Has someone ever hurt you and then made you feel like it was your fault? Have you ever spent time wondering if that bad thing that happened was something you caused? Do you sometimes think that you’re just making it all up or question what you remember?
You’re not alone. This has happened to me and millions of other people before. There’s a word for it as well. It’s called gaslighting.
What is gaslighting?
Before we even start with definitions, I must first make one thing clear: It was not your fault. It’s not all in your head and you are not making it up. The feelings, the hurt, the memories you hold are real and valid and important.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse characterised by subtle manipulation, bullying and a careful twisting of the narrative to make the victim look like the abuser. Ultimately, gaslighting is an exercise in shifting how a person views their reality. The aim is to get you to question your own reality enough to shift the blame from them to you.
What does gaslighting look like?
Gaslighting is not easily picked up because it is so sneaky and often happens consistently over a long period of time. A few of the common abusive tactics include:
- Pathological lying: People who gaslight are experts at telling lies about you or even to you. They make an effort to twist the truth so that you appear “crazy” or “sensitive”.
- Distraction: People who gaslight are well known for quickly changing the subject if it doesn’t suit them or if they appear to be in a bad light. Getting an honest answer is an exercise in futility.
- Minimising: You may feel as though your thoughts and feelings are being downplayed. Words often used are during conversations like this “you’re being dramatic” or “calm down” which render your emotions invisible.
- Blaming: The person doing the gaslighting is never able to take responsibility for their actions. It somehow is always your fault, even when you are discussing your own abuse.
- Denial: If you do ever muster up enough courage to confront the abuser, your efforts will probably be met with complete denial of any wrongdoing. They are never at fault.
- Creating a new version of history: The version of history will always reflect the abuser in the best light. Even if that means important details are left out or completely warped.
What to do if you’re being gaslit
There is no easy, step-by-step answer to this question, unfortunately.
Abusive relationships are complicated and there are many different reasons why people abuse and why people stay in abusive relationships. To pinpoint a cause or a reason would be oversimplifying things completely.
From my own experience of being on the receiving end of gaslighting, one thing that helped me ultimately raise my voice was learning how to trust myself and my gut. The gut is a powerful tool to help steer us in a healthy direction.
If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, you will have been taught not to trust yourself and to feel guilt and shame whenever you do. Standing in our power means lifting the lid of shame off the pressure cooker and trusting that your experience of reality, the memories of the abuse, and the feelings of hurt are all real.
Abuse is not only legitimate if it is confirmed by another person. You do not need anyone’s opinion on a particular event or conversation to know how it made you feel.
Speaking about your experiences to people you trust (friends, family etc) goes a long way in helping to tease out the details of the manipulation. Trying to distance yourself from the person who is gaslighting you is another way to gain perspective on the situation and reinforce that you are not crazy or sensitive.
Recovering from emotional abuse takes time. It is a difficult process made even more difficult without support along the way.
If you see your story reflected in some of this writing — it’s ok, you are not the only one. And if you take anything from this article, let it be this: It’s not all in your head.
If you found this article useful, you may also like Dealing with a heartbreak here
Tell us: Have you experienced gaslighting before? If yes, how did it make you feel? If not, how could you support someone who shares with you that they are on the receiving end of such emotional abuse?