I recently heard someone talk about “gaslighting” and I didn’t have the slightest idea what they meant with that. I did some research and found out that it’s a very specific and sneaky form of manipulation, difficult to detect and to my surprise, I noticed that I had already experienced gaslighting in my own life. I want to share this article with you, because it is without a doubt the dominant form of manipulation today and being informed can help you avoid the“gaslighting” trap.

32558a310a5c1fa569aaeebac1ebab11The term gaslighting was derived from a George Cukor movie from 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman. The movie tells us the story of a man who tries to destroy his wife’s spirit by systematically making her doubt her version of reality. To achieve his goal, he moves objects in the house and when questioned about this by his wife, he claims they never moved. He often changes his version of the facts and denies having said or done certain things. Little by little his wife starts to doubt herself, she loses confidence in herself and she starts to slip into a world of depression and madness.

Gaslighting is basically creating smokescreens. It’s an attempt to isolate a person in a fog of lies, false suggestions or half-truths to prevent the person from seeing clearly. Gaslighting is questioning another person’s version of reality, up to the point where the victim starts to lose confidence in their convictions and eventually will start to doubt their own experiences and perceptions. The goal is to disorient a person to the point where this person will question his own memory and version of the facts so it becomes easier to introduce a foreign opinion. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that doesn’t directly use intimidation or violence, on the contrary every move is conducted with the veil of “kindness” or “good intentions”. Someone that is generally not easily manipulated can fall victim to gaslighting.

Gaslighting happens when the perpetrator feels that his version of reality or of the facts is endangered and tries desperately, by any means possible, to convince another person of his version of reality and even change the reality of the other person to correspond to his own. For the majority of people among us, things will not escalate into madness, but an undetected case of gaslighting can inflict a lot of damage, above all affecting our self-worth and confidence. In extreme cases, gaslighting can deviate a person from their life’s path, cause memory loss, depression and permanent black-outs.

There are 2 types of people engaging in gaslighting: those who are aware of their actions and do it because they feel you are a danger to a privilege, position or belief that they are not willing to give up.
And those that are not aware they are gaslighting you. Often these people have created an alternative version of reality to shield them from trauma, pain or their own shadow side. Without realizing it, gaslighting has become their number 1 defense mechanism and everyone that is a risk to their artificial bubble will be treated to it.

Red flags

federico-bebberWhich signs should make the alarm bells go off?

    • Your integrity, personality or your intentions are systematically called into question in your exchanges: a discussion about an event, situation or a difference of opinion should not result in you questioning your personality or your very being.
    • Your thoughts, opinions or beliefs are made fun of systematically. One of the more efficient ways of making you change your version of the facts is making you feel like your version of reality is ridiculous. Most people are very sensitive to judgment and want to avoid ridicule at all cost.
    • The version of the facts of a person you are engaged with changes regularly, they deny having said or done certain things you know happened or invent episodes that didn’t happen.
    • You are not taken seriously. Often a lack of experience is used to convince you that you have no legitimacy to express yourself on a topic. For once and for all: you have the right to express yourself on whatever subject you desire to.
    • You are made to feel guilty in order to make you change your version of the facts. 
    • Someone desperately tries to convince you of something, you are relentlessly being harassed to make you change your mind. That someone should share their version of the facts or their opinion with you is completely normal, that someone would do this without you inviting them to do so or that they try to make you adhere to their way of seeing things is not normal.
    • You are reminded of your faults, mistakes of the past or reminded of your weaknesses to make you believe you have lost all right to have an opinion. Very effective when you are conscious of your faults. If only flawless people were allowed to express themselves, the world would be plunged in eternal silence.
    • There is a complete incapacity of the other person to recognize their responsibility in any conflict. You are always wrong. This dynamic often takes place in toxic relationships. One person claims the victim role and projects the other in the role of the persecutor. Every conflict is inevitably the fault of the “bad” person. There is no discussion possible, you will always be guilty.
    • You are immediately contacted or apprehended when the gaslighter feels you are distancing yourself or when you risk developing a different opinion. You are not given any time to think, you are constantly harassed with the goal of making tired so you will easily yield.
    • When a person is not able to face their difficulties or pain, or denies certain shadow sides. If someone creates an alternative version of reality for themselves, it is highly likely that they will try this on other people as well, for they will want to maintain their version of reality. 
    • Certain words, thoughts or intentions that don’t belong to you are attributed to you. Thoughts or words you never even had. A hidden meaning is invented for everything you do or say.
    • You feel unhealthy feelings or intentions from someone, but this person will probably do everything they can to make you think you are being paranoid. Don’t ever question your intuition, your feelings are never wrong. When you wake up to the full extent of the situation, you will become aware that there were plenty of signs that you ignored.

When you realize that you’ve been subject to gaslighting and you’re looking for a way out of the toxic influence of the other person, the only thing you can do is stop all contact. There is no negotiation possible, because the person is not ready to let go of their version of reality.

Don’t try to find out why someone tried to disorient you. We can not change other people’s behavior and this should never be our intention. The only area we can work on is ourselves. The only question that needs to be asked is “what made me vulnerable to gaslighting” and “how can I prevent gaslighting in the future?”

What makes you particularly vulnerable to gaslighting?
federico-bebber1) You have little confidence in yourself or you find yourself in a situation where you lack experience

When you doubt yourself, it’s easy for other people who seem sure of themselves to come in and accentuate your doubts, propose a different version of reality and make you adopt it.

It’s not because you have some doubts that someone else has the right to step in and tell you what you need to do, think or how you need to act. We all have moments of doubt, everyone can be confronted with unusual situations that can be destabilising at the time.

It’s not because you have less experience, expertise or knowledge than someone else that you lose the right to express yourself or to have an opinion about a situation. We all have an excellent measuring tool built in at birth, our intuition, that can verify the veracity of any kind of situation or information. Gaslighting is often used by certified people to oppose theories that contradict their own theories or discoveries and prevent them from being taken seriously.

Your lack of degree or experience does not in any way mean that you don’t have the legitimacy to express yourself. Your common sense is often all you need to interpret reality and too much experience, on the contrary, can imprison your mind in ways or patterns that limit your perception.

2) You’re an empathic person

Empathy is a good thing, feeling empathy shows you are a human being with a heart. But empathy can also make us put other people’s needs before our own and put us in situations where we are not always treated with respect, simply because we don’t like hurting other people’s feelings.

It’s great to have a big heart, to be sensitive to other people’s suffering and wanting to be in support, but there are limits. Here’s where you should draw the line: You should never accept that someone who is feeling bad burdens you with the responsibility of their pain, neither should you accept them pulling you down. That someone should feel highs and lows is perfectly normal, but this does not in any case justify them making you doubt your person.

helen-warner-600x5973) Conflict makes you uncomfortable

If you don’t feel comfortable in conflictual situations and you have a tendency to flee them, it will be easy to gaslight you. A person that engages in gaslighting doesn’t ever let go, no discussion is possible, for you will always be wrong in their eyes and they will always be right. They will continue to badger you with their version of the truth until you say “ok, alright, you are right”. Often, in the name of peace, you will assume full responsibility, just to make the other person shut up and keep the peace. Sometimes this is justified, sometimes not.

It’s not right to accept something if you know it isn’t honest. It’s not right to accept that other people systematically look for faults outside of themselves or question you. If you are not careful, an unhappy person can put the whole weight of their unhappiness on your shoulders. This is not acceptable, no matter how deep the suffering of the other person.

What makes you immune to gaslighting?
  • Being in your life’s mission: When you are on your path, you feel naturally confident. You know and feel that what you do is in accord to who you are and that your path is right for you. People can have different opinions and that’s ok, but their vision of reality will not influence yours.
  • Listen to and follow your heart and intuition. You always feel what is right for you. There is no intellectual argument that should push you to do or believe things that make you feel uncomfortable, that you’re ashamed of or that cause you suffering. Just like you should never listen to any argument that tries to prevent you from being happy or listening to your heart. In the end, you always know what is right and what is best for you.
  • Live your life as honest, sincere and real as possible. Be open and transparent about your intentions, your actions and opinions. Communicate on what you feel and think. Don’t fear judgment, there will always be people that will not agree, but the more you are clear with the people around you, the more difficult it will become to introduce a different version of reality and the easier it will be to attract people that have a similar vision to your own.

Cover photo Helen Warner