Psych2goers, let’s examine the relationships that you have in your life. These relationships can either be your romantic, work, friendship, or the one you have with your family members. Do any of these relationships make you question your own sanity, and you feel that your sense of reality is distorted and defined by another person? This will eventually make you dependent on the person for guidance and safety. If your answer is “Yes”, then it is highly possible that you are in a relationship with a gaslighter.
The term “gaslight” originated from a 1938 British play, however it became more popular thanks to a 1944 film adaptation entitled “Gaslight”. In the film, a husband purposefully convinces his wife that she is hearing noises, she is stealing things, or only imagining that the gas-powered house lights are growing dimmer, when truthfully, the lights are growing dimmer because the husband is adjusting them without her knowledge.
Gaslighting has an insidious progression and it poses psychological and emotional effects on the gaslightee. Below are some of the effects of gaslighting on the victim:
- You second-guess reality
“I know you are tired after coming back home from work. But could you at least spend some time playing with our son? And help with the child care? I am also exhausted, having to manage my work from home while taking care of him,” you said to your husband one night.
“What do you mean? I always play with him. You are imagining things,” he replied to you.
You look at your husband. You know you are not imagining things. “Why does he refuse to acknowledge the reality in front of his eyes? Or am I really imagining things?” you thought to yourself.
Psych2goers, do you know, one type of manipulation tactics made by gaslighters is they constantly make you doubt yourself and your reality. Apart from that, whenever you voice out or speak up about something they do and you have given the proof, the gaslighters outright deny it (Sarkis, 2017).
2. You are convinced that you are “too sensitive”
“I am deeply hurt by your behaviour. Why do you expose my secret to other people? I thought my secret is safe with you,” you confessed to your friend one day.
“Chill, you are too sensitive. Why do you always take everything personally?”
Psych2goers, have you experienced a situation whereby your significant other, friend, parent, sibling, coworker or other family member point out that you are too sensitive if you confront them about their hurtful behaviour? Sometimes “you are too sensitive” can come in other forms as well, for example:
“Can’t you take a joke?”
“You are overreacting.”
“You need to toughen up.”
“Why do you take everything personally?”
When a person is telling you that you are overreacting when clearly you have been the victim, you are actually gaslighted. Narcissistic abusers scapegoat you by dismissing and ignoring your feelings and instead they accuse you of being “too sensitive” (Hall, 2021).
3. You make excuses for the person
Have you ever been in a relationship in which you feel the need to make excuses for the person?
This can be your friend, your coworker, your partner, or your family member. You feel the need to defend this person and you know that this person’s behaviour would not be regarded as acceptable in front of important and trustworthy people in your life. Thus, you start to keep certain details about your relationship to yourself. This kind of response can occur when you are in a relationship with a gaslighter.
4. You begin to doubt your own judgements
You are a junior in a media club in your high school and your senior Amy is responsible for supervising your work. You receive compliments for your job well done from your teacher and little did you know that your senior Amy becomes jealous of your accomplishment. Then your teacher gives you a set of instructions, however Amy tries to sabotage by giving you a set of instructions which are slightly different. Consequently, there are minor errors in your work. Then you are reprimanded by your teacher and he later also approaches Amy, however Amy denies giving you wrong instructions, insisting that she said the same thing that the teacher said to you, she had clearly pointed the work guidelines to you, and later reprimand you for not checking the pre-existing guidelines if you are not sure. Due to this, you are pushed into an internal downward spiral of self-doubt and confusion.
Gaslighting can also manifest in the form of sowing doubt into a particular incident that you are 100% sure of. Gaslighters make you confused about your own truth. They make you reconsider your own narratives, thoughts, and experiences.
5. You apologize for everything
One day, you confront your husband and say, “I saw a message pop up on your phone while you were sleeping the other day. It was from a woman. She said she misses you. She said thank you for the date.”
“So, are you accusing me of cheating on you?” your husband asks you, his voice is raised.
“Do you cheat on me?”
“Well, you know what? I’m so tired of you. You are always spending time and caring for Jacob (your 5 month-old son), you never have time to tend to my emotional and sexual needs. It’s your fault all of these happened.”
“I’m sorry,” you say to your husband, while withholding tears from coming out of your eyes.
One characteristic of gaslighters is they often make their targets feel small, wrong, inadequate, and dependent. Whenever you engage in a confrontation with them, they will turn the spotlight on you, and list down your faults, your shortcomings, and your mistakes. Eventually, you find yourself always apologizing to the gaslighters, even if you did nothing wrong.
6. You have decreased sense of self-esteem
According to a therapist, Dr. Claire Jack, gaslighters would often find discreet ways to put you down, as a matter of fact, you will be oblivious that it’s being done to you, but you will still feel bad about yourself. These abusers often belittle your choices, opinions, and beliefs, and consequently your self-esteem will be affected. They have no respect for what makes you “you”, thus you will be left questioning what worth you have as a person.
Okay, now, what can you do if you find yourself entangled in a relationship with a gaslighter? Do know that realizing that you are the target by a gaslighter is the first step in healing. Next, you can book for a consultation with a mental health professional so that you can receive the proper help to sift through your doubts and fears and to develop appropriate coping skills.
Hall, J. L. (2021, February 21). When narcissists and enablers say you’re too sensitive. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 16, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-narcissist-in-your-life/202102/when-narcissists-and-enablers-say-youre-too-sensitive.
Jack , C. (2020, June 5). 5 ways gaslighting attacks your sense of self. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 16, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-autism-spectrum-disorder/202006/5-ways-gaslighting-attacks-your-sense-self.
Sarkis, S. A. (2017, January 22). 11 red flags of gaslighting in a relationship. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 16, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-red-flags-gaslighting-in-relationship.