What is Gaslighting Behavior?
Gaslighting is a kind of manipulation, which is usually seen in abusive or toxic relations. In gaslighting, the abuser manipulates the target by confusing him/her by using various fallacies or wrong narratives that make the target question his/her decisions and thought processes. The gaslighting victim starts feeling underconfident while making any judgements, and they start questioning their perception of reality and even their sanity. The person who gaslights you can make you believe that you are responsible for everything bad he/she has committed, and when you react to that they may say statements like ‘you are very sensitive and not good at handling your emotions.’ It is observed that the people who are suffering from various mental health disorders such as border personality disorder (BPD), and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are the ones who gaslight others to manipulate and dominate them by exerting their power. The gaslighting victims are generally the abuser’s family members, close friends, or sometimes colleagues too.
Fact Behind the Term ‘Gaslighting’
The name ‘gaslighting’ is taken from a 1938 American play by Patrick Hamilton named ‘Angel Steet.’ Later, a suspense movie named ‘Gas Light’ was released by the filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock, based on that play. In this movie, a husband manipulates his wife by surreptitiously making changes in her environment such as dimming the gas flame slowly, to make her think that she is mentally ill and it is only in her mind. Apart from changing her environment, he abuses her and even drifts her away from all her family members and friends. As a consequence, the wife starts questioning her thoughts, perceptions and even her existence. The husband manages to achieve the objective of gaslighting, i.e., making the wife feels neurotic and hypersensitive. This movie precisely portrays the way the gaslighting person controls and manipulates the victim, which is why this type of abuse and manipulation is termed as ‘gaslighting’ by psychologists.
How Does Gaslighting Works?
If you have been gaslighted by someone you may start questioning your self-worth, perception, your memories and all the events you are emotionally linked with, and you may constantly think that you are not alright and have some mental issues. Almost everyone is likely to experience the gaslighting but is more commonly seen in romantic relations and closed family members. The individual at the receiving end of the gaslighting is the one that experiences the abuse. The person who gaslights you mainly used the following strategies to create the deception.
It is generally seen that the people who use gaslighting are habitual liars and possess narcissistic traits. They blatantly lie which make the victims think that maybe they themselves are wrong and the other person is saying right. These people can make you agree that you have said something that you may have never said in reality. Even if you show proof to them of their manipulation, they straightaway deny that and will make you convince their lie and deception that leads you to second guess your own perception.
If you question the person who gaslights about what they said or did to you, they are more likely to change the topic by shifting your attention to another topic. They may ask you another question instead of answering the question you have asked.
The abusive person tends to spreads rumours about you to your close ones. It may seem that the person is sympathetic towards you, but they gossip about you at your back by calling you emotionally unstable or mental in front of your families or friends. The person can make you convinced that the other people think negatively about you, while in reality they may have had never said anything bad about you. This strategy of the person who is gaslighting can make you get away from your dear ones.
Trivializing occurs when the person who gaslights disregards your feelings or thoughts. They may accuse you of being extremely sensitive and say something like ‘you are overreacting’ and ‘you need to calm down.’ These statements minimize your thought processes and feelings, and you tend to believe that maybe it is only you who is overreacting to the given situation even when the situation is worth reacting to in reality. When someone does not understand and acknowledge your feelings or thoughts you may tend to lose your confidence, and starts feeling extremely shameful and isolated.
5. Shifting Blame
Shifting blame is the most commonly used tactic by the person who gaslights. Argue on anything, the person will eventually turn every argument in a way that you seems to be responsible for everything. Suppose you are arguing with the abuser that their behaviour is making you feel bad and insecure, but that person will smartly turn the conversation in a way that you may start questioning your thinking patterns. They may blame you by saying that they behave in such a manner because you were not behaving properly or you are responsible for making that person angry or violent.
6. Using Warm Words as Weapons
If you ask the person who gaslights you, about his/her bad behaviour towards you, he/she may try to manipulate you by making statements like ‘i can never do this to you as I love you.’ Listening to this can make you convinced that the person is not responsible for how you feeling but they are only saying this to make you comfortable for a while as they tend to repeat the same bad behaviour again leading you to question your beliefs and feelings.
People who gaslight generally use the strategy of denial, wherein they deny that they have committed anything bad. The abuser may pretend that he/she has never said or did that you are accusing him/her. Due to denial, the victim may tend to doubt his/her memory or may start feeling like he/she needs mental treatment. The victim may feel that he/she does not have any importance as nobody cares or listen to him/her. The denial may leave a long-lasting bad impact on the victim. The person who gaslights uses the denial tactic as it makes him/her feel less guilty and avoid the responsibility of making someone feel inferior.
8. Modifying Stories
The abusive people tend to mould the stories in a way that they do not seem responsible for what bad they have said or done. The modified story makes you confused and rethinks what exactly have had happened at that time. For example, if you are discussing with your friend why he pushed you at the bar, then he may say that he didn’t push you, he got slipped and was trying to get steady with your support, this will make you second guess about what exactly had happened.
The individual who gaslights can use the stereotype statements to strengthen his/her abusive behaviour. The person can use several negative stereotypes related to race, religion, sex, age, or nationality to make the deception. For example, the husband may abuse his wife who wants to learn car driving by saying her that she can never be a good driver as women are irrational and do not possess good driving skills.
Countering in gaslighting refers to making someone question his/her memory. The statements like ‘you forget about it,’ ‘you never remember anything’ are commonly used by the person who gaslights.
The abusive person may try to withhold the conversation, the person may pretend like he is not involved in the conversation by not responding to the questions. They may say that they do not understand what you are saying or they are getting confused.
Signs of Gaslighting
People who are victims of gaslighting often fail to recognize that they are experiencing emotional abuse. They rarely dare to question the character of the person who is gaslighting them as the victims tend to consider that person as the authority, and they rely on their perceptive for understanding what is right or wrong rather than believing in themselves. Following are the signs that you may show if you are the person who is at the receiving end of the gaslighting, i.e., a victim of the gaslighting.
- You may seem confused all the time and find it difficult to make decisions on your own.
- You start doubting your thoughts and feelings, you may think that the person is not abusing you and you are just extremely sensitive. The person who gaslights you might say something like that you take jokes too seriously and he/she was just kidding, which in reality was a disrespect.
- You may question your decisions and the way you perceive your reality. You will find it difficult to express what you really feel and prefer to keep quiet rather than share your opinions. This is due to the abusive behaviour you have had from the abusive person when you shared your feelings or opinions with him/her which made you feel bad.
- You may feel that your self-esteem has been lowered, and you can not perform any task effectively.
- You may feel that you are different from others and everyone around you is thinking negatively about you that you are crazy and mentally unstable. This may develop a sense of loneliness in you and you eventually feel isolated and powerless.
- You always apologies for everything even when it is not your fault and the other person was responsible for the argument.
- You tend to view yourself from the other person’s point of view, which is actually the abusive person. This makes you feel that you are good enough and you have never accomplished anything in your life.
- You always remain in the disappointment of what and who you are. You consider yourself a weak and worthless person who used to be a stronger person once.
- The person who uses the gaslighting on you generally says words like insane, unintelligent, stupid, foolish, and so on to you. You tend to start believing in these words and starts living your life as per the expectations of the person who gaslights you.
- You might develop a sense of intuition that something bad will happen when you are with that one person who never misses a chance to make you feel inferior, i.e., the person who gaslights you.
- Most of the choices that you will make will be dependent on the happiness of the other person rather than your own happiness.
- You will spend little or no time doing activities that you used to enjoy a lot.
- You constantly double-check what you have said or did, and you always second guess almost everything.
Why do People Gaslights?
The main cause of gaslighting is said to be the desire of the person who gaslights to validate himself/herself. When the person who gaslights you feel like he/she is losing an argument, he uses the gaslighting techniques to maintain his/her dominance and control over you. Another reason behind the gaslighting is that if the gaslighter believes his/her narrative and point of view is more valid than the other people’s. This encourages the gaslighter to persuade other people to question their beliefs and second-guess their opinions. Abusive people think that their opinions and beliefs matter the most, which is why they never hesitate to question and disrespect the feelings of other people. The constant urge for attention and admiration, lack of empathy, and false belief of being better than others, are some of the characteristics of the abusive person which causes him/her to gaslight other people. Well, the gaslighting is not always intentional, sometimes people exhibit the traits of a gaslighter because they have been raised in such a manner, most likely because their parents were the gaslighters, hence the children learn this behaviour by watching their parents.
Why do You Fall Victim to the Gaslighting?
You often fell victim to gaslighting because of your trust and belief in the person who gaslights you. You consider that person as someone who can never do bad to you, hence you give them authority to make judgements about you. You tend to view and live your life through their perspective because you somewhere wants to earn the approval of that person.
According to a Florida based licensed therapist, Ana La Cruz,
We all carry insecurities we’re afraid to acknowledge, when someone gives us a reason to doubt ourselves, it’s like they’ve given us permission to allow those insecurities to come to life.”
Examples of Gaslighting
1. Gaslighting in Romantic Relationships
According to psychologist Robin Stern, 2018
gaslighting is fueled by the intimacy between the abuser and victim, it often occurs within close relationships”
Gaslighting is widely seen in romantic relationships where one partner is in the power, who dominates the other partner. According to various researchers, it is most likely to happen in heterosexual relations, where the male partner is the one who gaslights the female partner. National Domestic Violence Hotline conducted a survey that strengthens the fact that gaslighting is the main cause of the domestic violence experienced by women. The results of this study show that nearly 74 per cent of the women, who were the victim of domestic violence have experienced gaslighting from their male partners. Men usually use the stereotypes statements to gaslight the women, they make statements that women behave unreasonably and are way too overemotional, while men are stronger and emotianly stable. According to Paige L. Sweet, 2019 Gaslighting is extremely damaging in relationships where there are power differences between the couples. For example, if one partner is responsible for bringing income home, then that partner will eventually hold more power in the relationship and is likely to make decisions and control everything in the relationship. In a study conducted by Paige L. Sweet on the women who faced gaslighting and domestic violence, she came across several stories like the one mentioned below. This story makes it clear that the appearance and sexuality of women are often targeted in the gaslighting of heterosexual romantic relationships.
A husband tried to convince his wife that she attracts a lot of attention from the other men by wearing makeup and dressing-up smartly. This made his wife believe that she should not wear makeup and dress up nicely to avoid other men from leering at her. She eventually started wearing loose shirts and no makeup, and she also got involved in binge eating. In other words, she stopped taking care of herself just to appease her husband’s suspicions.”
Gaslighting does not happen immediately, instead, it’s a long process consisting of different stages. At the beginning of the gaslighting in relationships, the partner who is the victim of the gaslighting may feel something uncomfortable and intuitions that something is bad in their relationships. After some time, the victim may feel emotionally exhausted, intimidated, and extremely confused due to the manipulation of the abusive partner. Eventually, the victim partner becomes helpless and drained due to the constant abuse. According to the reports of Blázquez Alonso, Moreno Manso, & García-Baamonde Sánchez, 2012, the longer the couple have been together in a relationship, the more prone they are to indulging in the gaslighting.
2. Gaslighting and Gender
Apart from heterosexual romantic relationships, the gaslighting in gender is also observed in the different fields and areas. The following are some of the areas where Gender-based gaslighting is usually observed.
In Health Care Sector
It is generally seen that some of the female patients are often gaslighted by the doctors. Most doctors assume that women are bad at recognizing their symptoms related to the health problems and they exaggerate their problems, this belief leads the doctors to misdiagnose the women’s health problems and consider them as less severe as they really are. For example, it was found that some doctors labelled heart diseases as just anxiety and ovarian cysts as ‘regular period pain’ when reported by the women. According to a study published by the American Emergency Medicine, it was found that female patients with serious stomach pain had to wait for around 33 per cent longer duration than the male patients with similar symptoms in the emergency room.
It is also known as public gaslighting. Most of the women experience this form of gaslighting when they feel the need to second guess their opinions due to the influence of the statements given by any person who holds authority or the person whose statements is being supported by the number of people on social media or other platforms. For example, a researcher named Cynthia A. Stark shared an incident in her paper titled “Gaslighting, Misogyny and Psychological Oppression,” this incident was regarding the two high school boys, who were good football players, who raped a 16-year-old girl at a party. Instead of criticising these boys, the CNN reporter showed sympathetic behaviour towards them by describing these boys as
two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart”
This type of collective gaslighting can make women question their perception and restrict them from arguing that the particular actions committed by the men were wrong and punishable. The statement like ‘the girl is making such a big deal out of it, and the boys should be forgiven as they are allowed to commit one mistake.’ regarding the sexual abuse can become common in society due to the public gaslighting.
Transgenders are often bullied by society, and they won’t allow them to be a part of society. Gaslighting can make transgender people feel that they are mentally ill. Transgender children generally face gaslighting from their parents. During their childhood, they are often told by their parents that they are not yet capable of deciding such things that what gender do they belong to, and as adults society acts alienated towards them and does not accept them as a part of society.
Gender biased gaslighting is also seen in the jurisdiction departments, where the police or the judges may tend to commit gender-based gaslighting unknowingly due to some stereotypes about the female that they behave irrational or unreasonable.
3. Gaslighting and Race
The researcher’s Angelique M.Davis and Rose Ernst describe racial gaslighting as “the political, social, economic and cultural process that perpetuates and normalizes a white supremacist reality through pathologizing those who resist” in their paper titled “Racial Gaslighting.” Racial gaslighting is widely observed in the United States. The way the united states government used diplomatic language when the troops were ordered to forcefully remove the Japanese -American citizens from their residents during World War II is the prime example of racial gaslighting. The Supreme court, 1994 made the decision to use the term ‘assembly and relocation centre’ instead of the term ‘concentration camps’ regarding the forceful transfer of the citizens in the concentration camps. This diplomatic decision questions the atrocities of the event. Another example of racial gaslighting is the recent “All Lives Matter Movement.” According to Davis and Ernst,
this movement disguises the prioritizing of white lives and erases the centuries of brutalization and dehumanization of Black bodies”
4. Gaslighting at the Workplace
Gaslighting is also observed at the workplace. If you are constantly been pressurised by your management to do better without any appreciation of the previous target you have had accomplished, the chances are that you are the victim of gaslighting at the workplace. You eventually feel like you are not a good employee and you do not deserve any promotions. According to a Psychotherapist, Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, the widely seen gaslighting behaviour at the workplace includes, making random stories to threaten employees of being fired, stealing the credit of another employee, providing negative feedback to the employees, and threatening lawsuits. Gaslighting at the workplace can make you feel reluctant to go to work, feeling alone and unhappy at your workplace.
Here are some more examples of gaslighting behaviour at the workplace.
According to Paige L. Sweet, the employees that are the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace are usually gaslighted because both the cause and the management denies the accusation, this makes the victim confused and rethink their memory and claim.
Pretending to Forget:
Imagine you have submitted an important report to your manager, but he refused to admit that and ask you to submit it again as he argue that he never received the report from you. You have been working late at night to finish that report, but you tend to think of the scenarios that may be you misplaced it or someone has misplaced it from your manager’s cabin, i.e., you start to think of the scenarios that strengthen your manager’s argument even though you are sure you submitted the report. Clearly, you have fallen victim to gaslighting at the workplace.
The person who gaslights does not like it if someone challenges his/her opinions or tries to prove him/her wrong. Whenever you try to raise your voice and bring the gaslighting behaviour of someone in front of the management. The person who gaslighted you will immediately get defensive. In his/her defence the gaslighter will immediately find a way that you seem responsible for your situation rather than the gaslighter. For example, if you complain to the management that the particular person is passing inappropriate comments about your race, culture, or gender, the gaslighter may say that you don’t even understand jokes or you are behaving overly sensitive, this matter is not even worth considering.
Encouraging for their Own Benefit:
Gaslighters may encourage or appreciate the moments they see you are on the verge of breaking point. The encouragement is not because they care about you or are guilty of their behaviour, it is primarily because they want to maintain full control over you. For example, your manager may provide you with positive feedback at the moment he/she has an urgent task for you that needed to be completed as soon as possible. This appreciative behaviour will not last long as soon as you finished that task, which makes you the gaslighting victim.
Gaslighting at the workplace can lead the employees to face anxiety, self-doubts and low confidence. The toxic workplace behaviour by the management or the employees can be highly damaging to both the individuals (gaslighting victims) and the organization. Hence, the authorities should keep a check on the gaslighting behaviour at the workplace.