If you have read much about abusive relationships, you may have come across the term “gaslighting.” This term is commonly misunderstood, but it is essential for everyone to understand this behavior so they can recognize it for what it is. In this blog, we will explain what gaslighting is, and certain behaviors that go hand-in-hand with this tactic so you can protect yourself from it.

Gaslighting Definition

Gaslighting is a strategy for manipulation that attempts to make the target question their reality. Gaslighters use a variety of manipulations, including denial, contradiction, and lying, to make the target doubt their own sanity and perception. This manipulation tactic is often used by abusers, narcissists, dictators, and cult leaders. The term comes from the Hitchcock movie “Gaslight,” in which a man demonstrates this form of manipulation by slowly dimming the gaslights in the home he shared with his wife, and then denied he had, causing his wife to believe she was going insane. There are certain tactics that you can identify as gaslighting to protect yourself from being manipulated.

They tell outright lies

Gaslighters shamelessly lie straight to your face. They blatantly tell you these lies as a strategy for throwing you off, ensuring that you aren’t ever sure if what they say is actually true or not. The goal of gaslighting is to ensure you are constantly questioning things.

They deny

You may have solid proof that they said something, but gaslighters will deny endlessly that they ever said it. Their persistent denial makes you question your own reality, because their insistence makes you wonder if you are remembering wrong. As they continue to do this, the more you question your perception of events and accept their reality as truth.

They attack you where it hurts

Gaslighters narrow in on what you really care about and use that to break you down. For example, if you have children, they may put down your parenting skills and even your children themselves. They will attack anything related to your identity in order to lower your self-esteem. They may even do this so subtly you don’t notice at first.

They gaslight you slowly

Gaslighters successfully gaslight over time. It starts with the occasional lie and denial so that you don’t notice the behavior until it has ramped up. Many people don’t notice it all because it comes on so gradually. This is what makes it such a dangerous tactic; even very perceptive people can fall victim because of its gradual progression.

Their actions are different than their words

To identify a gaslighter, it is important to separate their words from their actions. They may say all the right things, but once you separate what they say from what they do, you can identify their deception.

They confuse you with compliments

Gaslighters keep you on your toes by throwing in positive reinforcement as well. If they were constantly putting you down and lying to you, you would catch on to their manipulation sooner; instead, they create uneasiness by occasionally being quite kind. This makes you question whether the negative things are just your skewed perception or not. Look closely at what exactly is being complemented; it is more than likely something that benefits the gaslighter.

They are trying to confuse you

Gaslighters are aware that people thrive when in stable environments, which is why they intentionally confuse you. By getting you to be constantly unsure of what is real and what’s not, they facilitate more dependency on them. Humans naturally look to someone to help them gain a sense of stability, and gaslighters confuse you and then offer themselves as a source of comfort.

They project onto you

Gaslighters project themselves on other people to distract from their own behavior. For example, if they cheat on you, they will constantly accuse you of cheating. This distracts you from their behavior because you are too busy defending yourself.

They isolate you

Gaslighters will always use people against you. Because they are master manipulators, they can identify the people who will stand behind them to ensure that they have people to use against you. They may reinforce their negative comments about you by saying that someone else agrees with them, though this often a lie to manipulate you. This makes it so you’re never sure who you can trust, leaving the gaslighter as your only support system. They aim to isolate you from anyone who may point out their abusive behaviors so they may also cause issues with you and the friends they aren’t close with themselves. Isolation gives them the most control over you, so keep your eye out from any behaviors that separate you from other people.

They call you crazy

The gaslighter will dismiss everything you say, saying that you are “crazy” and “making things up.” They will say this to you and to other people to ensure that neither you nor anyone else can trust what you say. This ensures that when you point out this manipulative behavior to others or to the gaslighter, it is easy to dismiss what you have to say as insane.

They tell you everyone else lies to you

This is another way gaslighters will isolate you. By convincing you that everyone else in your life is lying to you, you again have no idea who you can really trust. They make you feel as though you can only depend on your gaslighter for reliable information, when in reality, they are feeding you lies.

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Signs of Being a Gaslight Victim

Being able to identify a gaslighter’s behavior is important, but because of the pervasiveness of this tactic, you may not see for yourself what is happening. In this case, it can be helpful to know what signs to look for in yourself. You may be a victim of gaslighting if:

You don’t trust your own instincts.
You wonder if you are “too sensitive.”
You are always apologizing.
You find it difficult to make even the simplest decisions.
You’re unhappy, but don’t understand why.
You are always making excuses for your partner.
You can’t seem to do anything right.
You don’t feel like you are good enough.
You don’t tell your friends or family certain information because you don’t want to explain them.
You feel as though you used to be happier and more confident before your relationship.

If you recognize these behaviors in your relationship, your partner, or yourself, and are unsure what to do about it, contact Long Island Counseling. We provide individual and couples counseling to Nassau County, and can give you the outside perspective you need to see clearly. Contact us for couples counseling today.