Gaslighting

WHO wouldn’t want to constantly be a warrior, strong and bold, and as wise as someone who could never be manipulated?

But no matter how smart we believe we are, because we love, we trust, and we have faith in the essential goodness of people, we fall victim to lies, betrayal, or abuse. Sometimes, over and over again.

The devastating effects of physical or psychological abuse can test the strongest and most resilient beings. It’s worse when we’re made to doubt the validity of how we feel or what we remember to be exactly what happened. To gain more power over their victims, perpetrators of violent acts especially abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders, employ the psychological tactic of gaslighting.

Gaslighting, according to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Thesaurus, means to “trick or control someone by making them believe things that are not true, especially by suggesting that they may be mentally ill.” It may be likened to the phenomenon of brainwashing wherein the vulnerability brought about by a traumatic or painful experience is used to the advantage of another.

In her article published at psychologytoday.com, Stephanie Sarkis explains how the following typical gaslighting or manipulation techniques can work so well and how victims or survivors can guard themselves against gaslighters:

1. They tell blatant lies

You know it's an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they're setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you're not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof

You know they said they would do something - you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality — maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition

They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identity is to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you'd be a worthy person if only you didn't have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.

4. They wear you down over time

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often...and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It's the "frog in the frying pan" analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what's happening to it.

5. 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 talk. What they are doing is the issue.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you

This person or entity that is cutting you down, telling you that you don't have value, is now praising you for something you did. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, "Well maybe they aren't so bad." Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter—and again, to question your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gaslighter.

7. They know confusion weakens people

Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. And humans' natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter.

8. They project

They are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter's own behavior.

9. They try to align people against you

Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you. They will make comments such as, "This person knows that you're not right," or "This person knows you're useless too." Keep in mind it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic it makes you feel like you don't know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. And that's exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control.

10. 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.

Gaslighting can be compared to a killer plunging a knife into you repeatedly and telling you this was all just a dream, everything would be alright, and that you could go back to sleep. It can be compared to a rapist posting #metoo. It’s a homewrecker proclaiming she was just a victim too. It perpetuates the violence and elevates it into another level of evil, turning the victim against his or her own self and sanity. As this can be used in areas of work and relationship, it pays to be aware when it’s actually happening. Then you can fully assess the situation, hold on to your evidence and principles, and learn to walk (or run!) away before you get sucked into the gaslighter’s bottomless pit.