Informational Article: What is Gaslighting

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a common form of emotional/psychological abuse and can be used as a tactic in grooming children for abuse. The term comes from Gaslight (1944) a movie where the technique is used by the characters. Gaslighting is sometimes also called “crazy making”.

Gaslighting is used to make the victim feel as if they are going crazy. It undermines self-respect, trust in their self and perceptions, confidence, and ability to make decisions. Gaslighting gives the abuser power of the victim’s view of the reality of situations and most importantly over the reality of the relationship. Lying, twisting the words, turning the accusations back on the victim, acting aggrieved and escalating behaviour. The abuser tries to ensure the victim not only fears if they can trust themselves but will feel guilty for ever speaking against the abuser.

In the context of child sexual abuse (CSA) the gaslighting is often used to convince the victim all the abusive behaviours are fine, normal and an expression of “love”. It is used to ensure the victim doesn’t speak out about it and doesn’t fight back. It can also be used in concert with other grooming tactics like fear and isolation.

Because the victim doesn’t have trust in themselves the victim will feel like they have to rely on the abuser. In sexual abuse situations, the power differential makes it easier to make the child believe the adult knows everything and the kid knows nothing. The victim will default to the abuser’s perceptions of the situation.

The abuser can also use gaslighting on the family, caregivers or friends of the victim. They can keep their suspicions at bay and stopping anyone looking closer. Abusers will use the victim as part of the gaslighting and manipulation of those around the child being sexually abused.

Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship:

Countering: This is quintessential gaslighting. They directly counter the memories and perceptions of the victim.

  • “Huh? that’s not how it really happened!”
  • “I didn’t force you.”
  • “I never did/said that”
  • “It didn’t happen that way!”
  • “See you said you wanted this.”
  • “You didn’t tell me that!”
  • “Your memory is so crappy!”

Diverting: The abuser diverts the subject and puts the blame into outside circumstances.

  • “I don’t want to hear this again.”
  • “I never meant to hurt you know that.”
  • “Why do you keep saying things like this?!”
  • “Why would you say that to me!”
  • “Your hurting me when you say that.”

Repetitive Questions: The abusive partner makes the victim doubt what they think or feel by asking the same question multiple times. Questions are asked so many times the victim doubts their own answers.

  • “Are you sure?”
  • “Don’t you believe me?”
  • “Don’t you ever listen?”
  • “Do you really think that?”
  • “Is that how you really feel about it?”
  • “You love me right?”

Trivializing: The victim’s feels are made to feel like they don’t matter, are unfounded, or they are weak for thinking so.

  • “Don’t you want to show me how strong you are.”
  • “Don’t wimp out now we just started.”
  • “Stop being angry nothing happened.”
  • “Well, it’s not like I really hurt you.”
  • “Why are you acting like I hurt you?”
  • “You’re blowing this out of proportion?”
  • “You’re just jealous.”
  • “You’re too sensitive!”
  • “Your upset over nothing, this how this always goes.”

What Others Say: The abuser tells the victim what other people think about the victim, the abuser and/or the situation on whole.

  • “Everyone knows you want it, I’m just the one who gives it to you.”
  • “Everyone sees you as a (insert slur or derogatory term).”
  • “I heard your father talking about you and he said (something means).” ( Father can be substituted with any loved one.)
  • “No one would ever believe you anyway.”
  • “No one else would ever love you.”
  • “People have been saying (hurtful lie) behind your back.”
  • “They don’t actually like you, they just put up with you.”
  • “This is how everyone shows their love.”

Withholding: The abuser pretends they don’t understand what the victim is saying. Acts ignorant to the harm and emotions pretend.

  • “No one else can understand our relationship, just trust me.”
  • “Oh great, you got that from (friend/family member).”
  • “That’s what other people want you to think.”
  • “That’s what they say but we know what’s really going on right?”
  • “You can’t believe what other people tell you.”

How Gaslighting Makes You Feel:

  1. Frequently second-guessing your ability to remember things.
  2. It’s hard to make decisions.
  3. It’s hard to trust your own judgment, and given a choice, you choose the judgment of the abuser.
  4. Something is “off” about your father, teacher, sibling, uncle etc. you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.
  5. They make you feel confused and disorientated.
  6. You feel guilty for not feeling happy.
  7. You feel isolated, hopeless, and misunderstood.
  8. You feel like something is wrong with you or you’re going crazy.
  9. You feel like you have to hide what the person does to you.
  10. You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or “too sensitive.”
  11. You feel threatened and on-edge around this person.
  12. You find yourself needing to apologize all the time for yourself.
  13. You never feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations of others, even if they harm you.
  14. You’re always apologizing for how the person’s behaviour.
  15. You’re always apologizing to the persons.
  16. You’re scared to“speak up” or expressing your emotions, so you stay silent.

Healing From Gaslighting:

Clarify to yourself how, when and who is or was gaslighting you. Think about what ways they make you feel unhinged and like you’re losing it. Write down whatever you can think of.

Take notes in the moment when things happen so you can check back on them. It can be easier to check on what happened and supports your own perceptions.

Pay attention to the signs of being gaslighted, like feeling confused, belittled, “crazy” or manipulated. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and centre yourself. Set aside regular time for grounding each day through meditation or a mindfulness practice.

When possible separate yourself from the abuser and those who support them. Seek connection with those who offer support. Form new relationships and support networks. Support groups, therapists and other formal support is helpful as well.

Practice asserting yourself in small moments and work up to being able to stand up for yourself.

You can heal from gaslighting, you don't have to live in doubt forever.

Be Blessed,

-Admin 2

Cindy, et al. “Gaslighting: What It Is and How to Tell If You Have It Going On in Your Relationship.” Meriah Nichols, 4 Feb. 2019, http://www.meriahnichols.com/gaslighting/.

Colaianni, Paul. “When Manipulative People Change Your Reality: Crazymaking and Gaslighting.” Love and Abuse, Simple Podcast Player, 11 Mar. 2019, loveandabuse.com/when-manipulative-people-change-your-reality-crazymaking-and-gaslighting/

Lancer, Darlene. “How to Know If You’re a Victim of Gaslighting.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2017, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201801/how-know-if-youre-victim-gaslighting.

Luna, Aletheia. “You’re Not Going Crazy: 15 Signs You’re a Victim of Gaslighting ⋆ LonerWolf.” LonerWolf, LonerWolf, 18 Apr. 2019, lonerwolf.com/gaslighting/.

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