The Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide
What Is Gaslighting?
In this chapter we’ll explore the Gaslight Effect, identifying what it is and the telltale signs that may signal you are involved in a gaslighting relationship. To provide context, we’ll dig deeper into the progressive stages of gaslighting and the three most common types of gaslighters. I encourage you to bring your intelligence, intuition, sensitivity, and insight to this unique and personal journey.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is an insidious and sometimes covert form of emotional abuse, repeated over time, where the abuser makes the target question their judgments, reality, and, in extreme cases, their own sanity.
Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation in which a gaslighter—the more powerful person in a relationship—tries to convince you that you’re misremembering, misunderstanding, or misinterpreting your own behavior or motivations, thus creating doubt in your mind that leaves you vulnerable and confused.Understanding the Gaslight Effect
The Gaslight Effect results from a relationship between two people: A gaslighter, who needs to be right to preserve their own sense of self and to keep a sense of power in the world; and a gaslightee, who is manipulated into allowing the gaslighter to define their sense of reality because they idealize the gaslighter and seek their approval. You feel yourself slipping into confusion and self-doubt—but why? What has made you suddenly question yourself? How is it that a person who supposedly cares for you has left you feeling so awful?
Gaslighting is insidious. The gaslighter understands that there are few things as destabilizing as being made to question your own grip on reality. Gaslighting can warp your mind and leave a more powerful impact than physical abuse. It plays on your worst fears, your most anxious thoughts, and your deepest wishes to be understood, appreciated, and loved. When someone you have chosen to trust, respect, or love speaks with certainty—especially if there is a grain of truth in it—it can be extremely difficult not to believe them.
1. Neither of you may be aware of what’s happening. The gaslighter may genuinely believe that they are saving you from yourself. Remember, they are driven by their own needs to seem like a strong, powerful person, although they may appear to be an insistent, tantrum-throwing child. They know no other way to gain power or to feel secure. They must prove they are right, and you must agree. If even a small part of you feels the need for your gaslighter’s love or approval to be whole, you are susceptible to gaslighting. Gaslighting is always the creation and interplay of two people.
2. A gaslighter sows confusion and doubt.
•They manipulate someone into questioning their own reality.
•They don’t take responsibility for their actions and try to undermine the credibility of anyone who questions their actions.
•They attempt to control the gaslightee by questioning their reality and insisting the gaslightee agrees with them.
•To support their own needs, they undermine someone’s sense of self by questioning their reality, belittling their judgments, and redefining who they are.
•They destabilize their partner when they are feeling vulnerable in an effort to feel more powerful.
•They use an implicit threat of abandonment to keep their partner connected by asserting that the gaslightee needs them to define their reality.
3. A gaslightee is manipulated into doubting their own perceptions to keep the relationship going.
•You are manipulated into letting the other define your sense of reality and who you are.
•When the aggressor asserts their point of view while negating your own, you go along to keep things calm.
•You support the other’s reality at the expense of your own, in the hope of gaining their approval or avoiding unpleasant behavior.
•You second-guess yourself instead of running the risk of alienating your partner—you leave yourself rather than risk your partner leaving you.
•You forfeit your personal power and can’t find the energy or the will to stand up for yourself in the face of adversity.
•You need to believe the gaslighter to keep participating in the relationship.
4. How do you know if it’s gaslighting?
You may be thinking, “That happens all the time. I always disagree with my partner!” So, what’s the difference between gaslighting and . . .
•Disagreeing with someone?
✔Discussing and listening to opposing points of view in a respectful manner is a healthy form of debate. It keeps your mind active and helps you form a stronger bond of mutual respect and define boundaries.
•Trying to influence someone?
✔There are always times when we attempt to persuade others to agree with us or to go along with our desired plan. Which restaurant should we go to for dinner? Where should we go for vacation? However, this is not a malicious attempt to manipulate the other person into questioning either their grasp on reality or the validity of their personal preferences.
✔Healthy narcissism can reflect a cohesive sense of self, but unhealthy narcissism is typically the result of a childhood developmental injury, resulting in adult behaviors that can lead to total self-involvement and insensitivity to the needs of others. Not all narcissists are gaslighters.
✔Bullying is a repetitive behavior (somewhat redefined by the internet) that often includes an imbalance of power and an intent to harm the other, physically, mentally, or emotionally. It may include gaslighting but doesn’t necessarily involve an intentional undermining of someone’s reality—although repeated aggressive criticism may result in the target questioning themselves.
✔Manipulation is about intention and degree. Manipulating a situation to achieve a generally positive outcome is different from intentional manipulation that undermines the other’s integrity, perception, or self-esteem. When this is done to gain power for personal satisfaction and momentary stability, this is abusive gaslighting.Are You Being Gaslighted?
Let’s Get Personal—Turn up your gaslight radar and check for these twenty telltale signs. Gaslighting may not involve all of these experiences or feelings, but if you recognize yourself in any of them, give it extra attention. (Check the signs that feel familiar.)
You are constantly second-guessing yourself. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, partner, or boss.
You frequently wonder if you are “good enough.”
You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
You buy clothes for yourself, furnishings for your apartment, or other personal purchases with your partner in mind, thinking about what they would like instead of what would make you feel great.
You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
You find yourself withholding information from friends and family, so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
You start lying to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.
You have trouble making simple decisions.
You think twice before bringing up seemingly innocent topics of conversation.
Before your partner comes home, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong that day.
You have the sense that you used to be a very different person—more confident, more fun loving, and more relaxed.
You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
Your kids begin trying to protect you from your partner.
You find yourself furious with people you’ve always gotten along with before.
You feel hopeless and joyless.
While all these symptoms can occur with anxiety disorders, depression, or low self-esteem, the difference with gaslighting is that there is another person or group that’s actively engaged in trying to make you second-guess what you know is true. If you don’t typically experience these feelings with other people but do with one particular individual, then you might be a victim of gaslighting.