In my last Darling article, “What to Do When People Project Their Stories Onto You?”, we looked at the psychological experience of projection such as how to understand and identify it in current relationships. If projection had a close, dangerous relative that you know for your own safety, gaslighting would be it.
Gaslighting is a complex, insidious psychological strategy that can happen to anyone and can be inflicted by partners, family members, colleagues and friends. When one is gaslit, a person’s sense of logic is slowly corroded by a perpetrator. The perpetrator will say things to poke holes in a victim’s sense of reason, emotion and physical boundaries.
Victims of gaslighting begin to feel perplexed, doubtful and deny their own intuition because the perpetrator’s persuasion can be all-consuming. The perpetrator causes such a dynamic in order to assert power over a person. Oftentimes, such behavior also includes yelling, throwing of objects or other physical acts of violence.
Victims of gaslighting begin to feel perplexed, doubtful and deny their own intuition.
Sadly, gaslighting between intimate partners is pervasive. These situations can be typically tracked early on in the development of a relationship. It can begin with subtle and/or assaultive comments that make victims slowly question whether what they saw, heard, felt or experienced was false when, in fact, it was not. In time, one loses their sense of self and defending oneself may only incite more hostility.
Simultaneously, sexual attraction and a desire to be loved can further elongate the extent of this tactic and make it harder to escape. Like a vine, each day brings a new version of the situation, and the victim grows to feel enwrapped in powerlessness.
If this describes you, then I want you to know that you are not alone. Victims often remain isolated in their struggles as it can be too painful, saddening, infuriating or shameful to share. Gaslighting can also be confounding, which makes it challenging to articulate.
Gaslighting can also be confounding, which makes it challenging to articulate.
If you believe you are being gaslit by someone, then keep in mind the following:
Since gaslighting can be psychologically damaging, I highly suggest seeking the support of a trained psychotherapist. Psychotherapy can be a safe space to explore any stigma or judgment that can be imposed by other people close to you.
A psychotherapist trained in understanding psychological strategies, such as gaslighting, can be critical in identifying if you are being gaslit, help you process the experience, offer support for emotions that come up and help you create a safety plan, if need be. They can also best support you in considering how you should respond to the specific dynamic.
No Two Situations Are the Same
Gaslighting has become a popular term that people often use inappropriately. Because of that, one person can be sharing a true experience of being gaslit to a close friend, yet the friend inserts their experience into the conversation, which is not about gaslighting. At the end, you leave the conversation more muddled or maddened than when you entered it.
By contrast, let us say that you share an example of gaslighting to a friend who claims to have dealt with it. You may notice that their experience is uniquely different to yours. This is due to the diverse way this tactic may present itself; that is, there may be more extreme and even less severe versions of it.
This is not to suggest that more severe instances are more significant. It is simply that experiences can and will differ, yet they may all be experiences of gaslighting.
Experiences can and will differ, yet it may all be experiences of gaslighting.
To Speak up for Yourself or Not?
When someone is gaslit, he or she might ask, “Should I speak up for myself?” The person desires to stand up for oneself. In full transparency, this is an extremely complex question with no uniform answer.
As gaslighting is about asserting power, every scenario dictates a unique chain of events due to differing histories, personalities, traumas, support networks, resources, safety concerns and so on. In one scenario in which a person speaks their truth, it may lead to greater awareness so gaslighting can stop.
In another scenario, asserting oneself can fan the flames toward greater assertions of power from the perpetrator that may lead to violence. In the latter scenario, speaking to a trained professional is the best next step in deciding an appropriate plan of action and manner of response.
Mastering Sense of Self in the Face of Manipulation
If you find yourself in a gaslighting dynamic, it is important to remember that the person inflicting it is likely a master manipulator. You are not the first, nor the only person onto whom this quest for power has been asserted. With that said, many of their tactics are either tried and true, that is, they have been done before or you are the person with whom they are sharpening their knives. As such, you can only expect more of this behavior if you have identified it.
You are not the first, nor the only person onto whom this quest for power has been asserted.
It may feel as though this manipulator in your life holds all the power; however, there is no greater master of self than you. This means that you are the person who knows yourself best. You are the holder to your inner self and inner knowing.
You carry the key to your sense of identity, which is composed of personal experiences, perception and knowledge. I invite you to return back to your core, your strength and recall your power.
Have you ever experienced gaslighting? What helped you return to your sense of identity and worth?
Image via Melanie Acevedo, Darling Issue No. 20