Ever heard of this term? Here are a few definitions:
*It should be noted that in all the quotes used from the internet regarding this issue, all gender specifics have been removed as to discontinue the myth that this is a male to female issue only.
From Wikipedia– Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
From “The Current Conscience”– Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals, to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.
From Daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com– Gaslighting is a strange-sounding term which refers to the way in which abusers such as Narcissistic Mothers, lie to you, by word or deed, intentionally or not intentionally, to convince you that your version of reality is not right.
It’s from this movie-
Get the idea? Has this ever happened to you? Here’s an example- Let’s say you had a date planned and you had reservations somewhere on a busy weekend night with your new live-in boy or girlfriend. You are ready to go so as to be onetime for your reservation and not to make others have to wait- common courtesy. Your S.O. is far from ready, still trying to decide what to wear and is asking your opinion. Keep in mind, this isn’t new behavior- this person displays little care for other people’s time often, unless being timely somehow benefits them. You are a bit peeved by now because this is making you feel like the person you are with is selfish and vain. You don’t want to ruin the evening by starting a fight, so you, with fake interest, offer a clothing selection. They slowly begin to get dressed, maybe pausing for a cigarette, almost as if they are purposefully testing you. You know this is a deeper ego issue than just being indecisive about clothing right now, and you also know it manifests itself in many different and unique ways in your relationship. Tension grows as you realize this night is crumbling already and you haven’t even left the house yet.
You say something like– “Hey can you hurry up? We are now going to be late.” You don’t say it with venom or hatred, in fact, maybe you try to say it in a joking-ish way. Too late. They are ready to pounce and are now snapping at you. “Relax! We’ll get there! You’re always nagging at me and I’m sick of it! Always trying to start a fight!” Bickering ensues. Blood pressure rises. Words are exchanged. Maybe you make it to the restaurant, maybe you don’t. Either way, you’ve just been Gaslighted!!
According to daughtersofnarcissiticmothers.com, this all too frequently starts in the childhood home. Many of us are familiar with Mom telling us we are wrong about something and when we try to stand up to her, we are met with “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m right, you’re wrong, case closed. Now go clean your room.” Thus begins a vicious downward spiral of feeling unheard and disrespected, and since it’s your mom, a lot of the time you can’t fight back because you have no authority. It kills your self-esteem over time and causes you to either A) seek out relationships with partners who do this to you and you accept it because it’s what you know, B) you become this person and gaslight other people, or C) BOTH.
Here is a video describing these points. It’s a little slow but it’s chock full of information!
So how do we fight this. How do we teach ourselves that it’s not ok in a healthy relationship?
“…Abuse doesn’t end, it can’t be negotiated, and ultimately the issue is deciding what you will or will not be willing to put up with, and then, leaving the relationship when that line has been crossed. It’s essentially a call for self-empowerment, something that many will spend years trying to figure out, ESPECIALLY after being disempowered physically, emotionally, and financially through the abuse cycle. But one thing that’s extremely important, that a lot of people struggle with because they’re in abusive relationships with spouses, significant others, and parents that they love, is that there really is nothing you can say or do to convince the abuser that they’re wrong. That’s something they must 1) come to on their own and 2) manage without the support of the abused. There is literally nothing you can say or do, that helps the abuser maintain the sick system that keeps you enslaved to their mindfucking.”
So that’s step one. If you are currently in a relationship such as this, there is NOTHING you can do to get the person to understand your point. So stop trying. Get out or suffer your own consequences. The trick though, is how do you avoid this type of relationship in the first place? If you’re prone to this, you need to recognize it right away and repeat the warning signs to yourself over and over until they are committed to your memory.
Here’s an extreme (and hilarious) example of gaslighting at its finest:
Warning signs include but are not limited to:
From teenadvice.com (yes, teen advice ;) )
Too Close, Too Fast: After years of dating ambivalent people, it can be refreshing when someone comes on strong. But if they are declaring their undying love for you on your second date, you could be looking at trouble.
Blame Game: Nothing is ever their fault. They lost their job because their boss is a jerk, they dropped out of school because the teachers had it in for them, their last relationship ended because the person was *insert derogatory term here*. (The use of language here is key- it’s one thing to say you were in an unhealthy relationship that had to end, or to say someone cheated on you or they stole from you etc. If their sole reason they are no longer with this person is told to you in the form of an insult or they resort to name calling, that’s your cue. Such as, “We broke up because so and so is a bitch, cunt, asshole, crazy, dickhead, etc”, that’s your cue to exit stage left… -ed.) If you’re dating someone who’s always playing the victim, there’s a good chance they’ll one day become quite the opposite.
Other warning signs include:
- If your first physical encounter with this person happens while you are heavily intoxicated, you already made a huge mistake. Really try to control your drinking- especially if you are with someone who can drink you under the table. It’s KEY that you respect yourself and know when to stop. If they, for some reason, think less of you for calling it a night, then that’s on them. RED FLAG!
- Withhold having sex! Repeat this after me—- WITHHOLD getting too intimate too quickly– for the love of GOD! It’s proven to cause an imbalance, especially if you are the woman! This is one of the few times I will allow gender specifics, but for some crazy reason, a man will sleep with a willing woman all too soon, knowing it’s too soon, and will base the likelihood of dating her for real on her decision to allow it. MESSED UP. And that’s just one example. RED FLAG!
- Ask yourself constantly while in the dating process– is this having a positive or negative effect on me and my life? Are you dismissing bad behavior knowing that someday soon it will be impossible to handle? RED FLAG!
- If you find yourself compromising your beliefs early on to suit them. It shows a lack of respect for who you really are. BIG HUGE RED FLAG!
- Lay things out on the table ahead of time! If you have issues that affect your romantic relationships over and over, TALK about it. If the person you are dating seems like the type you might end up getting serious with, it will be worth it to let them know straight up what pushes your buttons and what will be a deal breaker for you. Learn how conflict was handled in both of your families growing up. Let them know what you want in a partner and what you also have to give. SMART!
- Demand respect. If your partner begins to treat you abnormally bad or in a way that they wouldn’t if other people were in the room because they know they sound shitty, then you need to make a decision to continue on, or GTFO. Leave a poof of smoke behind you because you did it so quickly! People break up and get divorces every day- it’s not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of a new one! SMART! EMPOWERING!
Continuing on in this vein, there are certain personality types out there that are incredibly charismatic and powerful. Often these are musicians, high paid white collar workers, business owners, overly attractive people, artists, jocks- you name it! Anyone who is in a position of power is a possible perpetrator. How to tell? They continuously talk about themselves.
This scene in Ugly Betty takes place after Jesse, her love interest, has a conversation with her on a date. She tries to say something and he cuts her off immediately and turns it back to himself. Here she is realizing what is going on as he goes off on yet another self serving tangent in public:
If they are the type to unapologetically interrupt any and everyone at all times, but the second anyone else does it to them they get offended? WARNING SIGN. Realize it quickly, follow your instincts and feelings, and politely excuse yourself from this person’s life. After the scene you just watched in Ugly Betty, she says to him that she now realizes their entire relationship was based on a fantasy she had about dating him and he is only concerned about himself and his feelings. He says to her “Ya know what Betty? I think you’re really good for me.” How many times have you been told that? What about you? Are they good for you? Are they? Ask yourself.
Here are a few more tips to really try to wrap your head around:
1. Remember- there is NOTHING you can say to make these people understand your point of view when they are off on a tangent of gaslighting.
2. It is outrageous that the victim feels the need to reach out and try to help the abuser “get better”. This is a sad example of how victims of abuse continue to try to fix and/ or change someone else.
3. You HAVE the power to avoid these relationships- do not blame them for being involved with you. You brought this on yourself. Take responsibility for it, and you’re sure to learn a lesson that can truly save you in the future.
4. You don’t have to hate these people- they are also dealing with issues and they usually don’t mean to hurt you intentionally, and half the time they don’t even realize they are.
What it truly comes down to is this- educate yourself and others. Research the plethora of articles on the matter. Watch out for warning signs. Don’t take it to heart when someone sinks so low as to call you names and verbally abuse you. Get away from anyone who does this to you and DO NOT expect them to understand why you feel the way you do. It is not in their nature and they have to do soul searching on their own to come to terms with it. Your job is to recognize your place in the situation- how did you allow yourself to get here? What did you do to invite this into your life? Those are the things we need to focus on in order to heal and get stronger. Follow your heart, listen to your gut, and accept the consequences if you choose to ignore the warning signs. We are all here to pursue our right to happiness and we may not understand each other fully or even at all, but that is our own journey to complete. “Be true to yourself and you will never fall”- the Beastie Boys, ‘Pass the Mic’
Now read this http://cmhc.utexas.edu/healthyrelationships.html and stay tuned for an article next month on cultivating healthy, respectful relationships! And also check this great list of 37 Rules to Fighting Fair. It’s brilliant!