If you don’t think so, think again. They only way you couldn’t have is if you never read the papers or listen to the news.
Gaslighting happens when someone deliberately manipulates a situation in order to make another person question themselves. That person may or may not realize what they’re doing. The impact of their action is the same regardless. I’m witnessing it happening on the political arena increasingly, and so it’s become something we all need to understand and combat successfully.
The first thing to know is that gaslighting only works with your collaboration. That is, if you refuse to go along with it, it loses all it’s power.
My mother was a successful gaslighter. I don’t think she ever knew it. But I ended up with years of having to work through it, undo the damage it caused, and learn how to trust myself again. I used to tell people that her reality was in a perpetual altered state, which helped me retain some stability through it all. (She’s now passed, and I’m happy to say we had many good years together.)
How does a gaslighter do it (from Psychology Today)?
- By telling a deliberate lie that you know is a lie, in order to set a tone of never knowing if what they say is true or not. This effectively keeps you, in this situation, off-balance.
- By denying they said something you know they did say, with the effect that you begin to question yourself instead of them. This becomes more and more the case the more it happens.
- By using what is important to you against you, attacking the foundation of your being. For instance, the person might question your technical abilities when they know that’s meaningful to you; or your value as a mother if that’s how you’ve defined yourself.
- By not walking their talk – saying one thing and doing another. The key is to attend to what they do, not to what they say.
- By occasionally praising you, so that even if you had managed to figure them out, you find yourself questioning that.
- By aligning others against you. This may be done through gossip and deliberate misrepresentation, or simply by getting you to believe that there are others who already knew something they maintain about you.
- By projecting what is really going on inside them that they don’t like onto you.
- By telling others that you’re the crazy one, not them.
If you find yourself faced with this kind of situation, here’s what you can do:
- Become aware. First, gain an understanding of what’s going on. The only way gaslighting can work is if you let it. By understanding the dynamics, you gain clarity, which makes gaslighting unworkable.
- Trust your own gut. One the most insidious things about the situation is the denial of your reality. And this leads to self-denial of what your body is telling you. Therefore, it’s important to re-connect with that inner knowing, and trusting it, no matter what.
- Be defiant. Stand your ground, and don’t give in. You won’t be thanked for it; the person gaslighting you will not acknowledge your right to do so. It’s no good doing it for recognition and visibility – that will not happen! Do it for your own well-being.
- Develop a healthy detachment. The emotional back and forth between praise and blame can be unhinging, unless you become the observer. It’s tempting to simply disappear emotionally – and you might, but there is a cost to disappearing. Developing a healthy detachment means remaining in the space emotionally, doing so by also understanding thoroughly that what is going on is not about you, but about the other person.
- Find some way to tell your story – so that you develop your own means of remaining visible to yourself and others.
What to do about gaslighting