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April 21, 2020

Gaslighting — a form of emotional abuse


April 21, 2020

During this time of social isolation, domestic abuse is likely to become more exacerbated and persistent for the vulnerable. This is due to various reasons including preternatural proximity between partners, inability to reach out and lack of outlets, one partner’s “need” to gain ‘control’ over the “uncontrollable” fear of the virus and their own unresolved personal issues resurfacing, among many other factors.

Identifying and becoming aware of different types of abuse is the first step towards healing. The next step is reaching out: there is no need to suffer in silence. Lets look at gaslighting this week:

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a partner, to gain power and sense of control, plants seeds of uncertainty in the victim. The self-doubt created slowly and meticulously causes the victim to question their sense of reality and erodes their sense of “self”.

Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse. It promotes anxiety, depression, and can trigger mental breakdowns. The victim feels a like they are going “crazy”.

Examples of gaslighting, signs of gaslighting behavior:

1)Flagrant lying: The gaslighter sets up an abusive pattern by lying so casually: The victim begins to doubt themselves and to question everything and becomes uncertain of the simplest matters. This self-doubt is exactly what the gaslighter wants and uses to gain power over the victim.

Blatant Denial: Following on from the last point, you remember clearly what they said, what they meant by it and also what they did. Not so. They make you question your sanity by completely denying what they said or did ! They will say things like “its all in your head “ or they push the point and ask you to ‘prove it,’ knowing that its your memory/word against theirs and there is no proof ! You start to then question your memory and your reality, which was crystal clear to you, at least you thought so — ah the seeds of doubt planted. And you begin to wonder if the gaslighter is right, maybe they didn’t really ever say or do what you remember. You then start to accept their reality and replace it with your own.

2) Making hate out of love: People who gaslight use what is closest to you against you (and for the record they know exactly what you love) For example If you love your job, they will find underlying issues with it, things you who work there have not even perceived, but of course now their reality has become yours! This abusive manipulation tactic causes the victim to question the foundation and motivation (which will be negative of course! ) of everything and everyone (but mostly themselves)

3) The victim becomes confluent with the abuser: One of the terrifying parts of gaslighting is the methodical timeline that the abuser uses. The manipulation happens gradually and over time the victim morphs into someone entirely different. The most confident human being can become a shell of a person without being aware of it in the process, and this outward shell can look perfect” to the untrained eye while the victim slowly and painfully dies inside, merging with the abuser. The Stockholm syndrome of identifying with your abuser comes in, because the abuse it not considered abuse.

4) Uncertainty and confusion: Notably, a person who gaslights loves talking and they may be the best orators with great convincing power but have little grain on the inside. Therefore, it is important to look at what they are doing, and how they make you “feel” while using all manner of flowery language and flattery ! The trouble is in their abusive actions towards the victim, the tearing down of what they built up a minute ago. This also creates uncertainty in the mind of the victim “how can he/she be bad if the say they love me and I mean the world to them?” The confusion and chaos in the victim’s mind is the gaslighter’s “trump” card and the best tool for further manipulation. The victim, craving stability (which is the opposite of the created confusion) ironically seeks it in the abuser, consequently becoming more and more dependent in him/her.

5) Walking on eggshells: In psychology we have a term called “projective identification” which means the abuser can make the victim identify with “disowned” and “negative” parts of themselves. To clarify, If the gaslighter is a liar and a cheater, for example, you start thinking of yourself as a liar and a cheater. This is done through subtle nuances and meta communication which you are not even aware of ! You constantly feel guilty and need to defend yourself for things you haven’t even done. The gaslighter has the “guilt” card over you and becomes even more powerful.

6) “I must be insane !”: The gaslighter knows you are already vulnerable and questioning your sanity, after all they have meticulously planned it that way, without them having said it outright. The gaslighter also knows that you search for clarity and stability in the very person who has deliberately created the confusion. Therefore, when they finally do call you crazy, you completely believe it.

7) Making others think you are crazy: From now on, the gaslighter may also tell other people (your friends family other support) that you’re crazy, being a good communicator they may end up convincing your loved ones that they gave your best interests at heart and you are being paranoid. This way if you were ever to approach them for help with your abuser, they wouldn’t believe you, cutting off your support. They were already warned about you !

8) Turning you against your loved ones: The abuse is successful only if the victim is completely isolated and the only person they have to turn to is the abuser himself! So they may also tell you that everyone else is against you and that they are all liars, further blurring your reality. They may make you believe that the interests, causes and hobbies you were dedicated to are useless and even harming you. People who gaslight want their victims to turn to them for everything and everyone so that they can continue the abuse.

At the end of the day, the quicker you can recognise these gaslighting techniques, the better chance you will have to avoid a gaslighter’s abuse and maintain a distinct reality that is slowly being shattered. Please don’t leave it too long and suffer in silence, reach out, help is always at hand!

(The writer is a clinical and humanistic psychologist)