What is Gaslighting? Could it be happening to you?

These days you can hardly go more than a day or two without hearing the word “gaslighting.” 

This term is defined as a type of emotional manipulation in which a “gaslighter” tries to convince you that you’re misremembering, misunderstanding, or misinterpreting your own behavior or motivations, which create doubt in your mind leaving you vulnerable and confused.

The term came from the play called “Gas Light” and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944 which depicts this type of abuse as occurring to the wife of an abuser. 

The important thing to learn is it always takes place between two people; the gaslighter, who creates confusion and doubt, and a gaslightee, who is willing to doubt their own perceptions in order to keep the relationship going.

Dr. Robin Stern; Associate Director for the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, surprisingly discovered the Gaslight Effect while she facilitated leadership training for women.

These women were smart, strong and successful, but were caught up in demoralizing, destructive and abusive relationships.

In other places in their life they were powerful and strong, yet with this one special person, they were always trying to win their approval even if his behavior went from bad to worse.

She noticed that one seemingly powerful woman was involved with someone who caused her to question her own sense of reality and left her feeling anxious, confused and often times depressed. 

Dr. Stern breaks gaslighting down into 3 Stages:  The 3 “D’s”

Stage 1: Disbelief: Your gaslighter says something outrageous and you think you are being misunderstood, you try to correct the error and trying to convince them they are not interpreting your actions. You leave feeling confused, frustrated and anxious.

Stage 2: Defense: This is marked by the need to defend yourself, you actually search for evidence to prove them wrong and you really want them to see things your way. You know you are here when you feel obsessive and somewhat desperate.

Stage 3: Depression: The most difficult of all because at this point you are actively trying to prove that your gaslighter is right, then maybe you could do things his way and finally win his approval. This stage is exhausting and you become too worn out to argue.

In Dr. Stern’s book; The Gaslight Effect, she explains there are three types of gaslighters.

1: Glamour Gaslighter: He creates a special world for you, he uses a snow globe to describe how beautiful it can be until it shatters.

2: Good Guy Gaslighter: This person wants to appear reasonable and good, but really wants to get his own way. You feel confused and wonder if your concerns are ever going to be heard.

3: The Intimidator: He bullies, guilt-trips and withholds. He yells and freezes you out. You make excuses for his behavior.

There are some good reasons why gaslighting has become a new epidemic and it is important to remember women’s roles have changed swiftly and suddenly over the years.

Women are becoming more independent and powerful. While this is, of course, great, it seems to be affecting many men who are not conditioned to be in a relationship with a strong, powerful woman.

Women are trying to balance their relationships as well as remaining the smart, capable and strong person they are. 

They often feel ashamed and take on most of the responsibility for the abusive relationship while also criticizing themselves for not living up to their self-imposed standards of strength and independence. 

When women are hungry for reassurance that they are good, capable and lovable, and are increasingly isolated from other connections they become a prime candidate for gaslighting!

Below are some great indicators. Ask yourself if any apply to check and see if you are being gaslighted.

Gaslighting may not involve all of these experiences or feelings, but if you recognize yourself in any of them, give it some extra attention.

Turn up your gaslight radar:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. You ask yourself “Am I too sensitive?” DAILY
  3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  4. You are always apologizing to people.
  5. You wonder if you are good enough…
  6. You can’t understand why so many apparently good things in your life don’t make you happier.
  7. You buy clothes or other purchases with your partner in mind thinking about him instead of you.
  8. You frequently make excuses about your partner’s behavior to friends and family
  9. You find yourself withholding information from them so you don’t have to make excuses.
  10. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can’t quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  11. You start lying to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.
  12. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  13. You think twice before bringing up certain seemingly innocent topics to talk about.
  14. Before your partner comes home, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong that day.
  15. You have a sense that you used to be a very different person—more confident, more fun-loving and relaxed.
  16. You start speaking to your partner through their assistant so you don’t have to tell them things that might upset them.
  17. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  18. Your kids begin to protect you from your partner.
  19. You find yourself furious with people you have gotten along with before.
  20. You feel hopeless and joyless.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the important thing to learn is it always takes place between two people; the gaslighter, who creates confusion and doubt, and a gaslightee, who is willing to doubt their own perceptions in order to keep the relationship going.

If you have answered yes to some of these questions, take responsibility for your life and fill out the contact form for a free, fully confidential, thirty-minute consultation.

Clarifying your thoughts and feelings will help free you from doing “The Gaslight Tango”, the dance that continues until you are ready to step aside and take responsibility for your own life.

 I look forward to helping you if I can,

Maria Bucci, M.Ed LPC DWC-F. Daring Way Facilitator by Dr. Brené Brown

     Maria Bucci

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