Gaslighting is a psychologically abusive tactic used in many toxic relationships. It manipulates an individual’s perceptions–making them doubt their own sanity and reality. Interestingly, the ominous term was fashioned from the film Gaslight, which was released in 1944. Luckily, I was able to watch the film in its entirety online (thank you Archive.org!). After watching Gaslight, I questioned if it was literally as easy as was shown in the film to subject someone to gaslighting in everyday situations. While I assume feelings of trust play a major factor in being gaslighted, I’m certain there are more complex emotional and psychological factors at play. That said, I felt grateful to stumble upon an article written by Preston Ni entitled The 7 Stages of Gaslighting in Relationships. Continue reading to learn more, and lean upon Preston’s insightful responses to help untangle the intricate web that is gaslighting.
- Gaslighting is certainly an insidious tactic. I’m wondering how one comes to learn such a vice. Is there a handbook, or do you think that gaslighters merely act out what they have seen in their own families and/or media?
“Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. It can occur in personal relationships, such as verbal, emotional, and/or physical hostility from one partner to another; at the workplace when a supervisor regularly and unfairly berates his or her employees; or over an entire nation when commercial advertising or public figures make pronouncements that are clearly contrary to the good of society. Gaslighting can be learned from family, media, and/or societal norms. It is a phenomenon that’s becoming ever more pervasive in our society today, which is why I wrote my book: “How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters and Stop Psychological Bullying.”
- In your article, you asserted that gaslighters create negative narratives that are damaging to the gaslightee. Are there instances where gaslighters use flattery to gain control over their victims (i.e., exaggerating or overstating someone’s beauty, intelligence, or talent when the opposite is obvious)?
“Gaslighting is predominately a negative and destructive trait. Some gaslighters may occasionally use flattery or other forms of positive reinforcement as a manipulative tactic. When the victim’s guard is down, the next round of gaslighting may begin.”
- Emotional confusion appears to be the base of a gaslighter’s agenda, and I can understand how this could work well on someone who does not trust their own judgment. However, how does this type of emotional confusion chip away at those who do trust themselves?
“Those who trust and have a good sense of themselves can be more immune to gaslighting. However, gaslighters tend to persist in their coercion as long as you’re in their orbit. Like psychological warfare, by keeping up with the negativity, the gaslighter can eventually wear down their victim. Just as a physically healthy person can get sick by standing next to someone with the flu, an emotionally healthy person can be infected with the negative contagion spread by a gaslighter.”
- When someone is aware of gaslighting tactics, do you believe they can still be gaslighted?
“Probably yes, at least to some extent, if one has regular contact with the gaslighter. When one is repeatedly exposed to negativity, manipulation, and coercion, it’s hard not to be affected.”
- How can an individual guard against self-doubt in these types of situations?
“There are many tips to guard against being gaslit in a relationship. One of the most important ideas is to keep a healthy distance whenever possible. It is also crucial to learn how to communicate affirmatively to yourself and with the gaslighter, to minimize the impact of being gaslit.”
- Are gaslighters always cognizant of what they’re doing, or is it possible that one can gaslight others unconsciously?
“Many gaslighters purposely want to dominate and control an individual or a group. That said, there are other times when a gaslighter is unaware of his or her destructive behavior. An example would be someone who consistently makes derogatory sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs because that was how this individual was raised, but is oblivious to the hurtfulness of such remarks.”
- I love that you mentioned codependent relationships in your article. Would you say that persons who do not suffer from codependency are less likely to be the victim of gaslighting, or are all people equally susceptible?
“It takes two people for gaslighting to work: the gaslighter, and the victim. As soon as the victim decides she or he will no longer accept the ill treatment, the process of change begins. This is sometimes easier said than done because of the codependent factor, but it is definitely doable. It often takes critical astuteness to spot and protect oneself from gaslighting, be it in romantic or family relationship, at the workplace, or in society at large.”
- You mentioned that giving “false hope” is a tactic that abusers use to gaslight. Would it be safe to assume that gaslighting only works if there is a rotation of abusive behavior and “superficial kindness?” Is this cycle the “perpetual hook” that allows gaslighting and abuse to take place?
“While some gaslighters employ the “false hope” tactic, others do not bother with it. Many toxic and abusive relationships are that way on an almost daily basis.”
- You stated that a gaslighter seeks to exploit his or her victims at will to expand his power for personal gain. While all gaslighters may not be narcissists, do you think that all narcissists are gaslighters?
“Gaslighting and narcissism are different traits with certain overlaps. Both can be ego-centric, manipulative, and coercive. Whereas narcissists tend to focus on self-absorbed, selfish machinations (to use others), many gaslighters fixate on power and control (to dominate others). Someone who has strong pathologies of both narcissism and gaslighting is toxic and dysfunctional at best, and highly dangerous at worst.”
- Please discuss your books (“How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying” and “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists”), and where to purchase.
“I wrote “How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying” and “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists” because as a professor, trainer and coach, I’ve met so many people who suffer from toxic relationships. These books include many practical communication tips and assertive strategies on how to handle gaslighters and narcissists. The publications are available at: nipreston.com/new/publications/, and this interview contains excerpts from my book How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters and Stop Psychological Bullying, which is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Preston Ni is a professor and communication specialist in the areas of interpersonal effectiveness, professional communication, cross-cultural understanding, and organizational change.
While gaslighters seek to confuse, control, and dominate, one should definitely consider distancing him or herself when dealing with such individuals. While I know it can be difficult and quite uncomfortable to place distance between yourself and someone you love (or like) in personal relationships/friendships, staying close is far more damaging when your mental health is at stake. Remain aware that your feelings and experiences are valid, and no one possesses the power or authority to invalidate you or your perceptions. Trust yourself as best you can, and always remember that…
However, if you’re not quite ready to disengage, it’s okay! Luckily, we have professionals like Preston Ni to help us figure things out.