How to tell if you’re a victim of gaslighting
If someone has ever left you questioning yourself, doubting a conversation or feeling like you can’t trust your own memories, beware.
You might be the victim of an insidious, underhanded and, often, underestimated form of bullying: Gaslighting.
“Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and can entail a variety of techniques,” explains Dr Lauren Rosewarne, social scientist and senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political at the University of Melbourne.
“From outright lies, to forcing you to question and doubt your recollections, gaslighting is when someone’s manipulative behaviour makes you question your own sanity and memories.”
Dr Rosewarne says gaslighting is a tool of abuse used by people to exert power and influence over others.
“Like any type of abuse, gaslighting is about a person gaining the upper hand in a relationship,” she says.
“It’s a way to exert power through making the other person feel off-kilter and like they’re ‘going crazy’.”
The term “gaslighting” emerged from the 1940 British film Gaslight – which was remade and popularised in 1944.
And, like all forms of abuse, Dr Rosewarne says anyone can be a victim – or a perpetrator.
“There is no specific profile of a gaslighter – it can be done by anyone, from parents to partners to politicians,” she says.
Here’s how to spot gaslighting – and what to do if you suspect it’s happening to you.
When is gaslighting most likely to occur?
Gaslighting can happen in any situation where power is relevant.
“It can occur in intimate and familial relationships, in the workplace, and with friends, but it can also occur on a more macro level,” Dr Rosewarne says. “Politicians regularly do this.”
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How does gaslighting affect victims?
Like all abuse, Dr Rosewarne explains, gaslighting can negatively impact victims’ self-worth and self-esteem.
“It can make you feel less accomplished, like an imposter, and create feelings of hopelessness and despair that may lead to depression,” she says.
Is there any link between narcissism and gaslighting?
While they are not the same thing, Dr Rosewarne says gaslighters can also be narcissists and vice-versa.
“Narcissists and gaslighters both frequently exaggerate and outright lie, are unlikely to admit when they are wrong, and routinely convey an outward persona of confidence that often contradicts their internal reality,” she says.
Is gaslighting a deliberate manipulation?
Dr Rosewarne says whether a gaslighter is aware of their behaviour or not is very hard to determine.
“For some people it is deliberate, conscious behaviour,” she says. “For others, this is how they’ve seen other authority figures act and are just modelling their behaviour accordingly.”
What tactics to gaslighters use?
One of the key ways gaslighters make people question their reality is by downplaying and trivialising their victims’ emotions, says Dr Rosewarne.
“They might manipulate people’s feelings by saying or doing things and then later denying them, denying your memories of certain events or hiding things from you and then accusing you of having recollection problems,” she says.
Other common signs of gaslighting include:
- Talking about you in ways that are negative, abusive and untrue, which can work to reconfirm a negative self-image, for example, “Jane is always forgetful”.
- Telling outright lies. They might promise something – a promotion, a holiday, a gift – only to deny ever doing so, making the victim question themselves but also feel embarrassed and unworthy.
What to do if you suspect gaslighting
- Keep records: This helps you break the cycle of self-doubt as well as creating a paper trail should you ever need proof of events.
- Have a support network: People who know you and can help counter the negative narratives proffered by the gaslighter. In an intimate relationship you might need to rely on friends or psychological services; in a workplace you might need the assistance of your boss, their boss or a HR department.
- Get second and third opinions: Ask others whether your experiences are really as problematic as you perceive them.
- Investigate support services and identify what might help you: Do you need relationship counselling? Do you need to meet with HR? Would you benefit from family therapy?
- Seek professional help: If you’re already thinking in terms of “gaslighting” you’re probably already in a position where professional help would be useful.
Written by Tianna Nadalin.