“oh come on. I never said that.”
“you’re being too sensitive.”
“I don’t know why you’re giving this so much importance…”
Psychologists use the term “gaslighting” to refer to a specific type of manipulation in which the manipulator attempts to get another person (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory, or perceptions. and it is always a serious problem, according to psychologists.
“It’s always dangerous,” Robin Stern, PhD, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of “The Gaslight Effect,” tells NBC News Best. “The danger of letting go of your reality is quite extreme.”
can start with seemingly small offenses. but the problem is that even more or less insignificant instances where you question your own judgment or reality, thanks to someone else’s deliberate intent, can snowball. You can end up in a cycle of not being able to negotiate your daily life in a way that makes you clear-headed, focused, able to make sound decisions, and has a sense of well-being, says Stern.
Gaslighting occurs in personal relationships (think of an abusive spouse or, in rarer cases, a parent), in professional relationships (a manipulative boss or co-worker taking advantage of a subordinate), and even by public figures. There are several examples of gaslighting by President Donald Trump and his administration, Stern notes.
No matter if it’s happening in a marriage, between a leader and their constituency, or elsewhere, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs that you (or someone you know) might be a victim, which is the first step. to get out of the abusive situation.
gaslighting usually occurs in a power dynamic, but it’s not always intentional or malicious
Usually, there tends to be a power dynamic when gaslighting occurs, Stern explains. the manipulator has enough power that “the gaslighting target is terrified to change [the relationship] or get out of the gaslighting dynamic because of the threat of losing that relationship, or the threat of being seen as less than what you want to be seen as for them, it is a great threat”, he says
If someone you love and care about (like a spouse or parent) is happening to you, you’ll want to believe the other person, and the gaslighter can use that against you, explains Dale Lancer, JD, MFT, Marriage Therapist and family member in private practice and author of “Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Unleashing the Real You.”
“Many people [in this case, gaslighting targets] change their perceptions to avoid having a conflict,” Lancer explains.
but, the gaslighter doesn’t necessarily have to act with malicious intent, nor does the gaslighter necessarily need to realize that he or she is tricking someone else into it, says stern.
It could be the result of how you were raised. maybe your parents had very clear beliefs and that certainty is the way they (and now you) see the world and when someone sees things differently you assume something is wrong with them, says stern.
Maybe you’re upset because you think your boyfriend is always flirting with other girls. what you don’t see is that it’s the girls flirting with him and he’s just being polite. but your worldview does not allow you to question that maybe you are misunderstanding the situation. you make him think that you know so much more about relationships and that there is something wrong with him that he is not able to see the “mistake” in his ways.
“You may not think so at first, but over time you may come to think that maybe she’s right,” says Stern.
be careful with the jokes if you start to question yourself a lot
Recognizing that you or someone you care about might be in a “gaslight tango” isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem because it can start in very subtle ways and often involves two people (or groups of people). of people) who otherwise seem to care a lot about each other, says stern.
The term “gaslight” actually comes from a 1938 play, “gaslight” (which became a better-known movie in 1944, “gaslight”), in which a husband he manipulates his wife into believing that she is actually losing her sense of reality so that he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance. “Not all real-life examples are so diabolical,” says Stern.
A more subtle example might be a mother who always disapproves of her daughter’s decisions to the point that the daughter questions decisions she suspects her mother would disagree with. The mother may or may not consciously want to control all of her daughter’s decisions, but by being overly critical she is doing so.
Gaslighting can occur when a popular high school student causes another student to question his feelings or judgment of a situation. when this last student asks the most popular student why the popular student didn’t reserve a seat at the lunch table, the popular student deflects the question: “why are you so sensitive? not that big of a deal. I didn’t realize you didn’t have a seat.”
how gaslighting happens
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline fact sheet, techniques a gaslighter might use to manipulate another person may include:
- withhold (meaning you refuse to listen or say you don’t understand)
- counteract (when the abuser questions the gaslightee’s recollection of an event)
- block/divert (when the abuser changes the subject or questions the victim’s thinking)
- trivialize (make the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant)
- forgetting/denial (when the manipulator pretends to have forgotten what really happened or denies something previously agreed upon)
- you are always doubting yourself or having trouble making decisions;
- you are reflecting on a perceived character flaw (such as being overly sensitive or not being a nice person);
- you feel confused about your relationship (if you find yourself thinking: “I thought I had a great husband, but I feel crazy all the time” or “I thought I had a lovely partner, but sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy when we’re together”);
- in a confrontation with the person who might be making fun of you, you feel like you’re suddenly in an argument you didn’t mean to have, you’re not making progress, or you’re saying the same thing over and over again and not being heard;
- feel confused or unclear about your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs;
- you’re always apologizing;
- you often make excuses for your partner’s behavior;
- you can’t understand why you’re not happy in your own life; or
- You know something is wrong, but you just don’t know what.
and note that a gaslighter will often start with something that is true that might be particularly sensitive to hooking. A co-worker, for example, trying to convince you that you’re not doing your best at the office might bring up the fact that you complain all the time that menopause makes you feel bad. You may feel bad because you’re going through menopause (and that co-worker may have heard you complain a time or two), but that doesn’t necessarily mean your performance is changing because of it, Stern explains.
signs that you are a victim of gaslighting
according to stern, look for these warning signs and red flags about the type of abuse that could be happening to you (or someone you know):
what to do if someone is cheating on you
and finally, what do you do if you recognize that someone is cheating on you? this is what stern suggests:
- Identify the problem. Acknowledging the problem is the first step, Stern says. “Once something has a name, you can approach it in a very specific and granular way,” she says. (Sometimes writing down specific details of a conversation that you can review later, when you’re out of the heat of the moment, can be helpful in sorting truth from distortion, stern suggests.)
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Part of the problem with gaslighting is that it causes the victim to question their own thoughts, values, perceptions, or feelings. recognize that what you feel is what you feel so that you can take the necessary steps to feel better.
- Allow yourself to make a sacrifice. Part of what makes it difficult for a victim to leave a gaslight tango is that the abuser is someone they like, admire, or have a relationship with. “You might have a lot of wonderful things in that relationship,” Stern says, but it’s not worth it if it’s undermining your reality. And to start regaining the sense of identity you’ve lost, you may need to walk away from that person, give up some of those wonderful things, or live with that person who doesn’t think so highly of you, she says. >
- Start by making small decisions. To exit or stop a gaslight, take one step at a time, Stern says. say no don’t get into an argument that is clearly a power struggle.
- Get a second opinion. Ask a friend or family member you trust if they think your thinking is as strange as your potential abuser says.
- have compassion for yourself. “having compassion for yourself is very important,” says stern. you are accountable to yourself. you need to be honest with yourself, harsh notes. maybe tomorrow your partner will be great, but focus on what you feel in the moment, she says. she acknowledges when you have those feelings: “right now this feels like shit. It’s driving me crazy.”
more mental health help
- how to get mental health treatment if you can’t afford it
- 7 steps to overcome a panic attack
- how to worry better
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