SCI-ART LAB

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Q: My friends say my boyfriend is gaslighting me. I am not certain what it is. How can I find out? and most importantly what can I do about it if this is true?

Krishna: Oh my! Okay some people are so naive they trust everybody and can't realize the dangerous situation they are in.  Now let me explain.

The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, known in America as "Angel Street" and later developed into the film "Gas Light" by Alfred Hitchcock (3). In the suspense film, a manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. Not only does he disrupt her environment and make her believe she is insane, but he also abuses and controls her, cutting her off from family and friends.

Gaslighting is "psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator"(1).

For instance a routinely cheating husband when confronted with evidence tells his wife "she is “crazy,” “jealous” and “paranoid”. He often uses the words, "making things up", "that never happened", "misunderstanding" and “irrational,” to describe her behaviour. He uses them in such a way that she gets confused, doubts her own analysis, behaviour and perception of things. If he says these thigns before others, this will have a tremendous effect on his wife. Then she starts believing him and thinks she is really at fault and not him!

People who gaslight spread rumours and gossip about you to others.  They may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or "crazy." Unfortunately, this tactic can be extremely effective and many people side with the abuser or bully without knowing the full story. Additionally, someone who engages in gaslighting may lie to you and tell you that other people also think this about you. These people may have never said a bad thing about you, but the person who is gaslighting you will make every attempt to get you to believe they do(2).

Lying and distortion are the cornerstones of gaslighting behaviour. Even when you know they are not telling the truth, they can be very convincing. In the end, you start to criticize yourself.

Gaslighting is a technique that undermines a person's perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you may second-guess yourself, your memories, recent events, and perceptions. After communicating with the person gaslighting you, you may be left feeling dazed and wondering if there is something wrong with you. You may be encouraged to think you are actually to blame for something or that you're just being too sensitive.

Gaslighters manipulate your emotions  a lot. Your emotions allow the person who is gaslighting you to gain power over you. They might make statements like: "Calm down," "You're overreacting," or "Why are you so sensitive?" All of these statements minimize how you're feeling or what you're thinking and communicate to you that you're wrong! People who engage in bullying and emotional abuse are notorious for denying that they did anything wrong.

Blame-shifting is another common gaslighting tactic. Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that occurred. Even when you try to discuss how the abuser's behavior makes you feel, they're able to twist the conversation so that you end up questioning if you are the cause of their bad behavior. For example, they may claim that if only you behaved differently, they would not treat you the way that they do.

Gaslighting can confuse you and cause you to question your judgment, memory, self-worth, and overall mental health. It manipulated reality and push you into a state of high confusion and disorientation. 

A woman told a psychiatrist that her husband  tends to retell stories in ways that are in his favour. For instance, if he pushed her against the wall during their fights and they 're discussing it later, he twists the story and says she stumbled and he tried to steady her, which is what caused her to fall into the wall!

In such a situation you may begin to doubt your memory of what happened. Encouraging confusion or second-guessing on your part is exactly the intention.

Gaslighting can include a range of tactics including lying, distracting, minimizing, denying, and blaming. When you are dealing with someone who uses gaslighting as a manipulation tool, pay close attention to what they actually do, not the words they use.

Being subjected to gaslighting can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns including addiction and thoughts of suicide. For this reason, it's important to recognize when you're experiencing gaslighting.

Ask yourself if any of the following things are happening when you are with your boyfriend ....

    • You doubt your feelings and reality: You try to convince yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad or that you are too sensitive.
    • You question your judgment and perceptions: You are afraid of speaking up or expressing your emotions. You have learned that sharing your opinion usually makes you feel worse in the end, so you stay silent instead.
    • You feel vulnerable and insecure: You often feel like you "walk on eggshells" around your partner, friend, or family member. You also feel on edge and lack self-esteem.
    • You feel alone and powerless: You are convinced that everyone around you thinks you are "strange," "crazy," or "unstable," just like the person who is gaslighting you says you are. This makes you feel trapped and isolated.
    • You wonder if you are what they say you are: The person who gaslights you says words make you feel like you are wrong, unintelligent, inadequate, or insane. Sometimes, you even find yourself repeating these statements to yourself.
    • You are disappointed in yourself and who you have become: For instance, you feel like you are weak and passive, and that you used to be stronger and more assertive.

    • You feel confused: The behaviour of the person gaslighting you confuses you, almost as if they are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
    • You worry that you are too sensitive: The person minimizes hurtful behaviors or words by saying “I was just joking" or "you need thicker skin."
    • You have a sense of impending doom: You feel like something terrible is about to happen when you are around this person. This may include feeling threatened and on edge without knowing why.
    • You spend a lot of time apologizing: You feel the need to apologize all the time for what you do or who you are.
    • You feel inadequate: You feel like you are never "good enough." You try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable.
    • You second-guess yourself: You frequently wonder if you accurately remember the details of past events. You may have even stopped trying to share what you remember for fear that it is wrong.
    • You assume others are disappointed in you: You apologize all the time for what you do or who you are, assuming people are let down by you or that you have somehow made a mistake.
  • You wonder what's wrong with you: You wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. In other words, you worry that you are not well mentally.
  • You struggle to make decisions because you distrust yourself: You would rather allow your partner, friend, or family member to make decisions for you and avoid decision-making altogether.

If you identify with any of these signs of gaslighting, it's important that you seek professional help right away. More importantly, dump the person who is gaslighting you. You can never be happy with manipulators and control freaks. 

Footnotes:

1. Definition of gaslighting. Merriam-Webster.

2. Ahern K. Institutional betrayal and gaslighting: Why whistle-blowers are so ...J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2018;32(1):59-65. doi:10.1097/JPN.0000000000000306

3. Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslightingThe Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(2):117-118. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30024-5

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