Are you or someone you know being gaslit? It's a tough situation to be in, but know that you're not alone. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person manipulates information to make you question your own reality, thoughts, feelings, and memories. It's a way of control that can cause long-lasting harm. To get through this, it's key to understand why it's happening and find a new way of communicating with the person doing it. Don't hesitate to reach out for help from loved ones or professionals - gaslighting is serious and it's okay to treat it as such.
What is gaslighting?
In any relationship or friendship, there’ll be times when you’ll have a disagreement and, on occasions, you may argue. Sometimes, feelings might run high and voices are raised. Having opinions or preferences is normal and we all have our own ways of dealing with these. In a healthy relationship, there’ll be room for compromise, negotiation and, sometimes, the decision to ‘agree to disagree’.
However, there’s a world of difference between these everyday disagreements and gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse in which the perpetrator makes his or her partner question and doubt their own perceptions, memory, judgement and sanity. It is a manipulative tactic used to gain power and is part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, a form of emotional domestic abuse. Whilst it usually occurs within a couple relationship, it can occur in any relationship such as friendships, work colleagues or within families. Gaslighting typically occurs over a period of time and is not on a one-off interaction.
Gaslighting differs from genuine relationship disagreement in that one partner is consistently negating and criticising the other's perception, insisting that they are wrong, or telling them that their emotional reaction is irrational, over the top or that they are imagining things. Their partner, over time, starts to doubt their own reactions and thoughts.
Why is gaslighting dangerous?
Gaslighting is dangerous and abusive because it undermines a person’s sense of self-belief. If you tell someone they’re wrong about things over and over again, it can make them feel insecure or unconfident in their point of view. Eventually, they may come to agree with the person who is attacking them – believing that they must be right. In some situations, they may lose their sense of self and become completely compliant, cutting themselves off from family and friends. They are also likely to become depressed and, even more seriously, suicidal.
It can range from continually trying to convince you that your emotional reaction to something is inappropriate or disproportionate (‘you’re acting crazy’) to questioning your memory of events (‘Are you sure it was like that? I don’t think it was.’). Abusers using this tactic may also tell you that no one else would believe you or think as you do. This increases the partner’s sense of isolation.
Why does gaslighting happen?
Gaslighting a partner is, in most cases, a deliberate choice. In a small number of instances, some people may gaslight their partner as a result of earlier life experiences. Regardless of the reasons, gaslighting is a destructive and unacceptable behaviour. It seriously harms not only the intended victim but also any children who may witness or overhear it.
Gaslighting in the workplace
In a work setting, someone may find themselves being continuously blamed for situations or decisions that are not their responsibility, or they may find themselves being undermined by another colleague for no justifiable reason. They may be left out of office communications or not informed about meetings. This may be happening because of envy of professional success or a wish to gain control at the expense of a colleague.
If you think you might be a victim of gaslighting by a colleague, it’s important to talk to another trusted colleague, or someone in your HR department, if you have one, so that some appropriate steps can be taken.
What should you do if you think you are being gaslighted?
If you feel that the way your partner engages with you is a form of gaslighting, it’s important to do something about it. This kind of interaction can become habitual, if you feel frightened to challenge your partner or let them 'get away with it' in order to have a quiet life. The consequence of this over time could significantly damage both your mental wellbeing and your relationship, if the thought of even discussing their behaviour with your partner feels unsafe or fills you with fear, because of how you think they might react, then you should seriously consider ending the relationship swiftly and safely. There are a number of specialist organisations who will help you to do this, if you need support. The main ones are (but there are also many local organisations too):
The National Domestic Abuse helpline: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk; 08082000247 (open 24 hrs/day, every day)
Men’s Advice Line : www.mensadviceline.org.uk; 0808 8010327 : Monday – Friday 10am – 8pm
Galop : National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse helpline : 0800 999 5428 : Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm.
If you are unsure whether you are being gaslighted then it might be helpful to take a step back from the situation and assess it: do you think that this is what’s happening? It might be useful to talk to family and friends – people who you trust who can give you an objective opinion. It can be a good idea to talk to more than one person: that way you can get a few different perspectives. Another option is to seek some counselling for yourself. If you believe that you are being gaslighted and are in a controlling relationship you may like to contact any of the organisations above who have specialist trained staff who can help you decide what to do next.
If you think you might be gaslighting your partner
If, having read this article, you realise that you might be someone who is gaslighting your partner by constantly questioning their thinking, putting them down, belittling them and maybe controlling them in other ways, then you should seriously consider getting some help to change your abusive behaviour. It is never too late to change and it could make all the difference between your partner leaving you or having a happier future together. RESPECT offers help to anyone who wishes to change their abusive behaviour. The confidential Respect Phoneline (0808 8024040) is open from 10am – 8pm Monday – Thursday and from 10am – 5pm on Friday. There’s also lots of helpful information on their website (www.respect.uk.net).
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