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5 Ways Gaslighting Attacks Your Sense of Self

How this form of emotional abuse goes straight to your core.

Gaslighting — that emotional abuse tactic which partners, siblings, parents, colleagues, and friends use to make you feel that your version of reality is wrong — is an incredibly powerful form of emotional abuse. Gaslighters may be completely aware of their actions and use them intentionally, or they may have learned how to act in this way from their own family upbringing and this type of emotional abuse and manipulation has become their "norm."

Whether more or less intentional, if you’re on the receiving end of this type of behaviour, it can severely dent your self-esteem and leave you feeling disempowered.

You become silenced

In an equal, respectful relationship, you will have the right to speak up for what you believe and to ask for what you need.

Gaslighters have so many tactics to use against you when you speak up — from outright dismissal of what you say, to using your words against you, to becoming aggressive if what you say is challenging to them — that you realise it’s easier to just stay quiet. Not only do you worry about the repercussions of speaking your mind, you might even begin to doubt that what you have to say is, indeed, right. Having a voice is so integral to being a whole human being that, when you lose it, you are left feeling powerless.

You forget who you are

When your opinions, needs and wants are constantly put down, denied or ridiculed by another person, you begin to forget who you are. At the beginning, it might feel easier to park your hobby or interest because your partner makes fun of it. After a while, it’s been two years since you engaged in your interest and even you think it’s a bit silly. Those trashy TV programmes which you used to love and your partner criticised? You wouldn’t dream of watching them now. Not to mention wearing those glamorous clothes which your partner described as tacky. Somewhere along the line, you forget what you like and who you are. What you listen to, watch and do are all dictated by your partner’s preferences.

You lose self-esteem

Gaslighters can be highly manipulative and find a whole lot of subtle ways to put you down. If they do it with a dash of charm, you won’t even notice it’s being done to you — but you will still feel bad about yourself. When your choices, opinions and beliefs are belittled, day in, day out, your self-esteem will take a battering. If the person closest to you has no respect for what makes you “you”, then you may be left questioning what worth you have as a person.

You’re emotionally confused

Gaslighters can be horrors one minute — and darlings the next. They never discuss their behaviour in an open way or offer a genuine apology for their actions. But they may, after fighting with you, make huge efforts to comfort you and even shower you with gifts. After you’ve been upset and angry, any type of attention feels good and the gaslighter can use it as an opportunity to remind you that you’re such an emotional person and they’re there to help you with all your emotional difficulties.

You just feel something is wrong

When you’re on the receiving end of emotional abuse, you may find it hard to say what’s wrong — but you have a feeling that something is out of place.

Gaslighters are clever. They’re not horrible to you all the time and even when they are being horrible, they can turn this around to make it look like they’re being nice to you. For instance, a gaslighter might make it look like they’re doing you a favour by simply being with you, because (according to them) you’re over-emotional, overweight, or simply just unattractive to everyone else.

Gaslighters go right to the core of your deepest, darkest, most troubling beliefs about yourself. Because of these and other ways of making you dependent on them, it is hard to identify the level of emotional abuse which is taking place. You’ll wonder if you’re overreacting to the nasty comments and put-downs — especially because, when you do react, you’re told you’re hyper-sensitive and neurotic. You may have a strong feeling that things aren’t right, but you find it very hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong.

If you are being subjected to this type of emotional abuse, it’s important to seek the help you need to leave the situation.