You may have heard the word ‘gaslighting’ thrown around before online or among friends, or maybe you’ve experienced it without even realising. It’s a term that’s been around for decades, but has become more and more common as we begin to better understand different forms of emotional abuse.
What’s important is that you truly understand the meaning behind the word, and what to do if you experience it.
What is gaslighting?
Simply put, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. It can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, or among authorities.
Gaslighting is when one person or a group makes another person question their own sanity, memories, or perception. Very often someone who is a victim of gaslighting with question and doubt their own mind. It’s particularly dangerous because it can lead someone to lose their sense of self, affecting their overall well-being and mental health.
The most obvious example of this is being cheated on by a boyfriend or girlfriend, this could come in the form of liking pictures of flirting with other people, and when you call this behaviour out to your partner they respond back by telling you to ‘calm down’, diminishing your feelings and turning the situation around to be your problem and not theirs.
Often times, gaslighting takes the form of someone telling you the way you feel or think is over the top, untrue or totally ‘crazy’ even if those feelings are totally valid.
Why do people gaslight?
There of course is no one specific reason why people do this, as everyone and every situation are different. However, psychologists would say that the most common reason for gaslighting is a need for control.
A person who gaslights may think that they want to have control over someone else, or that their feelings and thoughts are more important than others.
Gaslighting doesn’t only happen in a romantic relationship, it can happen between a parent and child, a teacher and student, it can be aimed towards an entire race or ethnic group, and it can also happen within politics too – if you see a political party hiding or downplaying something they have done wrong, this also comes under the umbrella of gaslighting.
How do I know if I’m being gaslit?
Knowing what gaslighting is doesn’t always mean you will know when it’s being done to you. So it’s important to be familiar with behaviour common with gaslighting.
If your partner/friend/parent/teacher often says ‘I was only joking’, ‘Don’t take it so seriously’, ‘You’re too sensitive’ or ‘you’re crazy’ in situations where your feelings have been hurt, this may be a form of gaslighting.
Similarly, if you feel that you are constantly apologising to one person, questioning your own sanity or memory of events, or telling yourself to ‘suck it up’, it’s also a possibility that you’re being gaslit by the person making you act and feel this way.
Of course, every situation is different, but often if you have a gut feeling that someone’s behaviour isn’t okay or the situation you are in is uncomfortable you’re probably right.
What do I do if I am gaslit?
If you do think you’re gut instinct is correct, you’re probably wondering what you should do if you find yourself in a situation where you are being gaslit. Gaslighting can have a severe negative impact on your mental health so it’s important that you address it as soon as possible.
If you feel that the abuse you are experiencing is ongoing, it is worthwhile to keep a secret diary or note of the events. This will allow you to have specific details of the situation and gives you sufficient evidence to approach the person or someone else about it when you feel the time is right.
Speak With Someone
As mentioned, being gaslit can make you question your sanity, for this reason, it’s important to confide in someone you can trust. This could be a close friend, a sibling, parent, or authoritative figure like a school counsellor. If you don’t feel right about someone’s behaviour towards you speaking with someone rational will help you to figure out if their behaviour is wrong or not, and importantly it will give you back the sanity you may be afraid you are losing.
Weigh Up Your Options
After looking after your evidence and speaking with someone you trust, you will have come to the conclusion of whether or not you are being gaslit. If you find that you are, you have a number of options to go ahead with.
Firstly, you have the option to cut them from your life. If you think that the person doing the gaslighting isn’t capable of changing, or if they have damaged you mentally to a severe extent, the best option would be to no longer proceed with the relationship.
If you think the person gaslighting you isn’t aware that they’re doing it and more importantly are capable of changing, then you must sit down and tell them. This won’t be easy but it’s vital to have your feelings be known if you want to salvage your relationship. When you do this calming explain your feelings to them, present them with the evidence you’ve gathered, and tell them the changes you want to be made going forward.
Dealing with emotional abuse like gaslighting is never easy, but equipping yourself with all of the knowledge you need will allow you to handle the situation with more ease, or to help others who may be in a similar scenario.
You can always reach out to anonymous support lines if you don’t feel like there is someone IRL to talk to. Text Hello to 50808 for free, anonymous support on all sorts of topics, for abuse in relationships, contact WomensAid on 1800 341 900.
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