What Is Gaslighting And What You Can Do About It

9 min read

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the victim starts to question their own reality. It can be often difficult to pick up because it tends to happen gradually. What starts out as small seemingly minor offenses can then become a pattern of gaslighting where the abuser wants to have control over the other person. Gaslighting can happen in romantic relationships, in the workplace, between friends, between a parent and child, and even by a public figure to his / her constituents.

Gas Light Movie: Where The Gaslighting Term Comes From

Gas Light was a movie made in 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman, who played Paula, and Charles Boyer, who played her husband Gregory. In the movie, Gregory manipulates Paula in order to steal from her and makes her feel “crazy.” In one particular part of the movie, Gregory intentionally makes the gaslights in the house flicker, but when Paula mentions it, he claims that it is not actually happening. The term gaslighting comes from this movie’s portrayal of psychological manipulation between the two main characters. Most situations that involve gaslighting are not as obvious or with such malicious intent. Nevertheless, gaslighting is not part of a healthy relationship, and it should be recognized and addressed.

Gaslighting In A Relationship

This is one of the more common forms of gaslighting, and while it can occur in any romantic relationship, it is often seen in a power dynamic between a man and a woman. Many male gaslighters manipulate an association between being feminine and being “overly sensitive” to make their female partners feel as if they are “over reacting” or “making a big deal” of something. Learn more about gaslighting in a relationship here

Gaslighting At Workplace

Gaslighting at work can happen between employees as well as between managers and bosses and the persons they are in charge of. This is especially ripe to occur when you are a new employee or person at an organization, even at senior executive level positions. Something as simple as gossiping at work can be gaslighting. If you see a colleague who is continually spreading rumors or telling lies about another colleague, it should raise concern for bullying and gaslighting. If these rumors center around your ability to perform or be mentally fit for the job, you should involve human resources immediately. 

Gaslighting Examples

Here are some examples of gaslighting and how they can occur in a multitude of different relationships. 

You have missed a meeting or deadline at work and your boss or manager refuses to accept that they could have made a mistake about a deadline or meeting time. This happens repeatedly in more than one instance and they blame you for being incompetent. 

You are waiting for your boyfriend to come home and when you ask him why he is late he changes the subject and gets mad at you instead for being paranoid. People who gaslight want to divert energy from having blame placed on them and will often undermine their victim for even questioning them. 

One of your parents fails to show up again to an important family event. When you approach your parent about it, they tell you that you are being “overly sensitive” and “making a big deal” out of the situation. When you try to discuss it with them, they trivialize it and may even try to divert energy as above or change the subject. 

Dealing With Gaslighting

So, is there anything you can do about gaslighting? 

Write It Down!

Because victims of gaslighting will often be uncertain about certain events, start to write things down. If needed, send yourself an email with the events that transpired and copy a good friend that you can trust. Write down the date, the time and the detailed context in which the events transpired. 

Related: Gaslighting In A Relationship

Take Pictures

If there is physical abuse involved, it is very important to seek help as soon as possible. It may also be important to take pictures of any bruises you may have along with the dates and times they happened. If you think you may need these for a future legal proceeding, be sure to also send them to yourself via email and additionally to a friend that you trust. 

Get Help

Depending on the context in which the gaslighting is occurring, you should strongly consider seeking personal and professional help. You may need to do this discreetly if you are concerned for your safety. 

Seek Out Friends And Family

In many cases,  victims of gaslighting become out of touch with their close friends and family. It may be a direct or indirect result of being in an unhealthy and toxic relationship. Your abuser may put ideas in your head that your close friends and family are toxic in order to divert energy from the toxic relationship you are in with your abuser. Your partner may feel that reconnecting with friends and family is a threat to your relationship, and this is a red flag that they are trying to hold control over you. Reconnecting with friends and family and being open with them about your struggles can also help to provide perspective on your situation. It will also give you a support system to lean on if you end the relationship with your abuser.

Get Out

In some situations, especially highly toxic, manipulative, and abusive ones, leaving the relationship safely may be your only option. It is not easy to do this and you may need to have a plan in place in order to safely leave your relationship. Having a support system, whether it is friends or family, can be very helpful as you transition out of a toxic romantic relationship, workplace gaslighting, or any other relationship. If there is physical abuse involved or you are questioning your safety, it is important to make a plan so that you can leave your relationship safely. Here are some resources on how to find help locally where you live. If you are in immediate danger, never hesitate to call 911. 

Consequences Of Gaslighting Someone

Being a victim to a person who gaslights you can have devastating personal consequences. Even after you recognize that someone has done this to you, you may blame yourself for being naive about the situation. It may also make you very reluctant and hesitant of future relationships that have a similar nature. For example, if you were gaslight in a workplace scenario, you may be suspicious of future bosses, and it may be difficult for you to have a “clean slate” going forward.  If you find yourself in a situation where you think you are having long lasting effects from a previous interaction with someone who manipulated you, it is important to seek help. 

Getting Over A Relationship With A Gaslighter

The first part of this journey involves recognition that the behavior took place. Because victims of gaslighting may be embedded in self doubt when they leave the relationship, it can be difficult to acknowledge that certain things did actually happen in the relationship. If you have written experiences down, or recorded them for yourself, it can be helpful to revisit these so that you are reminded of the actual circumstances that occurred. If you find this too triggering to do on your own, you should strongly consider involving professional help such as a therapist. It is important to be able to trust your own instincts again, and having supportive individuals in both a personal and professional capacity can assist with this. A therapist with a background in abusive relationships can be very helpful.

Let go of trying to convince the person who manipulated you that they were wrong to do so. Many persons who gaslight someone often have deep rooted issues themselves and some may even have a personality disorder like narcissistic personality disorder. Unfortunately, in many situations the abuser has a severe lack of self awareness and attempting to show them their wrong doings will only result in further gaslighting and attempts at manipulation. It is often unfair to have to leave a job because of a boss that is treating you this way, but if you are unable to resolve it through appropriate channels such as human resources, it may hinder your personal and professional growth. 

You may also need to let go of the perception others have of the person that mistreated you. It is not uncommon where someone who acts one way around one person is a totally different person around others. Gaslighters will often present their best selves to the world, but behind closed doors are very different. Convincing people around you that someone treated you poorly is likely to only take energy from you. Focus on healing yourself from the relationship, as well as on moving forward.

What Is Gaslighting? Take Home Points

Gaslighting is emotional and psychological abuse. It can have varying degrees and may not always be intentional but it is never acceptable behavior in any relationship. If you find yourself always apologizing, feeling constantly uncertain about your role somewhere, or generally unhappy in a particular relationship, start to write down the experiences you are having that you think could be contributing to this. Seeking out friends and family for support is important and if gaslighting is associated with physical abuse, you should seek help immediately from domestic abuse resources in your area. If you are able to remove yourself from a situation in which gaslighting is happening, seek out help in order to move on. While difficult, try to give future relationships a chance even though trusting others can be very challenging after such an experience. 

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