You feel small, stifled and burdened by life events. Maybe you’re experiencing neurosis, hyper-sensitivity and alienation. Deep down you think you’re going insane. It’s possible that you’re not. Instead, you’ve been gaslighted.
Gaslighting is a method of manipulation, emotional abuse or bullying, often employed by sociopaths and narcissists. It involves making someone feel as if they no longer have their wits about them, as if their sanity has flown the coop. The term comes from the 1944 film “Gas Light,” in which a woman is manipulated by her husband into believing that she’s going crazy.
The gaslighter coaxes his targets into questioning their beliefs, memory and senses. Typical tactics include lying, denial and misdirection. The gaslighter might consistently deny or refuse to accept his targets’ account of their own experiences, so that they eventually relent and accept the gaslighter’s version.
For instance, the gaslighter could say, “I don’t recall that. You must have invented it or dreamt it.” Targets of gaslighting lose faith in the reliability of their own beliefs and feel unhinged, at sea. It’s as if they’re on a one-way path to lunacy.
So, how would you know if you’re being gaslighted? Here are 10 signs:
- Someone in your life is making you feel confused and disoriented.
- You tend to apologize often to that person, after they’ve accused you of being mistaken, oversensitive or unstable.
- You sense that it’s difficult to make life decisions or capably act in your own interest without that person around to help you.
- You feel burdened by the expectations of others, especially that person.
- You sense that this person is a threat to you, but you can’t say exactly why.
- You start thinking that you’re significantly weaker than you were before, especially in this person’s presence.
- You’re constantly second-guessing your good judgment, your ability to recall details of events or whether you’ve seen/heard something correctly.
- You experience a feeling of guilt that you’re not as happy as you once were.
- You begin to believe that you’re “losing it,” becoming deluded or neurotic.
- You feel alone, without hope, maybe even depressed.
The gaslighter’s ways of manipulation are subtle, but not impossible to detect. Aletheia Luna of Lonerwolf identifies 6 techniques:
- Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
- Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually, you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
- Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts.
- Minimizing. By trivializing how you feel and what you think, the gaslighter gains more and more power over you.
- Denial and avoidance. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes you to doubt yourself more and more.
- Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favor, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth.
Bosses, human resources professionals, business partners and even therapists have been known to gaslight. Their aim is to sow seeds of self-doubt, gain control over your will and ultimately manipulate you.
Are you being gaslighted? If so, resist, reject the gaslighter and refuse to believe that you’re going insane.
Shane Ralston is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University Hazleton. You can read many of his other articles at his academia.edu page.