- Gaslighting can make you question your own reality.
- There are recognizable patterns in relationships that can help someone manipulate you.
- Learning to distinguish how you may be helping someone use gaslighting can show you where to intervene and put a stop to it.
Gaslighting is psychological abuse—a special form of it, in which a person makes someone question their reality. Although it has become a popular term, many people remain unable to recognize it, in part due to its insidious nature. People who employ gaslighting as a manipulation tactic are experts, and of course they prefer to use these skills in environments that help, rather than hinder, their attacks. Are you encouraging gaslighting?
Gaslighting requires sophistication and a deep awareness of others’ potential emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Those who use this as a control method will seek out people who more easily fall into their traps; they are on the hunt for victims who will take the least amount of energy to dominate. Learning how to avoid enabling gaslighting is an important interpersonal survival tool. Because individuals who gaslight others play off of the fears and energy of their victims, recognizing the warning signs that you may be enabling them is crucial.
1. Consistently degrading yourself. Verbalizing negative self-statements routinely will not only lead to personalizing these into beliefs, but it can also give manipulative individuals priceless insight into ways to control you. When you highlight your perceptions of personal faults, you are bringing them to the forefront of your mind—and the mind of anyone else in a relationship with you.
Individuals who gaslight are hunting for your weaknesses. They want to know how to exploit them and how to use them as a basis to make you question reality. Do you have a fear of failure or making a negative impression on others? Gaslighters will jump on these fears as currency to convince you that healthy behaviors—like setting boundaries or saying “no”—will make these fears come to pass. This is one of infinite ways that manipulative individuals can turn your own negative self-beliefs against you, and allowing yourself to simmer in them is a shortcut to handing over the reins of control.
2. Black-and-white thinking. Very few things, or people, are all good or all bad. When you get stuck in the cognitive error of black-and-white thinking—the tendency to see everything in extremes, or in absolutes—you lose your ability to understand the complexity of the world (and relationships) around you.
Those people who want to control you thrive in black-and-white thinking because they can use it to sway your opinions, especially where it really matters. Their biggest goal? To convince you that they are always right, always have good intentions, and would never purposefully try to harm anyone. Once they have you soundly on their side with “all good” thought processes, it’s an easy jump to persuade you that anyone who questions them is all bad. This becomes a critical tool that will help them isolate you, alienate you, and make you feel guilty and confused when your intuition questions their behaviors.
3. Walking on eggshells. Feeling like any “wrong” move you make will trigger negative and frightening behaviors in someone else should send off alarm bells internally. People who gaslight are masters at puppeteering your every thought and behavior—even down to the tone of voice you use when interacting with them.
If you find yourself scared to challenge someone else’s thoughts, assumptions, or behaviors—especially to the point where you feel guilty just thinking of challenging them, and worried they will somehow guess you are feeling that way—chances are high you are abetting someone who is controlling you. Gaslighters love to put their victims on edge and keep them there. This gives them unlimited power, to the point of being able to control your thought patterns even when they are not physically present with you. Walking on eggshells in any relationship is incredibly damaging because it takes away your right to safety and security, replacing it with a fear of standing up for your own needs and ideas. When you find yourself fearing retribution from someone else for disagreeing with them, it’s time to take a step back and analyze the deeper patterns in the relationship.
4. Minimizing your reactions. Intuition is a powerful tool against being manipulated. The problem with gaslighting is that it attacks your intuition from the start, causing havoc internally and leading you to question whether you can trust your own sense of what is real.
Gaslighters want you to believe your intuition is irrational and causing you to overreact. They start out using seemingly meaningless situations—like working to convince you that you did not tell them what time you would be home despite your memory of doing so—and use these as building blocks to tear down your ability to perceive what is going on around you. Once controlling individuals have effectively turned you against your own intuition, you have no ability to judge or measure what is happening to you against something solid and trustworthy.
5. Believing there is no way out. Getting a victim to feel hopeless is the final step before exerting total control over them. Individuals who lose hope essentially believe that the way things are, no matter how painful or dangerous, is the only option they have. Gaslighters have an end goal of convincing their victims that the alternate reality they are living in is actually real.
For a controlling person to truly sway you into believing their false reality, they have to get you to the point of no return—the intense feeling that no matter who you turn to for help, they will not believe you, and that no matter how deeply you disagree with what your abuser is saying or doing, you are fundamentally wrong. Once they are able to overcome your belief that you can walk away, start over, and be safe, people who use gaslighting will have won the ultimate battle. This final victory allows them to fully control the reality you perceive—and, after all, what they really want is not just to control you, but to get you to agree with that false reality.
Learning small ways you can stop gaslighting before it becomes an overriding pattern in your life is key to developing and sustaining healthy, empowering relationships. Individuals involved in controlling or manipulative relationships have a responsibility to themselves to analyze the patterns occurring and intervene immediately when they sense red flags. Everyone deserves trustworthy relationships, free from abuse and manipulation.
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