Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person is made to question their own judgment,doubt their sanity often by evoking a cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem.
It is a form of tactics often used by politicians, dictators, abusers, narcissists etc, to manipulate people into believing them by doubting their own judgement. The term has been used more often since Donald Trump’s inauguration speech in 2018, so much so that Oxford named it the most used word of 2018.
Gaslighting primarily occurs in dating and married relationships. But it is not uncommon for it to occur in controlling friendships or among family members as well. It starts out with seemingly small offenses where gaslighter makes you doubt your own judgement or reality. No matter whether it’s happening in a marriage, relationship, amongst family members, workplace or politicians it is important to identify the early red flags to avoid being the victim of gaslighting.
Experts’ P.O.V on gaslighting
- Robin Stern, PhD, Associate Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of "The Gaslight Effect," explains that
The manipulator holds enough power that “the target of the gaslighting is terrified to change up [the relationship] or step out of the gaslighting dynamic because the threat of losing that relationship — or the threat of being seen as less than who you want to be seen as to them — is quite a threat,”
But, the gaslighter doesn’t necessarily need to be acting with malicious intent — nor does the gaslighter necessarily need to realize that she or he is gaslighting another person for it to be happening, Stern says.
- Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, a marriage and family practice therapist in private practice and author of "Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You." explains that
‘If it’s happening by someone you love and care about (like a spouse or parent), you’re going to WANT to believe the other person — and the gaslighter may use that against you’
She further explains that “Many people [in this case the targets of gaslighting] change their perceptions in order to avoid having a conflict,”
Tactics used by Gaslighters to manipulate the situation
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s fact sheet, the techniques a gaslighter uses to manipulate others include:
- Lying: Gaslighters are often a pathological liar. They blatantly lie to your face and never back down or accept that they have been lying.
- Deflecting Blame: Gaslighters never take the blame of their actions and deflect the blame towards the victim and manipulate them into believing that it’s them who is at fault.
- Trivializing victim’s emotion and thoughts: They often trivialize victim’s emotions and thoughts and make them believe that they are being unreasonable in thinking so.
- Denying wrongdoing: A gaslighters will never accept that he has done anything wrong.For example if you find your partner cheating on you by discovering one of his chats and confront him about it, he will deny that he has done anything wrong and tell that it was important for him to talk like that and later blame you for not trusting him or going through his phone.
They do this in order to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices. But it also leaves the victim of gaslighting confused and frustrated because there is no acknowledgment of the pain they have caused. This also makes it very hard for the victim to move on or to heal from the bullying or abusiveness.
- Using compassionate words as a weapon: When questioned or called out for abusive behaviour, gaslighter uses compassionate and loving words to dilute the situation, like ‘you know how much I love you’, ‘I did that for you, because I care about you’ or ‘I would never hurt you’,
These are the words you want to hear but those words aren’t authentic if the behaviour is repeated often.
- Twisting and Reframing conversations: This tactic is used if you are discussing something that happened in the past. For example if your partner showed violent behaviour in the past and you are discussing it later, he will never accept it and twist the situation in such a way that it was you who misinterpreted the situation.