Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that can manipulate the victim’s understanding of reality. Abusers use this technique to sow seeds of self-doubt in the mind of their victim to gain control and power within a relationship.
Over a period of time, gaslighting can result in feelings of confusion, reduce confidence, and cause the victim to question their own memories, decisions, and behaviours. Victims can often feel as though they are ‘going crazy’, and may begin to experience stress, anxiety, depression, or in severe cases suicidal thoughts.
Examples of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can take many different forms. For example, an abusive partner may manipulate a victim into believing that physical harm was merely a bit of ‘play fighting’. An abusive parent may try to make a child think they feel differently about a situation than how they really feel, saying “you’re not upset, you’re just tired”.
Abusers may invent circumstances that never actually happened, or twist the truth to deny that real events took place. There are lots of ways victims can be targeted.
And while gaslighting is most commonly reported in romantic relationships, it can also happen in friendships, between family members, and amongst colleagues.
Gaslighters may often have a strong need for attention. They may feel superior and lack empathy and understanding for the experiences of others. Yet despite these classic characteristics, a good gaslighter can be very difficult to spot because they are so successful at making their victims believe their own version of the truth.
However, there are some typical behaviours that many gaslighters exhibit:
- Blame shifting
How to Tell if Someone is Gaslighting You
One of the most worrying aspects of gaslighting is that it can be very difficult to realise it’s happening. Gaslighting involves tricking the victim into believing that their version of reality isn’t true, which means you can’t always see what’s really going on.
While the below do not necessarily indicate gaslighting, they can help you to recognise common signs exhibited by victims who have been manipulated:
You have difficulty making simple decisions
Major life decisions can often be stressful, and it’s not unusual to question whether you’re making the right choice. However, gaslighting victims often have a very difficult time making what should be simple decisions. They feel as though they cannot rely on their own judgements, or trust their own thought processes, because they have consistently been told different and twisted versions of the truth.
You’re always making excuses
Gaslighting victims often find that they try to rationalise the behaviour of others. Even though they know that it’s wrong, they are made to believe that there are valid and justifiable reasons for those behaviours. You may find that you are always making excuses for a friend or partner when talking to others. You may trivialise behaviours because you’ve been led to believe that you have been overreacting to them.
You can see your narrative changing
Sometimes, if you are being gaslit you may notice that your narrative is changing. You may remember describing an event as being like *this* at first, before changing your mind and thinking about it in a different way. Even though you may believe this new version of events, you might still recognise the change in how you perceive things. This can be challenging to notice but can be one of the biggest indicators.
You feel like you’re always to blame
Do you find that you’re constantly apologising to others? Do you feel that everything that goes wrong is your fault? This is a common feeling reported by victims of gaslighting. It happens because abusers frequently turn things around, blaming their behaviours on the victims and making them feel as though they ‘deserved it’. Abusers rarely take the blame for actions or listen to concerns about their behaviours.
You hear the same phrases over and over
There are some common phrases that gaslighters may use when talking to their victims. They intend to trivialise a person’s feelings, and make them feel as though they are interpreting events the wrong way. For example, ‘why are you so sensitive?’, ‘you’re overreacting’, and ‘it was just a joke’. Abuse may also be masked as care and commitment, such as ‘I only did it because I love you’.
How to Get Help
If you are concerned that you are the victim of gaslighting, it is important to reach out to a trusted friend or family member, and share your worries. If you do not feel that you can trust anyone, or are worried about your concerns being raised with the individual in question, you can turn to us. At National Legal Service, we’re here to offer advice and guidance on what to do next if you’re being subjected to abuse.