from Solutions Counseling & EAP
by Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Stop Gaslighting Me! (Part 1)
I’ve been hearing the term “gaslighting” being thrown around a lot lately, have you? It appears to have secured a foothold in our vernacular, so I thought maybe we should explore it a bit.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and psychological control. The gaslighter feeds the victim false information
that leads the victim to question reality and things they know to be true. The victim ends up questioning their own memory and even their sanity.
As with other forms of power and control, the perpetrator of gaslighting starts out subtly and builds from that point. It becomes more and more difficult for the victim to trust themselves or see the truth.
The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light. In the story, a husband slowly and methodically blames his wife for doing things she doesn’t remember doing. He also dims their gas-fueled lights and tells her she is hallucinating. Increasingly she begins to doubt her own sanity. We find out that the husband wants to be able to commit his wife to an insane asylum because she accidentally stumbled upon something that could prove the husband committed a crime.
So, what are we on the lookout for with this gaslighting thing? Gaslighters often start relationships with what I call “too much, too soon.” Lots of compliments, lots of self-disclosure, lots of assumed intimacy before it is actually possible because you just met this person, lots of wanting to spend every waking moment with you. Another term for this stage is “Love Bombing” (you might have heard that one a lot lately too!) The more you are love bombed, the more you become enamored. The faster you relax and trust your gaslighter, the sooner the gaslighter can begin the manipulation.
And so, the gaslighting begins. It starts with little lies about simple things. You don’t remember it the same way the other person does, but it is not worth pointing that out. As the volume of lies grows, and you dare to point out incongruencies, you will be accused of lying. Then you will be complimented, while your friends and family will be told you regularly “misremember” things. It’s all about keeping you off balance.
Here are some common gaslighting techniques:
- Countering – questioning your memory of something. “Are you sure? You know you have a bad memory.”
- Witholding – refusing to engage in a conversation. Often, the gaslighter pretends they don’t understand you. “I do not have any idea what you are talking about!”
- Trivializing – belittling and or disregarding your feelings. “You’re so ridiculously sensitive.” “You overreact to everything.”
- Denial – pretending to forget events or how they occurred. “I never said that! Wow, your memory is really going.”
- Diverting – changing the discussion to focus on you and your credibility. “That is just another crazy idea you picked up somewhere. Who have you been talking to?”
- Stereotyping – using negative stereotypes to manipulate. We’re talking gender, race, age, ethnicity, etc. “You know people will think you’re ‘just an irrational female’ if you tell anyone.”
As these behaviors continue, you are going to start changing. It could look something like:
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You can’t seem to make simple decisions.
- You begin to call yourself “too sensitive”.
- You constantly apologize for things, whether or not you did them.
- You lie to family and friends about the relationship and the way you are being treated.
- You feel hopeless, joyless, worthless and overall incompetent.
If you feel I have been looking at your life with this article, please tune in for next month’s issue. I will address how to get out of this abusive relationship. If you feel you can’t wait until next month, I urge you to get started in therapy as soon as possible. Gaslighting is serious business, and you deserve better!