Gaslighting and Manipulation: How to Spot Harmful Behaviour

Gaslighting and Manipulation: How to Spot Harmful Behaviour

‘Gaslighting’ is a term that has become more widely used in recent years, especially in the media. But, understanding what it is and being able to spot the signs of this harmful behaviour could be more challenging than you may think.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a subtle yet damaging type of psychological manipulation. The term actually originates from a play, Gas Light. It sees a man deploying various tactics to make his wife believe she is going insane – including the dimming of the house’s gas lights, which he claims she has simply imagined.

Gaslighting is perhaps best explained with an example. Let’s say, you’re arguing with your partner about a missing slice of cake which you were sure was in the fridge earlier. The cake thief denies taking the last slice of cake. This is a lie, but it isn’t a serious one.

Now, let’s imagine the cake thief is adamant that there was never any cake in the fridge, and you’ve imagined it. It’s said with such conviction that you begin to question yourself. It’s easy to see that repeated exposure to this kind of behaviour could make you begin to doubt your memories and perception. This is gaslighting, and the intent is far more sinister than wanting to get away with eating some extra cake.

What is manipulation?

Gaslighting is one form of emotional manipulation, but far from the only one. Manipulation can take many forms, including emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, intimidation, or deceit.

Let’s go back to the cake. Perhaps you were keeping that last slice for yourself, and perhaps you’re annoyed your partner ate it – but suddenly your partner is telling you that you did not make enough cake, or even enough food, and they are hungry. Suddenly the problem is your perceived inability to meet their needs. Or, they may resort to intimidation to make you stop asking about the cake, raising their voice or even stepping closer in a threatening manner. They may deny taking it in a way that makes you feel guilty for even asking about it in the first place.

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How do I know if I’m being gaslighted or manipulated?

 As gaslighting and manipulation are often subtle, especially initially, they’re not always easy to identify unless you know what to look out for. Here are some key indicators to help you determine if you, or someone you know, is a victim of this type of abuse:

  • You frequently question your judgement, memory, or sanity, as you’re made to believe you’re often wrong or ‘crazy’.
  • You feel like you’re always in the wrong or not good enough.
  • Your self-esteem has significantly deteriorated since the relationship began.
  • You may find yourself isolated from friends and family, as the manipulator makes you more dependent on them and less likely to receive an outside perspective.
  • You hesitate to express your concerns or opinions, fearing that doing so will lead to conflict, ridicule, or punishment.
  • You often find yourself apologising, even when you’ve done nothing wrong, to keep the peace or avoid conflict.
  • Your emotions may fluctuate greatly, from happiness to sadness to anger, as you’re constantly manipulated and unsure of the situation.
  • You feel stuck in the relationship, like you can’t leave or escape the manipulation, even if you want to.

What are some of the signs of gaslighting or manipulation

To recognise gaslighting or manipulation, it’s important to pay attention to certain behaviours and patterns. For example:

  • The manipulator often denies their actions, even when evidence suggests otherwise. They might say, “I never said that” or “You’re making things up.”
  • When confronted, they deflect blame onto you or others, avoiding responsibility for their actions.
  • Gaslighters may use tactics to confuse you, such as contradicting themselves or making ambiguous statements.
  • The manipulator may criticise your abilities, decisions, or judgments, eroding your self-confidence over time.
  • They may withdraw affection, support, or approval as a form of punishment or control.
  • Gaslighters often use phrases like “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re overreacting,” or “You’re imagining things” to minimise your feelings and experiences.
  • They may selectively remember events or conversations in a way that benefits them and contradicts your recollection.
  • Manipulators often work to isolate you from friends and family, making you more dependent on them for emotional support.

Being able to recognise gaslighting and other forms of manipulation in your life is the first step towards protecting your mental and emotional health. Even if their behaviour doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, you might still feel like something is wrong. In this case, trusting your instincts is the best thing to do. Seek external support, both in the form of an outside perspective and professional counselling if needed.

A healthy relationship is built on trust and respect, free from manipulation and deceit.

Our family solicitors can provide confidential legal support for those experiencing any type of domestic abuse, including gaslighting and manipulation. Contact us to speak to a member of our team.

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