Ah, gaslighting. An often used phrase, sometimes overused. However, its ambiguity and ability to confuse and mislead is legendary. To find the roots of this unique situation, one must travel back in cinema to 1944, and watch Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. There is much caution when dealing with someone who is gaslighting you, as it is very easy to miss the duality involved from the person doing it to you. While remaining painfully vague, I will attempt to explain from my point of view, or shall we say…experience.
When I say duality, I refer to the necessity of the person doing the gaslighting remaining two-faced in their approach. If you are going to work hard to do this to someone, you still want to achieve an outlet that you will need to escape to, if your plan fails. A person of decent and honest background is a good subject in a gaslighting attempt, but you shouldn’t underestimate that person’s ability to find out what you’ve done. Sadly, there isn’t much purpose for the ‘victim’ to openly try to defend themselves, as the perpetrator will have worked hard to paint a bleak and unappealing picture of them to others, in order to damage their credibility to others in their inner circle. No matter, in the end, their loss is another’s gain as it were.
Looking at the list of phrases in the above picture, it’s easy to see how many of them would be used again and again for many victims. “You’re so dramatic”, “just calm down”, “I never said that”, “you’re so sensitive”; the shift of blame, the attempt at deniability. There is a part of gaslighting that is quite perplexing, as sometimes it almost seems as if the person doing it to you might actually believe what they are saying. Perhaps that is a sign of a master of the craft? Constantly turning the topic/conversation back around on you, saying that you are the one who needs to examine things, change their ways, stop being all the things in that above list is something that you sometimes almost don’t see in the VERY beginning, but over time, you start to wake up to this level of bullshit and throw it right back. THAT is when things get awful.
Try to look for common signs that someone is gaslighting you
- Masters of abusive manipulation, they will use people you love against you. Desperate for control, they will make you seem like you are not able to do a good job and that they can do it better. Sometimes, if you fall into acceptance of this advice, it can damage relationships with those around you. The gaslighter thrives on this in their attempt to gain more control.
- Even though you can actually show concrete proof, they will defend their false position to the bitter end. Their disappointment at your ability to sniff out their will be blatantly obvious, a sure sign of what is happening to you.
- Everyone in their inner circle will be told outrageous stories and lies about you in order to set the stage for further isolation. These people will believe the gaslighter, slowly building a negative opinion of you, just shocked that this person just keeps getting involved with people that do this to them, not realizing the depths of their lies and manipulation.
- The lies will be continuous. You may not see them for what they are at first, but over time, the individual will have created such a false narrative for their own life, they actually start to believe that’s what has happened. It can be difficult for the victim to emotionally get through this continuous bombardment of falsehoods.
- Over time, if they are successful, they will have you in the perfect place of manipulation. Through carefully crafted words and actions, they create the perfect balance between cruel manipulation and just enough “kindness” to keep you around. These attempts could conclude trying to be helpful, but only enough to keep you roped in.
This statement above is especially important. The individual doing the gaslighting often has several motives. Sadly, and far too often, the motive is financially related. Whether through a terrible financial past, repeated misappropriation of funds, an unwillingness to work towards financial independence or many other possible scenarios, money is often involved. The absolute worst part for the victim is their participation in it, even to the eventual involvement financially at a level that can leave them caught up in the narcissist’s/gaslighter’s world of irresponsibility. At this point, hopefully, the victim has seen and heard enough, and can begin to disentangle themselves from the nightmare and make a stand towards escaping. But be warned: this is the point when the manipulator will pull out all the stops in an attempt to keep you entangled in this incredibly sticky web.
No matter how you find yourself involved in a horrible situation such as this, there are things you can do to save yourself emotionally, financially and return to some semblance of normalcy. It may not happen overnight, but it can happen. Keep meticulous records and ensure you have the factual accumulation of everything that is taking place, so even when you are being gaslit with the brightest torch, you can stay grounded with facts and proof. Work towards autonomy and protect yourself, your loved ones and the things that matter to you most. Do not let the individual convince you otherwise; it is the very core of their being to manipulate at all costs. Attempting to defend yourself to that inner circle mentioned earlier is not worth the time or effort. By the time you’ve gotten to this stage, the damage is already done and it’s often pointless to try and make a stand. Focus on yourself and your escape/recovery.
In the end, you may not emerge completely unscathed; few do. In time, you will slowly start to witness a return to normalcy, peace, sanity, freedom and the ability to detach yourself from the horrendous level of anxiety, stress, and abuse you’ve suffered. I truly believe that people can sometimes not recognize the presence of abuse that isn’t physical. Over time, the slow simmer of building narcissism can take so long to arrive at a full boil, that it’s often too late by the time the person realizes what has been done to them. While it’s distressing to not see the individual be truly called out for their behavior in the end, fully detaching oneself is the best method of escape.
If you are experiencing ANY type of abuse, please take the time to seek out help. These are trying times we are living in, and so many people are stuck in situations that they can’t escape from. Reaching out whenever possible is so helpful. This is a good resource here from the National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH. You may feel like it, but you truly are not alone. Please reach out and ask for help.