Gaslighting- The definition of Gaslighting is- to manipulate someone by psychological means to doubt their own sanity. This definition alone goes some way in demonstrating the insidious nature of gaslighting, and communicates the toxic effect gaslighting can have on the individual. The source of the term Gaslighting- comes from the play and film adaptation- ‘Gaslight’. In this film a husband manipulates and brainwashes his wife to the point that she starts to believe she is going mad. Doubting ones own perception is in a certain sense is a type of insanity, where the mind of a seemingly normal well-adjusted person is methodically broken down to the extent that all integrity of experience is lost. The victim of a gaslighter is no longer able to accurately define reality as it originally occurred, instead the perpetrator re-shapes the victims perception of past events to favour their own desires, wants and intentions. Gas lighters work hard to control the perception of their victims by making subtle adjustments to past events that are designed to confuse, cast doubt and throw their victims off balance. They achieve this by deliberately adjusting the reality of previous events, with the purpose of shaping the character, identity, beliefs and behavior of their victim. Victims of gaslighters are often honest people pleasers; character traits that make them susceptible and vulnerable to the gaslighters influence. Honest people pleasers are vulnerable because they are patient people who generally want to do the right thing by others. They prefer to avoid conflict and do their best to be honest, which means if there is doubt in their own mind of how a particular situation occurred, they will often submit to the perception and view of others. Gaslighters make it impossible for their victims to win, no matter what the victim says in an argument or discussion with a gaslighter, it will be shifted, manipulated, deflected, undermined, altered and completely changed to suit the needs of the gaslighter. Gaslighting is in effect emotional abuse that usually takes place over a period of time affording a more effective and subtler influence over the victim. Over time the victim doubts their own reality, they start to identify with the false character created for them by the gaslighter and then behave according to the nature of this false character. This false character, developed and masterminded by the manipulator, is never created in a way that victim feels good about themselves, but is instead designed to make the victim dislike who they are and have become. The false character undermines and casts doubt over the positive qualities of the victim’s original identity, and attempts to replace them with more undesirable traits and characteristics. The victim starts to believe in the flaws that have actually been programmed into their perception by the gaslighter, eventually diminishing their self-perception and self worth. The end result is a less confident person, who doubts their goodness, is reluctant to engage, lacks assertiveness and now believes their worth to be less than it truly is. At this point the gaslighter has gained a high degree of control and has shaped their victim into an easily controllable and obedient servant. Once the victim has reached this stage of re-programming, they unconsciously submit to the will of their manipulator; their original identity has now been effectively destroyed or at the very least oppressed.
The fact that gaslighting is designed to be covert makes it extremely difficult to identify for the victim. It requires a high degree of awareness to see through and beyond the manipulative tactics of a gaslighter in order to overcome them. The following is a short list of tips designed to help you identify and overcome the persuasive, manipulative and toxic influence of a gaslighter.
1. Ground yourself in reality. The very nature of gaslighting is perception altering in effect; therefore a strong sense of reality and accurate perception is absolutely essential.
2. Maintain records and store evidence. In order to remain in the world of truth and honest perception, you need to be able to refer back to previous events and situations and be able to recall them if necessary, without even a hint of doubt. This means you may have to keep a record in the form of a file or diary so you have an accurate point of reference.
3. Learn about gaslighting- If you do not understand the nature of gaslighting it will be much harder to identify. Take the time to educate yourself as it will improve your awareness greatly
4. Identify the gaslighters modus operandi- Gaslighters generally follow patterns of behavior specific to their method of manipulation. Once you have identified their usual approach, it will become extremely obvious, and therefore the effect of this approach will be greatly diminished.
5. Maintain your identity- Victims of gaslighters are generally in a long-term relationship of sorts with their oppressor, usually a work colleague or intimate partner. Ensure you maintain the truth of who you are by reflecting on the past to remind you that you are the person you know yourself to be. If you have always been a good person and people generally have that opinion of you, do not let the gaslighter change that perception. An honest perception of past can be an antidote to a false perception of present.
6. Hide your awareness- If a gaslighter realises you are on to them, they will look for ways to pull you back into line. They may attack you or shift their usual approach to throw you off their trail and to re-establish control.
7. Seek help- It sometimes requires outside help to ground yourself in reality. Self- reflection does not work well for those who have become lost under the spell of a manipulator. This means you must find relevant and professional help to make sense of your perception and situation.
8. Establish rules and boundaries- You may have to do this with the help of a professional so you can feel confident in the integrity of your boundaries, as a gaslighter will almost certainly attempt to undermine the integrity and fairness of those boundaries once they encounter them.
9. They have the problem, not you- Victims of gaslighting eventually start to feel that there is something wrong with them, due to the manipulation and conditioning they have undergone. It is not your fault and you are not the one with the problem. Again, you should seek help to determine as to whether your integrity is in fact sound and that you haven’t in some way contributed to your situation, though this is highly unlikely.
10. Avoid going toe to toe- Although I referred to gaslighting as a deliberate and calculated form of manipulation, in most cases it probably isn’t. For many gaslighters their toxic behavior stems from their childhood and life experiences and is therefore considered to be conditioned behaviour. What this means is that they are practicing these manipulative behaviors automatically and unconsciously and so requiring very little effort on their part. Trying to do battle with a highly effective unconscious behavior only armed with the conscious mind is fraught with danger. In most cases you will probably lose.
11. Trust your instinct early- If you have never been exposed to a toxic personality type, in this case a gaslighter, you will almost certainly pick up certain vibes during early interactions. In the beginning, the gaslighter or manipulator is feeling you out, trying to determine your susceptibility, your level of assertiveness and where your identity is currently situated. However, there is a high possibility that there will actually be signs, tells and giveaways on the part of the gaslighter. They will do things and behave in ways that just aren’t normal or in alignment with what would be considered reasonable. When this occurs you will almost certainly be met with the feeling that’s something isn’t right with this person. They may seem evasive, overly confrontational over trivial occurrences or accidently admit to things that should be red flags. If you get a strange vibe, you should immediately be on high alert. Prepare yourself, become sensitive to further indicators, set deal breakers and assert your identity early.
12. Attacking your perception- remember, the primary component of gaslighting is shifting your perception of the past. A gaslighter will attack your ability to recall events and conversations accurately, and will make unusual connections like linking your previous behavior to a negative or abusive type of behavior. They will also gaslight your perception of their past behavior, minimising previous bad behaviors and softening your perception of how they have acted on certain occasions. Gaslighting is always designed to diminish your qualities, while at the same time masking the flaws of the manipulator. They will fight to maintain a position of false morality, which requires you to always be below or beneath them.
13. Remove yourself from the environment- This means breaking contact, leaving the situation, building, job, relationship or whatever circumstance that has you lined up in front of this person.
Gaslighting is one of the most common and toxic behaviours of the manipulator and one that you should be aware of to ensure you are never the victim of it.