The Gaslighting Crisis: Understanding the Effects of Emotional Abuse

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can have devastating effects on mental health and well-being. It is a manipulation tactic that involves making someone question their own understanding of reality, memory, and sanity. In this article, we will explore the effects of gaslighting and give strategies for identifying and dealing with this type of emotional abuse.

Key takeaways:

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting involves deliberately manipulating a person's thoughts and emotions to make them question their own understanding of situations and events. It is a deceptive strategy that can occur in many contexts, including personal relationships, workplaces, and social settings.

This type of behavior often involves a series of small incidents that, over time, can create a sense of confusion, self-doubt, and isolation in the victim. The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to gain power and control over the victim by undermining their self-worth and confidence. Victims of gaslighting can feel helpless, anxious, and isolated, and may struggle to trust their own instincts and judgment.

Terminology origin
The term gaslighting comes from the 1938 play “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton, which tells the story of a manipulative husband who tries to convince his wife that she is losing her mind.

In the play “Gas Light”, through subtle changes in her environment and emotional abuse, the husband controls and isolates his wife, causing her to doubt her own perception of reality and memory.

As the play progresses, the wife becomes increasingly neurotic and overwhelmed, while the husband denies her experiences and accuses her of misremembering facts, leading her to doubt her own sanity.

How prevalent is gaslighting?

Over the last decade, gaslighting has become more recognized, particularly after the #MeToo movement successfully exposed the doubts and discrediting that victims of sexual violence and harassment often face. In fact, Merriam-Webster Dictionary has named “gaslighting” as the 2022 word of the year, owing to a staggering 1740% increase in searches for the term in that year. A search for #gaslighting on Instagram yields over 600,000 results, underscoring the pervasive nature of this phenomenon.

The question is why do people gaslight? This type of behavior is always about gaining power and control over another person. The most obvious motivator is to manipulate the other. By having someone doubt their own reality, they can gain control over their target.

Another motivator is insecurity. Gaslighters may feel insecure about their own abilities or accomplishments and use this abusive tactic as a way for them to feel superior. They also engage in this behavior because of a desire to avoid responsibility for their actions or to deflect attention from their own shortcomings.

Gaslighting vs. bullying

There is a difference between gaslighting and bullying, although they can sometimes overlap.

Bullying is a repeated pattern of aggression towards a victim who is not able to defend themselves, while gaslighting is an emotional manipulation tactic where the abuser causes the victim to question their own reality. While bullying can include emotional abuse, it is often accompanied by physical or verbal aggression.

Gaslighting is primarily focused on emotional manipulation and control, and can sometimes occur in combination with bullying, with the abuser using gaslighting to further control and manipulate their victim.

Gaslighting tactics

Shame and guilt are very strong emotions that can be used as tactics in gaslighting. Gaslighters may use shame to make their victims feel like they are useless, using insults or criticisms to shatter their self-esteem. They may also use guilt to manipulate their victims into doing what they want, making them feel responsible for the abuser's actions or emotions.

The use of shame and guilt can be especially insidious, as the victim may feel like they are at fault for the gaslighter's behavior and not recognize the manipulation at play. Over time, the victim may internalize these feelings of shame and guilt, leading to a decreased sense of self-worth and increased dependence on the abuser.

Gaslighting in different settings

Gaslighting can occur in various settings, including parent-child relationships, workplaces, and schools. A parent or guardian who gaslights their child uses manipulation and deceit to dominate and control them, often leading to the child feeling confused and filled with self-doubt. This can be even more damaging in situations where the child is being neglected. Gaslighting by parents can result in long-term emotional and psychological damage, including anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-worth.

In the workplace, gaslighting usually involves a power dynamic between a supervisor or manager and a staff member. The gaslighter may use tactics such as withholding information or belittling their employee’s work or ideas, leading to confusion and doubting their abilities.

In schools, gaslighting can take the form of teachers dismissing a student's feelings, which can damage their mental health and academic performance.

Signs of gaslighting

Gaslighting can be difficult to identify, as it often involves subtle, insidious behaviors that are designed to take away the target's sense of reality. Here are some common gaslighting techniques to be aware of:

Minimizing or downplaying the victim's feelings or experiencesThis makes the victim feel like their concerns are insignificant.
Blaming the victimThe abuser makes the victim feel responsible for the abuser's behavior or emotions.
Withholding attention, affection, or financial supportThis allows the abuser to manipulate the victim.
Trivializing or making light of the victim's concerns or experiencesThis involves making the victim feel like they are overreacting or being too sensitive.
Accusing the victimThe abuser will often accuse the victim of doing things that the abuser is actually doing, making the victim feel confused and defensive.
Denying feelings, experiences, or memoriesThis undermines the victim's confidence and makes them doubt themselves.

Someone tries to gaslight? Ways to cope

If you are experiencing emotional manipulation from someone who is trying to make you question your own reality, here are some helpful strategies you can use to cope with this harmful behavior.

  1. Resist taking blame. Do not take responsibility for the gaslighter's behavior, even if they claim you provoked them. It's important to hold the gaslighter accountable for their behavior and not let them shift the blame onto you.
  2. Don't sacrifice needs. Do not neglect your own needs and feelings to appease the abuser. Their desire for control is insatiable, so it's important to prioritize your own well-being instead.
  3. Never engage in arguments. Don't get drawn into debates on the gaslighter's terms. Arguing about “made up” facts will only drain your energy, so it's better to disengage and focus on your own needs.
  4. Prioritize safety. Put your safety first and trust your intuition. If you feel you are in danger, leave the situation and seek help.
  5. Get emotional support. Make sure you reach out to loved ones. Talking about your experiences will help validate your feelings and reality, and can be an important part of the healing process.
  6. Keep a journal. Writing down your experiences and emotions can help you validate your own reality and provide evidence of the gaslighting behavior.
  7. Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries and stick to them. This may involve limiting contact or finishing the relationship completely.
  8. Practice self-care. Take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. This can include exercise, meditation, or any self-care practices that work for you.
  9. Get professional help. It is advisable to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in trauma and abuse recovery.

Gaslighting can be a devastating experience to overcome, but always remember that freedom and healing are possible. By recognizing the signs and standing up for yourself, you can break free from the cycle of emotional abuse and regain control of your life. With time and effort, you can build healthy relationships based on mutual respect and trust, and live a fulfilling life free from the pain of abuse.

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