“I hear noises and footsteps. I imagine things, that there are people over the house. I'm frightened, and of myself too.”
These were words of Ingrid Bergman when she played the role of Paula Alquist in the 1944 movie ‘Gaslight’. In the movie, the character’s husband manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. This movie was where the term gaslighting came from. The movie vividly, yet aptly portrayed basic elements that are involved in this kind of emotional abuse. The above dialogue by Paula Alquist is a very obvious reaction by the victims of gaslighting, which people often overlook because it doesn’t look serious. But the question remains, what does the term gaslighting means?
1. What is it?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their memory, perception, or judgment. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. In easier words, to gaslight, someone means to undermine another person’s understanding by denying the obvious facts and what is right in the line of sight. The victims are manipulated and they start questioning their feelings and even worse, they question their existence.
If a wife tells her husband that he is shirking child care responsibilities and he responds by refusing to acknowledge that it’s even happening, he is gaslighting her.
If a child is being accused of being too sensitive or his parents belittle his feelings to an extent where they start controlling the child’s memories or even his life choices, then the parents are gaslighting the child.
2. Difference between this and normal fights in the relationship
Gaslighting is not the same as sensitivity
Gaslighting is often misunderstood as sensitivity and even vice-versa also happens. There’s no denying the fact that all the relationships, be it parent-child or intimate partners, witness a series of conflicts. They are, in reality, genuine disagreements. This is common. It is important to understand that not every conflict involves gaslighting. There are healthier ways to resolve conflicts. Disagreements and gaslighting might look the same but THEY ARE NOT! In any conflict, gaslighting will be understood, when one party dominates in the entire conflict and imposes his perspective and his truth on the other party. The dominating party always says that the other party is in the wrong or even finds their reaction crazy in some way.
Some people are sensitive, but the victims of gaslighting are even more so. They are emotionally vulnerable and their rationality is unbalanced. One wrong word might even lead them to question everything they have ever known.
3. Habits of a gaslighter
A. They tell blatant lies: The words of a gaslighter are obvious lies. They will tell those lies without any hesitation. They are so habituated with telling lies that the victims will believe those words and even fall for them every time.
B. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof: Victims are aware and heard them saying that they will do something or say something. They even might have a proof for them. Gaslighters will straight out deny it. This makes the victims question their reality and start accepting the reality fed to them.
C. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition: Gaslighters are well aware of what and who are important to their victims. They will use that to attack. If a victim has soft spot for his or her kids, the gaslighter will make them think that they shouldn’t have those kids in the first place.
D. Their actions do not match their words: When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talking, what they are doing is the issue.
E. They try to align people against you: Gaslighters are masters at manipulating people and they can turn people against their victims. This way victims have no way out, no one to help them. They only turn to their gaslighter and in the end, it is their gaslighter they trust.
F. They tell you or others that you are crazy: This is one of the most effective tools of the gaslighter because it's dismissive. The gaslighter knows if they question your sanity, people will not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out-of-control. It's a master technique.
G. They tell you everyone else is a liar: The best kind of lie the gaslighter tells the victims is that everyone else (your family, the media) is a liar. Again, this makes the victims question their reality. It makes the victims turn to the gaslighter for the "correct" information—which isn't correct information at all.
4. How do you recognize that gaslighting is happening?
“Am I too sensitive?” is one basic question that runs in the mind of the victims. They feel confused and even crazy in the relationship. They apologize, way too much, even for the things they never did. They make excuses for the gaslighter’s behavior. Even if they understand something is wrong, they can’t quite point it. This leads to them having trouble in making the simplest of decisions. Yes, these are common concerns for people with anxiety disorders as well. But with victims of gaslighting, their gaslighters keep on making them second guess themselves.
The most common thing victims of gaslighter hear is that they are crazy or paranoid. They are often told that they are the ones making things up. That they are imagining things, or they so dramatic. They are tricked into believing that “something” has never happened. Their memories are being questioned. They are told that they don’t remember things clearly. Then, in the end, they think that nobody believes them.
5. How to respond to gaslighting?
A. Identify the problem.
B. Sort out the truth from distortion.
C. Permit yourself to feel all your feelings. Accept and acknowledge that what you feel is okay.
D. Talk to your close friends.
E. Focus on feelings instead of right and wrong. Remember that you can’t control anyone’s opinion, even if you are right.
F. Have compassion for yourself. It will be a healing influence and help you move forward in your decision-making
In the movie, Paula received the help she needed and was finally convinced of her sanity. But there are many in the real world, who do not even realize what is happening to them. The sole intention of this blog to make people aware of the kind of abuse gaslighting is and how can they tackle or help the ones suffering overcome from it. As it has already been mentioned that victims of gaslighting are way more sensitive than they even think they are. People suffering from this kind of abuse have their eyes thickly shielded by the lies of their gaslighter. it is difficult to make them understand reality but it is never impossible.