Gaslighting: What It Is, What Are the Signs & What You Can Do To Stop It

FlameWhat is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is no joking matter. We felt it imperative to post this public service announcement about gaslighting on April 1, which is traditionally April Fool’s Day. We’re posting this now because gaslighting is a pattern of behavior intended to fool the person that the perpetrator wants to deceive and control, and it can happen person-to-person or systemically. Yes, people can be gas lit by entire networks of bad actors, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Those who are mostly unaware of their sinister actions would be explained by a type of “Eichmann Effect,” as it’s called in the field of social science, that we will discuss at a later date. To quote Eichmann, “I was merely a cog in the machinery that carried out the directives and the orders of the German Reich.”

Indeed, gaslighting is a tool that is used by people with sinister intentions to disempower and control unsuspecting people and sometimes the perpetrator is unaware of their part in a corrupt system. Most often, people who commit gaslighting know exactly what they are doing.

Think of Britney Spears and how she was treated by the cruel media at the time she was placed in a conservatorship – they beat her up about everything! It was a sick culture. Not everyone in the media treated her poorly mind you, but the majority did. They are the ones who search for stories that exploit people and remain on the attack to this day.

At the time she entered her conservatorship, it felt as though they were driving her mad on purpose for a juicier story, to speak colloquially – and after she had babies! We couldn’t help but wonder how they could ethically harass someone likely suffering from postpartum depression just because she was famous.

Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting. We see it all the time. It’s the source of many songs of inspiration, chasing what is a ragged tiger. To stop gaslighting, knowing what it is and what the signs are make up half the battle; the other half is saving yourself from it.

Gaslighting is a pattern of manipulation intended to make victims trust the perpetrator while questioning their own reality. It is a form of mental and emotional abuse that takes advantage of a person’s natural inclination toward trust and attachment. After the perpetrator instills a deep sense of trust in their victims, they begin the effort to trick and deceive the person of what they know with their own mind, through their own five senses.

Yes, gaslighting is used to gain power and control over people by placing them in a weaker position than the perpetrator. The victim gets lost in a sea of altered reality that in no way reflects the truth of their existence because the perpetrator has absolute and total authority over their surroundings and perceptions. Victims eventually question their sanity as it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate fact from fiction in their worlds.

For example, in the classic film Gaslight from which the term “gaslighting” was derived, a bad actor tricks his wife into thinking she is mad. He convinces her that she stole jewelry by hiding it in her purse. He tells her friends that she is insane. He also alters the gas lights in their house while convincing his wife that they are exactly the same; he makes his wife believe that her observations are all in her head, which causes her to question her own sanity. She doesn’t even believe herself anymore.

The good news is that through awareness, you can break the cycle of gaslighting and remove yourself from the situation. Once you know that there is such a thing as gaslighting and that many people are victims of it daily, you can normalize its existence and see past your circumstances. That way, you can remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.

Oftentimes, the gas lighter is in a tremendous position of power and control over your surroundings, so you may need some professional help to remove yourself from the person and situation, especially if that person is a close friend or someone with whom you live. You may even be mired in legal battles to free yourself. But the good news is that you can set yourself free from gaslighting when you know the signs and get help.

If the entire system is against you, document your experiences and seek legal counsel. In short, there are many things you can do to save and protect yourself. For example, we knew a woman who was the victim of domestic violence by her husband, who was a police officer, and he brought the entire force against her. No one would believe her. He convinced them she was a liar. That’s a difficult situation in which to be, especially when there are children involved.

What Are the Signs of Gaslighting?

Two plus two no longer equals four in the mind of the person deceived by gaslighting. In reality, it still does of course but they can no longer believe it. Over time, gaslighting causes a person to question what they hear, see, and feel. The perpetrator afflicting the gaslighting convinces their victims of many false narratives over time after taking actions specifically to deceive the person. They may change something slightly in the environment. Maybe you left a note on your desk and it’s gone now or it’s been moved. You may notice the pattern. The perpetrator may tell you it’s not true, ad infinitum. You begin to question what you know. They may repeat things like:

“It’s all in your head.”

“You’re nuts! That never happened!”

“No one believes you!”

“You can trust me. We’ve known each other forever!”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’re too sensitive!”

“Lighten up!”

“This has been happening a lot. Are you ok?”

Many abusers use gaslighting to control their victims. This is what R. Kelly did while blackmailing them at the same time. He set up his victims and recorded everything. He committed his crimes on a large scale at the systematic level.

The gaslighting itself can happen on a small or large scale. It may be used just to mess with you every now and then at the workplace or home, or it may be used to defraud you of your hard-earned money. It is common to see gaslighting in social situations and regular human affairs. It’s part of the games people play in every day life, which are not ok.

There are many techniques that perpetrators use to gaslight their victims to retain complete and total control over them. Usually, they’re hiding something, like a lifestyle they want to keep secret from their partner or friend. Other times, they wish to conceal the motives of their puppet master, as it were. By keeping you confused and lost, they veil their true intentions.

A few approaches gas lighters use are:

  • Instilling a sense of trust in the person coupled with guilt
    • I love you but you owe me (implicit)
  • Love bombing
    • I love you to the moon and back! (too much and too soon)
  • Giving with one hand and taking with the other
    • I give you so much, why would I take from you?
  • Pathological lying
    • I promise you on my late father’s grave this is true (I would never lie)!
  • Distorting reality
    • That’s not what happened. I can prove it! (disbelief/lying/interrogating)
  • Withholding information and hiding facts
    • That never happened! (omission)
  • Trivializing circumstances and minimizing
    • It’s not a big deal! (when in reality it is according to most people)

There are a host of other techniques gas lighters use to deceive their victims and convince them of a reality that isn’t true to hide their intentions. They exploit your trust in them and your natural instinct to attach to people. Women are often targets because we can sometimes (or oftentimes) defer our own sense of what is right to others through conditioning, but anyone can be a victim. It’s a trap and it’s not your fault.

What Can You Do to Stop Gaslighting?

Once you discover that you are the victim of gaslighting, you can seek help, talk to professionals, and join a support group. There are many other people like you who are victims. You are not alone. There are people who can help remove you from your circumstances, too.

Recovery from gaslighting requires a lot of time and support. You will likely need help to gain back trust. You may have trauma to work through to form a healthy attachment with someone again. If you think this might be you, we suggest you talk to a professional and seek help. It can be difficult to pull yourself from the mire, but with the assistance of others, you can live a perfectly normal life and one with healthy trust and attachment once more.

Further Reading

How to Know If You’re the Victim of Gaslighting

The Basics of Gaslighting

11 Red Flags of Gaslighting in a Relationship

7 Signs of Gaslighting in the Workplace

To Act or React? That Is the Question.

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