People with low self-esteem are easy targets for the gas-lighter, who will try to make them think they are “crazy” or delusional. Manipulating another person so that they question their judgment, memory or perception is ultimately what gaslighting means.
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Plain and simple: Gaslighting is emotional abuse. The gas-lighter psychologically manipulates the other person in the relationship into believing that they are mad or bad and ultimately it leaves them feeling sad.
Gaslighting can happen in both personal and work relationships. Additionally, institutes, societies, and companies can gaslight people into questioning their perception of reality.
Gaslighting is not always easy to spot as most people look for the good in others. Anyone can be targeted by a gas-lighter. Even a person who has a strong mind can be a victim especially if the gaslighting is done slowly. People with low self-esteem or low self-worth will be more vulnerable as they are already filled with self-doubt and have a low opinion of themselves.
What Does Gaslighting Look Like?
Gaslighting will look different depending on the relationship and the level of gaslighting being conducted. It can be very subtle or extreme and somewhere in-between. The nuances are endless, so I will start with some more obvious signs.
You know you are being gaslighted when:
- You walk away from a conversation feeling disorientated and thinking…“what just happened?”.
- You are discussing something that has happened and the other person’s version of events seems totally different from yours.
- You start to doubt yourself more and more.
We all remember things slightly differently, that’s just human nature but it is when the past experience is remembered completely differently that gaslighting may be taking place.
I know I have experienced this but to be honest I had no idea, even after the fact. I definitely didn’t have a word for it. For me, I eventually got so unhappy in the relationship that I let go of it. In hindsight, I now know why I couldn’t always put my finger on what was happening – I had been gaslighted.
I know better now.
Forearmed is forewarned as they say and the following tactics are used by people that purposely manipulate people into thinking they are losing the plot. Take note!
Lies And Love Bombing
Using lies to confuse and control is a common technique. The manipulator will deny saying something they previously said, or said they would do. They do not back down from the lie, even if you show them proof. There is no point in continuing to challenge them as you will be left feeling frustrated and uncomfortable.
With love bombing, the gaslighter will shower the other person in flattery and gifts and then significantly speed-up the relationship. To pull you ever closer into their trap they will constantly tell you how much they adore you and that you were made to be together forever. Plans to live together and marry come flooding in and you get caught up in the excitement and are unable to think straight to process what’s happening.
The insidious thing here is that in the beginning the abuse is sugar-coated and sweet and so it is extremely difficult to spot. But once the controlling and unacceptable behavior begins you’re already under their spell. Even when they’re vile and mean, you stay with them because you believe they are the one and this is forever. You’ve mistaken love bombing for love.
I believe that having rom coms rammed down our throats we are subtly programmed to think a certain way. Seeing couples in movies meet and spend every waking moment together we are led to believe that is what being “madly in love” is all about. (I suppose the clue there is the madly…)
Isolating And Projecting
Isolating someone from their close circle of friends and family by planting seeds of doubt in their mind with a throw away comment or sometimes more blatantly is done when they tell you that certain people are bad for you. Or that your friend’s put-up with you but really they think you are irritating. You get the picture.
Whatever they say the desired outcome is that you feel you can’t trust anyone except of course…drumroll please… the gas-lighter! Isolating a person gives the gas-lighter more control.
If the gas-lighter cheats on you they will more than likely accuse you of cheating. The same goes for any other behavior they don’t want you to know about. By defending yourself from whatever they have accused you of, you are instantly distracted. This means that the gas-lighter can continue cheating (or something else) and get away with it.
Being told you are crazy when you tell someone your point of view or how you feel is a BIG warning sign, so ask yourself: Why? Put yourself in their shoes, would you call them crazy if they explained how they were feeling? If not, then ask yourself why would they say something as dismissive and patronizing as “you’re crazy“? Probably because they are trying to isolate and control you. Right?
A Famous Story Involving Gaslighting
Angelina Jolie played Christine Collins in The Changeling. The movie was based on real events that happen in 1928. The Changeling refers to the boy that was handed over to Collins and told that it was her son, Walter Collins. It wasn’t her son.
Walter had disappeared from his neighborhood and the police searched for five months unsuccessfully. The “fake” Walter apparently turned up at a police station and it was then that he was presented to Christine Collins. She knew that it was not her son but the LAPD told her she was wrong and that he just looked different because of the stress he had undergone.
LAPD Captain Jones continued to gaslight Collins even when she showed proof that he was not her son. The LAPD department was eager to close the case of her missing child and so the imposter was a perfect way to do this. Captain Jones ignored her proof and protests and committed her to a psychiatric ward.
Finally, the boy owned up to not being Walter Collins and explained that he wanted to run away from his uncaring step-mother and decide to pretend to be Walter.
Weeks after his confession they released Christine from the psyche ward but her son Walter was never found.
Where Does Gaslighting Originate From?
The phrase gaslighting comes from the British play Gas Light in which the husband manipulates situations and environments to convince his wife and others that she is insane.
Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman play the husband and wife in the 1944 film adaptation, also called Gaslight. Cotten’s character slowly dims the lights in their home but when his wife asks about the lights he denies anything is happening so that she begins to doubt her own mind and perception of reality.
Examples Of Gaslighting In Movies
Many movies portray gaslighting, including Sleeping With The Enemy, Girl On A Train, and more recently the remake of The Invisible Man starring Elisabeth Moss as the person being manipulated.
A couple of movies that I’ve seen came to mind, one a Hollywood classic and the other a more recent science fiction movie.
Millionaire Charlotte (Bette Davis) plays a southern belle in the movie Hush….Hush Sweet Charlotte and it’s a great example of someone being manipulated and driven to insanity. The following clip shows Charlotte freaking out due to seeing and hearing things that don’t make any sense to her. Those things have been purposely put in front of her by her gas-lighter.
Olivia De Havilland is the gas-lighter and plays Charlotte’s cousin. Both actresses give edge of the seat performances in this award-winning psychological drama. No spoilers here – watch it to see gaslighting done to the extreme. If you enjoy classic movies you’ll love this one.
The odd but surprisingly entertaining science fiction movie Colossal went completely under a lot of people’s radar. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an alcoholic and has just returned to live in her hometown.
She meets her old school friend, who begins to control and manipulate her. The signs of gaslighting are subtle and begin early in the film when he brings an old sofa (and TV) into her apartment. In this clip, if you fast forward to 0.35 you hear her friend say “Don’t you remember anything?” He is referring to when she was last drunk and he tells her that she showed an interest in wanting the things for her flat, but did she really?
The Chick’s (formally The Dixie Chicks) song Gaslighter aptly refers to this type of manipulator:
Doin’ anything to get your ass farther”
Gaslighter by The Chicks
Denying what they said, or what they said they would do is classic gaslighting behavior. What gaslighting means is only half the story, in my next post I will go into more detail about gaslighting and how to deal with it.
Meanwhile, knowing yourself and having high self-esteem will go a long way in making you more awake and aware so that you can spot gas-lighters, hopefully before they spot you
The name of The Game is Experience so let us experience Connecting and Sharing.
Tell me your gaslighting story in the comments below.
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