowed to continue, gaslighting will make the victim feel blameworthy, powerless, and effectively crazy, forcing them into isolation and depression.

Be transparent with your therapist about the evolution of your relationship, your experiences and feelings. Therapy is a safe space to freely explore your doubts and anxieties, and develop strength and coping skills. Having an objective, educated perspective might be just what you need to face reality and pursue a healthier life for you and your family.

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