Gaslighting: silent manipulation and its psychological and emotional effect

Within the field of psychological abuse, there is a subtle form of little obvious manipulation that can be just as or more harmful. Certain behaviors or actions of close people that at first glance could be considered harmless hide a load of “toxicity” capable of creating a profound invalidation to those who suffer it. The term used to refer to this phenomenon is gaslighting .  

The term gaslighting was taken from the work written by Patrick Hamilton Gas Light 1939, where the protagonist was manipulated by her husband who, through multiple tricks, made her doubt her judgment and memory , to such an extent that he labeled her as “ crazy”.      

This practice, also identified as a subtle tactic of psychological and emotional manipulation , can lead to believe that the memories and experiences of the affected person did not exist, or at least not as they remember them. This generates in the victim the insecurity and uncertainty of not knowing what is true and what is a lie and with this it manages to diminish the trust and sense of reality of the person on whom it is exercised. It is common to find this type of abuse in so-called toxic relationships. This is why gaslighting is one of the most subtle and perverse forms of emotional abuse, since the abuser generates in his victim a total invalidation and fear of madness.         

Whenever the word abuse is mentioned, the physical or sexual component comes to mind. However, emotional abuse is just as common or even more common in certain relationships.  

Unlike sexual abuse or physical abuse, emotional abuse is more difficult for the sufferer to identify . Psychological abuse “leaves no visible bodily harm.” To this we must add that the emotional abuser can have charming behaviors within the couple and / or outside of it and even be socially well accepted.  

In this sense, how does gaslighting work ? What attitude does the abuser take? 

This type of aggressor is shown as a close and charming person with the victim whom he usually praises and makes him believe that the only person who understands and cares for him is the aggressor himself.

The abuser often resorts to lies and denies things he has said or done, even though there is evidence to maintain his role. At times, you may tend to attack the things the victim appreciates and downplay their feelings.

The manipulation does not occur from one day to the next, but there are certain phases to weaken the victim:

  • Distrust: in this phase the victim still believes in their own perception and beliefs, and although they would like to have the approval of the abuser / abuser, an imbalance or feeling of hopelessness is not generated. 
  • Defense : the victim begins to feel that he must protect himself and confronts the abuser, trying to justify that he is wrong, refuting him. He compulsively looks for evidence to show that he is a “gaslighter” (abuser). Desperation for approval begins.
  • Depression: in this phase the victim’s self-esteem and autonomy are diminished He begins to doubt everything and is afraid of making a mistake for fear of criticism and with this he begins to justify the attitude and behavior of the abuser, believing in this way that he is in the position of truth, trying to be reciprocated with his love and approval.    

With all these behaviors identified by the abuser, what signs can help to identify this type of manipulation?

  • There is a questioning and questioning of what is thought and done.
  • You tend to apologize for all of your actions.
  • You begin to consider that you may be too sensitive to what others are saying, criticizing yourself for exaggerating the situation.
  • You feel confused and need third party approval to make decisions.
  • Tendency to believe that she is not capable of doing anything well on her own.
  • You feel uncomfortable and nervous in the presence of the abuser without being able to specify the reason.
  • Avoid interacting with friends and family, to avoid withholding or hiding information about the situation. On the occasions when you approach them, there is a feeling of anger or rage towards them that did not exist before.
  • Feeling of unhappiness without determining the reason, thereby feeling guilt for not achieving happiness as before and for causing concern in the abuser. Tendency to believe that before I was a different person, more self-confident, more fun and relaxed.
  • Fear of expressing their own emotions , so they tend to be silent. 
  • You think you are irreversibly losing your mind.

Given the situation described, what can the victim do when faced with said emotional abuse ? 

According to Terence Williams, the best defense to avoid a gaslighting abuse is to have your own judgment; In other words, if something is perceived to be wrong, it probably is not.

Trusting your own judgment is the best way to scare off those who exercise gaslighting, who tend to take advantage of people with low self-esteem. By showing yourself confidently in the face of what you see, hear and remember, it will be much more difficult for the abuser to distort reality.

It is important to identify those people who do you good and take care of you. Those that make one feel good about themselves. In addition, this attitude will make the abuser realize that he is not the only one with whom you can enjoy or have fun, thus finding more difficulties to be able to manipulate. On the other hand, enjoying other company will make you see that you are not alone and that you can trust other people.

However, this may not be easy to implement. If you suspect that someone is trying to manipulate your perception of reality, that questions your perception of things, that makes you think that you are losing your mind or that it makes you feel guilty, it is advisable to point it out and discuss it with a trusted person who be external to the relationship or by going to a professional.

Gaslighting: a covert form of emotional abuse

Have you heard of Gaslighting ? Well, to find out what it is about, let’s take an example. You have probably found yourself in a situation where they assure you that you said something, that you do not remember saying . You dig into your memory and conclude that you definitely did not say that. You are convinced that you are right.    

However, the person who claims that you did say it, and he does so with such confidence that you end up giving him credit. You end up thinking that maybe you did say that, even if you don’t remember it . You may have just become one more victim of Gaslighting     

” If lies or bad faith are introduced into the communication process, there will be manipulation, which can be reciprocal 

-Albert Jacquard-

This phenomenon began to be detected in the decade of the sixties. And although it occurs in work and family contexts , it is more common in relationships. It is defined as the act of repetitive manipulation that one person exerts on another . Its primary objective is to undermine the victim’s safety, so that they perceive reality in a distorted way.  

Gaslighting aims to confuse the victim

The Gaslighting is a deliberate lie intended to mislead the    victim to make a profit from it . It is a form of psychological abuse, characterized by being very subtle; Violence rarely intervenes, although there is usually some intimidation. Therefore, it is difficult to detect. Additionally, the manipulator is usually someone “trustworthy”, friendly and with whom we have some close bond. 

A typical example of Gaslighting occurs when one of the members of the couple seeks to deny his    infidelity . The victim can claim that she overheard him flirting with someone on the phone. The manipulator knows this to be true, but defends himself by saying, with complete confidence, that it is not. Your partner is confusing kindness with flirting.

The manipulator may even add that he has seen his partner very stressed lately. A supposed stress that does not give you the right to distrust him. At this point you will have succeeded in sowing the seed of doubt in the victim. This practice is more common than we imagine. In repetitive and extreme cases, the victim comes to believe that he is going crazy   

We could fall into the error of thinking that it is a comical situation and that we would never fall into such a ridiculous form of manipulation. However , we overlook that this situation occurs in relationships that involve our emotions. In fact, complex projection and introjection mechanisms operate in this type of relationship 

Gaslighting Features

Generally speaking, the victim of Gaslighting is usually a distrustful person, who finds someone apparently trustworthy . The manipulator is unsure of himself, but obsessed with exerting control over others. He appears kind and says that he seeks the welfare of the other. But this is just a masquerade. The victim comes to idealize this person. And so things are, the ground is fertilized to apply Gaslighting    

When this form of emotional manipulation is sustained for long periods of time, it has profoundly negative consequences on the victim. The most worrying, without a doubt, is the submission of that victim to the “reality” imposed by the manipulator. The Gaslighting even causes the opt abused by appropriating conflicts abuser .   

The Gaslighting follows a pattern that is classified into three stages   . During the first, the victim opposes argumentative resistance and refutes the manipulator’s claims. Meanwhile, the stalker tries to convince you of how you should think and feel. In fact, in some cases they engage in discussions for hours and hours. In the end, nothing in particular emerges, but great wear and tear.

During the second phase, you strive to have an open mind so that you can better understand the other’s point of view. However, in the absence of reciprocity, you begin to doubt your certainties. The third stage is configured as a state of confusion in which your criteria disappear and you think that what your perpetrator affirms is true; the normal and therefore the real.  

Aspects to keep in mind

There are personality characteristics that predispose some individuals to become potential victims of Gaslighting  . Lack of affection is one of them. The potential victim sees in the manipulator a savior and idealizes him. This reaction is due to the fact that the victim interprets the manipulator’s advances as a true show of affection. The victim feels that the manipulator at least at first argues with her, pays attention to her.

A person who needs to be right is more likely to suffer this type of abuse . This situation occurs when subjective aspects are discussed and in this confrontation the arguments of the future victim lose strength as a result of wear and tear. Finally, the need to be approved by others plays a decisive role. In this case everything is served on a silver platter for the manipulator, who will not waste time and take advantage of this weakness.

In order not to fall into this type of toxic relationship, it is essential to keep in mind some recommendations. The first thing is that you must remain alert to any manifestation that questions your beliefs and unbalances your self-confidence . Do not engage in Byzantine discussions, that is, exchanging subjective points of view that lead nowhere.   

Finally, try to strengthen your views on life with solid arguments, to the point that they become convictions. Additionally, do not allow others to question your way of thinking or feeling . Keep in mind that this is the ideal breeding ground for those who want to manipulate you.  

Gaslighting: People who control your life by sowing doubts

There are people who make you doubt by continually questioning your feelings, ideas, beliefs and decisions. These people undermine your security, to the point where you stop trusting in your abilities. Then they “take over” your life, without you realizing it. It is a phenomenon known as gaslighting.

What is gaslighting?

This term became fashionable in the 1960s to indicate the intention to manipulate a person’s perception of reality. However, its roots are even deeper as it comes from a play entitled “Gas Light”, which was also made into a movie. In the film version, Ingrid Bergman was harassed by her husband, who tried to convince her that she was crazy. To achieve her mission, she manipulated different objects in her environment and when Ingrid Bergman made her notice these variations, she claimed that she was wrong and that she was losing her mind.

At present, this term is still used to indicate a form of mental abuse that is characterized by handling information selectively, to confuse the victim, causing them to doubt their memory, perception or even their sanity. Its main objective is to disorient the person, causing their sense of reality and self-confidence to falter, to put them at their mercy.

In fact, gaslighting is a much more common form of mental abuse than we might think, especially in relationships with a partner or between parents and children. Basically, it happens every time someone deliberately lies to us with the aim of altering our perception of the circumstances and taking advantage of it, although they know very well that we are right.

However, gaslighting is often difficult to detect because it almost never involves the use of violence. In fact, that person is usually very friendly and even puts his victim on a pedestal, so that he does not question his intentions. In many cases, the manipulative person proclaims himself as an advocate for the victim, when in reality he is trying to subdue him.  

Gaslighting: An in crescendo of manipulation  

It is easy to think that we would never fall into such “crude” manipulation, but when emotions come into play, the improbable becomes probable. In fact, gaslighting is a complex mechanism of projection and introjection of psychic conflicts in which two people intervene:

– Manipulator. On the one hand, we find the manipulative person, who projects his conflicts on his victim, to keep his own identity intact and feel that he is in control. 

– Victim. On the other hand, we find the victim, who is normally a person who has an affective relationship with the manipulator and who accepts the latter’s conflicts as their own.  

The victim does not trust his own judgments, idealizes the manipulator and assumes his sense of reality. This is usually an insecure person, who needs external approval. Although in some cases, when gaslighting spreads over the years, a person’s security and self-confidence can begin to falter, so that they come to accept the reality imposed by the other, especially if they trust that person.

Obviously, such a refined form of emotional manipulation doesn’t happen overnight.  

Phase 1: In the first stage, when someone tries to impose another reality on you, the normal thing is that you present resistance and you fight it. You can argue for hours about the argument, until you feel downright ridiculous, but you ca n’t reach an agreement because the other person doesn’t give their arm. In fact, you are likely to argue about things that shouldn’t be discussed, like your feelings or opinions. However, you argue because someone is trying to tell you how you should feel or think. At this stage, you still believe in yourself, but you begin to question your beliefs. 

Phase 2: In the second stage you start to consider the other person’s point of view and even understand it, so you work hard to understand your perspective in turn. However, you are scared by what their point of view reveals about you, what you think it says about your beliefs and values. At this point, the point of the discussion is no longer to win and prove you are right, but just to prove that you are a good person, that you are valuable. This is an important goal change because it shows that you have stopped believing your arguments and are fighting just to prove yourself. 

Phase 3: In the third stage you begin to seriously doubt yourself and ask yourself “ what is wrong with me? “You start to consider that their point of view is normal and yours is wrong, you lose the ability to judge your own thoughts and feelings because you use someone else’s standard. At this point, you have fully embraced the perspective of the manipulator, you doubt yourself and begin to fear their criticism, to such an extent that you can obsess over not making a mistake. In this phase, you no longer believe that you are a valuable person, you have given up your decision-making capacity and self-esteem. 

Why does a person fall into this trap?

There are three characteristics that make a person more likely to be a victim of gaslighting:

  1. Need to be right. A person who always wants to be right is more prone to this type of manipulation because he also tends to get involved in discussions that detract from the main topic and enter the dangerous terrain of subjectivity. In addition, the desire to be right also involves a black and white view of the world, so when your arguments lose solidity, you will have the tendency to assume those of the other person, not realizing that both arguments are simply different perspectives. 
  2. Need for approval. The constant need for approval reveals an insecure person, a person who easily bows to the wishes of others just to get their approval. Obviously, the manipulator takes advantage of this weakness to his advantage. A person who needs the approval of others will be subject to these, so they will be very vulnerable to manipulation. 
  3. Need for affection. Gaslighting usually occurs between people who maintain a close emotional relationship. In fact, the victim often idealizes the manipulator, whom he sees as a “savior” or “defender.” Obviously, if that emotional bond did not exist, it would be much easier to break the relationship or stop the manipulation before it reached greater proportions. 

How to deal with gaslighting?

The best solution to avoid falling into this type of manipulation is to learn to detect it in time . It is important that you are able to identify these types of people. In fact, when someone continually makes you feel bad, makes you doubt yourself and lowers your self-confidence, shaking your security, it is because they are a toxic person and you must keep all your senses alert when you interact with them.   

You should also be aware that a person may not share your feelings and ideas, may not agree with them and may not even understand them, but should not doubt their existence, after all, it is not within you to affirm it. or deny it with certainty. Therefore, if a person questions your feelings and ideas frequently, they are likely doing so just to undermine your self-esteem and manipulate you. Don’t let anyone question what you feel or think 

Finally, consider that with these people, it is better not to argue, because their goal is not to understand you but to manipulate you. The person who resorts to gaslighting does not need to be right, they just need you to believe that they are. Therefore, he will do everything possible to manipulate your perception of the facts. The key is to stop them and, to do this, it is convenient that you do not get involved in discussions that are not objective 

Gaslighting: the dangerous allure of the abuser that fills you with guilt and makes you doubt your sanity

Nicole spent years living with a lovely man, but it seemed like she was always doing something wrong. Eventually she began to realize that she wasn’t the problem, it was him, and when she met one of her previous friends, Elizabeth, she understood. Here Nicole tells her story *.     

Other people seem to be able to do it: share a life with someone, nice and peaceful. But the idea of ​​a relationship still terrifies me. Many years later, I still panic at the mention of my ex-boyfriend’s name, that charming man whom I adored and feared in equal measure. 

A charming, beautiful and successful man had made me his. He was everything she had dreamed of. He was successful, his charisma was magnetic, and I was in a trance.

When I was with him, doors would open and the best tables in restaurants were suddenly available. We travel the world for his work, staying in the best hotels and eating in the best restaurants. And he seemed to have the ability to enchant in any language.

But I failed him .

I screwed up everything: dinners, conversations, evenings, vacations – sometimes by mentioning an ex’s name, taking out my bag in front of friends, or wanting to carry my own passport and money when we were abroad.

He was furious for days. My inappropriate behavior had embarrassed him, he didn’t know if he could continue to be with someone like me, him, who could be with someone much better.

I also ruined birthdays and Christmases, simply by being “too stupid and cruel” to understand what was best for him.

He wanted me to buy him expensive gifts: “It’s only $ 4,000, use your savings!” He said.

“But that’s my life savings,” I explained. “I can’t touch them, it’s impossible. I want to make you happy, but I can’t afford that.”

The charming man wept: I had let him down and nothing I did could make up for it   

He didn’t sleep much, neither did I. He wouldn’t let me “ruin his night” by going to sleep before him. If I did, I would wake up in the early morning, wanting to talk about our relationship and what I was doing wrong.

I was exhausted. I felt like I was spending my life trying to sleep when and where I could. The disabled toilet at work became a haven for a noon nap.

Why didn’t I leave earlier?

Well, he was charming and my family loved him. And I was at an age where life was a whirlwind of engagements and weddings.

Well-meaning relatives told me that I would be next. The sound of my biological clock grew louder as weddings gave way to christenings.

Besides, I adored him and that incredible man had chosen me. He had problems and I had to help him. He was aware that I was hurting him, so I wanted to behave better.

If I went out with my friends, he would lock himself in his study. Her screams echoed as she huddled under her massive desk, so she hardly ever went out without him.

He would tell me that was easily replaceable and he would show me photos and letters from other women who loved him, I would cry and try to be a better girlfriend.     

Every time he got too hard and tried to leave, he would curl up in a fetal position in front of the door crying and yelling at me not to let him go, so I didn’t. I would sit on the floor and hug him, promising that I would try harder to improve.

It was exhausting, but relationships take hard work and no one is perfect, right?

presentational gray line

Controlling or coercive behavior in an intimate or family relationship

Controlling behavior : a variety of acts that make a person subordinate and / or dependent on their abuser. These include isolating them from sources of support, depriving them of the means necessary for their independence, resistance, and escape, and regulating their day-to-day behavior.

Coercive conduct : a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other type of abuse that is used to harm, injure, punish or frighten the victim.

Definitions from the Serious Crimes Act in England and Wales )   

presentational gray line

“You will never find someone better than him, he is perfect, don’t you want children?”, People would say to me.

It got to the point, however, when I knew I couldn’t stay.

I felt as if my body and brain were collapsing from the sheer exhaustion of having to deal with life with that man. I gained weight, but couldn’t exercise because he didn’t like me being away from him. Food became my greatest comfort.

I feared to the idea of leaving , but she was terrified at the thought of spending the rest of my life with him.  

Eventually, the opportunity to escape came, and I was able to pack my belongings without suspicion. With the support of my sister, I was able to walk away and collapsed on her kitchen floor.

I needed therapy to understand that it was not normal for your partner to remove the hinges from the bathroom door because he “left” him to go to the toilet or to bathe.

I used to treasure my lonely moments sitting in the bathroom with a book. When she was with him, she looked at her watch, calculating when she could escape for a few minutes of peace behind the closed door . He soon realized it and my heart sank every time I heard the screwdriver on the hinges, with him crying because he just wanted to be with me.    

When I first said those things out loud I could begin to recognize that it was crazy, but at that moment it was just my reality.

Therapy opened a whole new world of understanding and terminology: words like ” narcissistic ” and “gaslighting” or “Gaslighting” were new to me. I had no idea that abuse could be like this.   

It was through therapy that I understood that I had been “gaslit” and that my perception of the world had changed during those years of trying to do the impossible: satisfy a narcissist.

Finally I realized that I was not the cause of our problems: in his game I could only fail.

But there was still a lot to learn.

It was my therapist who suggested that I contact the charming man’s ex-girlfriend.

“Really?” Said. “But she was crazy, she attacked him.”

The therapist nodded wisely and reminded me of all the other ways he had misrepresented reality. He was always the victim; nothing was ever his fault in the alternate reality he had created   

presentational gray line

What is doing gaslighting or gaslighting?

  • It is a form of manipulation and psychological abuse that makes people question their own memory, perception and sanity
  • The term comes from a 1938 play, ” Gas Light, ” in which a husband tries to convince his wife and others that he is crazy: when he dims the gas lights, he insists that she is imagining it.
  • There are three stages of gaslighting in a relationship: idealization, devaluation, and discarding. 
  • In the idealization stage, the victim loses his mind over whoever does gaslight because he projects an image of himself as the perfect partner
  • The devaluation stage hits hard: the victim goes from being adored to being incapable of doing something right, but after having tried the ideal, she is desperate to fix things.
  • Then comes the discard stage in which the victim is dropped to move on to the next: this often happens simultaneously with the idealization phase with the next victim.

I tracked down his ex-girlfriend who was living abroad. He immediately responded to my nervous message saying:

“Yes, I want to talk to you, I’ve been waiting for you to get in touch.”

The moment the call went through, I felt a wave of relief: there was someone who understood 

We talked for four hours, each finishing the other’s sentences. She had talked to other women who had gone before me: the charming man had never been alone for long.

Hearing about their stories of depression and suicide attempts was chilling. That charming man was systematically destroying lives.

However, on that summer day I found hope: as I spoke with my ex-girlfriend, I could hear in the background her husband mowing the lawn and the children playing in the garden. That snapshot of a shared life, of a family life that once seemed so terrifying, suddenly seemed within reach.

I learned that the charming man has a new girlfriend. I would like to say to him: “Save yourself! It’s not you, it’s him, what he’s doing to you is illegal, you can stop him  

But I know right now I’m just another crazy ex-girlfriend.

She needs to come to me when she’s ready. For now, all I can do is live life to the fullest, provide that little bit of hope the day she contacts me.

7 Stages of gaslighting in a relationship

“If you repeat a lie often enough, it will be accepted as true.” ―Attributed to various sources 

“Some people try to feel important by cutting off the heads of others.” – Paramahansa Yogananda 

The Gaslighting is a persistent form of manipulation and brainwashing that makes the victim feel free herself and ultimately lose their own sense of perception, identity and self – esteem . The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she is crazy by making her question herself and her reality.       

In its milder forms, gaslighting creates a subtle, but unequal power dynamic in a relationship, with the victim subjected to irrational, rather than fact-based, scrutiny, judgment, or micro-aggression by the perpetrator. At worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a serious form of mental control and psychological abuse. The Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, in the workplace or in society at large .      

H ay seven stages through which a Gaslighter dominates a victim pathological extracted from l book in Spanish how to successfully manage the gaslighters and stop bullying. Depending on the situation, there may be variations in the order and number of gaslighting stages :      

1. Lying and exaggerating The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about his victim (“there is something wrong and inappropriate about you”), based on false assumptions and widespread accusations, rather than objective and independently verifiable facts , which puts the victim to the defensive.       

“My wife is a pathetic loser, and she needs to know the truth.” ―Anonymous husband 

“The work your department does is a waste of time and resources. How do you justify your job? ” ―Anonymous manager 

“I hate when you put groceries in the supermarket checkout like that. I told you before, I HATE IT!” ―Mother to daughter in the supermarket 

2. Repetition. Like psychological warfare, falsehoods are constantly repeated to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship. 

3. Climb when challenged. When confronted with their lies, the gaslighter intensifies the dispute by doubling and tripling their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, guilt, and further false claims, sowing doubt and confusion.     

“When I caught my boyfriend sexting with someone, he flatly said it didn’t happen – that I figured the whole thing. He called me a crazy bitch.” -Anonymous 

4. Attrition of the victim. By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down his victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic , fearful, weakened, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question their own perception, identity and reality.    

5. Form codependent relationships. The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological dependence on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter causes constant insecurity and anxiety in the victim, thereby controlling them. The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety and protection.The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away.A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability and marginalization.         

6. Give false hope. As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter occasionally treats the victim with gentleness, restraint, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the victim false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad”, “Maybe things are going to get better” or “Let’s give him a try.”   

But be careful! Temporary softness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and lower the victim’s guard before the next act of gaslighting begins . With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.    

7. Dominate and control. At its extreme, the ultimate goal of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society. By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercion, the gaslighter keeps its victims in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can exploit his victims at will, to increase his power and personal gain.       

Gaslighting: the subtlest emotional abuse

A form of manipulation used to make the victim doubt their own judgment.

Have you ever been told these phrases in response to a complaint: “you are crazy”, “that never happened”, “you are very sensitive”, etc.

If so, they may be using the “Gaslighting” technique to confuse you 

What is Gaslighting?

“Gaslighting” is a pattern of emotional abuse in which the victim is manipulated into doubting their own perception, judgment, or memory . This makes the person feel anxious, confused, or even depressed. 

This term, which does not really have a Spanish translation, comes from the classic Hollywood movie called “Gaslight” , in which a man manipulates his wife into believing that she is crazy and thus steals her hidden fortune. He hides objects (paintings, jewels), making his wife believe that she was responsible, although she does not remember. It also dims the gas light (there was no electricity) and makes you believe that the fire is still glowing at the same intensity as before. 

Of course, that makes the protagonist feel that she is going crazy, does not want to leave the house, is anxious and cries continuously. The husband warns her that he will leave the relationship, and threatens to send her to a doctor for medication or confinement. Of course, the abuser knows very well what he is doing and almost succeeds if it weren’t for an investigator deciphering the situation and exposing the thief.

The characteristics of this type of deception

Although this film presents us with an extreme case, this manipulation technique is used consciously or unconsciously in relationships 

Let’s look at some scenarios. For example, you can say:

“When you said that you hurt me” and the abuser says “I never said that, you are imagining it” and there he plants the seed of doubt.

It could also happen this way:

“When you did that I felt very bad”, to which the abuser replied “you are very sensitive, it was only a joke”. He tries to persuade us to believe that it was a matter of self-perception error.

Similarly, you might fight and defend yourself but still get the same words: “You are exaggerated”, “You are making a storm in a glass of water” or “You are delirious” etc. So instead of continuing to confront or walk away, you allow the doubt to arise within you in an attempt to favor the relationship and seek the approval of your partner or family member.  

This type of manipulation is very subtle but dangerous, since it leads us to continue toxic relationships , to believe that there really is something wrong with us, to be insecure and to depend on the opinion of others. It can also take us away from loved ones for fear of being confronted about your relationship. 

Possible effects

These are the main psychological effects of gaslighting in the medium and long term, and they lead the victim to assume that they lack the criteria to make decisions for themselves.

1. Doubts about the ability to remember well

Gaslighting makes the victim doubt about the functioning of his memory , since the manipulative person convinces him that he remembers things that did not happen.

2. Doubts about one’s reasoning

This leads the victim to not trust their ability to reason and make decisions, so they seek help from the criteria of others , and especially from the manipulative person, who makes them see their supposed mistakes. 

3. Doubts related to one’s own mental health

In extreme cases, the victim assumes that they have a psychological disorder that would explain their inappropriate emotional reactions, or their ways of thinking far from reality.  

4. Low level of self-esteem

All of the above is reflected in a low level of self-esteem in general.

How to realize Gaslighting

These are 10 signs to know if we are being “Gaslighteado” (information collected from psychologist Robin Stern, author of the book The gaslighting effect ).  

  1. You constantly question your ideas or actions.
  2. You wonder if you are overly sensitive many times a day.
  3. You are always apologizing: to your parents, to your partner, to the boss.
  4. You wonder why you are not happy, if so much good things are apparently happening in your life.
  5. You constantly make excuses to your family or friends for your partner’s behavior.
  6. You see yourself withholding or hiding information so you don’t have to explain or make excuses to partners or friends.
  7. You start lying to avoid being changed from reality.
  8. You have a hard time making decisions, even simple ones.
  9. You feel like you can’t do anything right.
  10. You wonder if you are constantly being good enough daughter / friend / employee / boyfriend / girlfriend.

What can you do?

As subtle as this type of manipulation is, we are not helpless in the face of it. There are ways to deal with these types of attacks, unless there is already a strong precedent of abuse and we cannot deal with the situation with a minimum of serenity.

To act in cases of Gaslighting, you can follow these guidelines 

1. Trust your intuition

If you feel like something is not right, pay attention to it and examine what parts do not add up . When it comes to analyzing our own experiences, our experience counts more than the rest. 

Furthermore, communication is not a game in which you have to make an effort to understand everything that others are saying. In a couple, if a message has not been understood, the responsibility is often shared (as long as we have paid attention to it).

2. Don’t seek approval

Resist the temptation to convince the other to get approval , instead you can say “We disagree” or “I thought about what you told me but it doesn’t feel true to me” or “I listen to what you say, but my reality is very different from yours. ” You are perfectly free to end a conversation.

This is only recommended in cases of Gaslighting, since in any other context, such as in a discussion in which the other person’s arguments are solid, it can become an excuse not to admit that you are not right and, ultimately, in a tool of cognitive dissonance . 

3. Remember your sovereignty over your own thoughts

Remember that emotions are neither good nor bad, and no one can tell you if what you feel is true or not. If you say “that made me feel criticized” or “I felt sad about what you did” you are not subjecting it to debate. At the end of the day, if you feel that you are humiliated or psychologically damaged , only you feel that; what you experience is not up for discussion.

Do not apologize for feeling , what you should avoid is attacking, manipulating or acting in a harmful way.

4. Be aware of your values

What values ​​do you want to be remembered for? Create a list of personal values. For example “spending quality time with loved ones”, “keeping promises”, “being generous / compassionate”, “telling the truth”, “traveling”, “keeping an open mind”, “staying spiritual”. This will help you stay focused and also know what you value in others 

In a way, values ​​act as the backbone of our behavior. Whatever happens, what others say or do or not should force us to go against them. The moment someone pressures us to violate these basic principles, we will know that we are being manipulated.

5. Keep your personal limits

If someone trespasses, let them know and pose a consequence . For example, if you are yelled at or verbally abused, you can say “I don’t feel comfortable with what you said, it seems disrespectful to me and I’m not going to let it go.” Keep firm.

If it repeats, make it known again and depending on the relationship, look for a sincere dialogue where both of you agree not to do it again or walk away.

If the person is not responsible for their faults and continues “gaslighteándote” ask yourself if you want to continue the relationship or the frequency of visits in case of family or friends. Working on your own assertiveness is essential to assert your own interests with dignity.