What is gas lighting and why is it so serious?
Gas-lighting has become a term people are starting to hear more about, but maybe you’re wondering what it actually means? There are specific “techniques” used when someone is gaslighting that are most commonly found in narcissist, abusive relationships, and cult leaders. It can be something an unhealthy person does, too, but when it’s a standard part of the relationship dynamics, it can be a sign of something deeper.
Gaslighting is manipulation and brainwashing at its core. Generally, it starts slowly here and there, and you question yourself, your feelings, your thoughts - but as the brainwashing builds more and more over time, you are left feeling like you are crazy!
It may start off as off-handed comments that are a “joke” but really cut you down. Like making fun of you in front of a group of friends. If you address it with the person, they make the excuse that they were just trying to tease you and that you need to lighten up… which leads me to my first point.
Here’s a list of some general techniques and warning signs to look for when someone is gas-lighting:
1. Other people think you’re high-maintenance, dramatic, sensitive or crazy.
When gas-lighting, an abuser often does what I like to call a “smear campaign.” Meaning, the person subtly sends others negative messages about you. For example, they regularly degrade you behind closed doors, and when you share with a couple’s counselor that it hurts your feelings, they will make a comment about how easily offended you are, or they’ll explain how you misperceived the situation and didn’t have accurate information. Basically sending the counselor the message that you’re feelings are hurt because you’re sensitive, not because of what they did wrong.
Another example is telling people that you’re crazy. It’s a general term that is easily believable. Yet, the abuser can rarely give specific examples. Or if he/she does, then it’s something that has a bit of truth mixed in with a lie. Or they conveniently leave out their part in any given incident.
2. They continuously lie or deny things they’ve said or done.
You might call the gas-lighter out for behavior he/she did, and with complete conviction, they look you square in the eye and deny it all. If the person does actually admit to something he or she has done wrong, then he will make it sound like you were very over dramatic and that you don’t actually know the real story.
They will often lie even about things you have evidence for. Or only admit the truth when they’ve been backed into a corner. Yet, this is usually followed by a blame shift - redirecting the focus to you, what you’ve done wrong or making excuses as to why what they did wasn’t that bad or how it’s ultimately your fault.
Consequently, the constant lying has you questioning your reality and wondering what is actually true or not. And remember - look at the behavior rather than what the person is saying. The gas-lighter can be a big talker, but there is little to no follow through. Or any "change" that occurs only lasts for a short period of time. Which leads me to my next point…
3. The gas-lighter will praise you and give you positive reinforcement.
This is often key to keeping you trapped. While you may continuously be cut down, the gas-lighter will also throw in some compliments to praise you. This is huge when it comes to having you question your reality! Not only do you doubt whether things are as bad as you think, but it also makes you believe the abuser isn’t so bad or that things might be changing for the better.
This also keeps you walking on egg-shells. You never know when you will be praised or when you will be criticized. This uneasiness can leave you feeling insecure, which keeps the abuser in power.
4. The gas-lighter accuses you of things they actually do themselves.
The gas-lighter may accuse you of cheating, for example, when in reality they are the one actually cheating on you. Or accuse you of lying, stealing, or any behavior they don't want to get caught in. What this blaming does is keeps the finger pointed at you. Ultimately, you are so caught up in defending yourself that rarely does a finger get pointed back at the other person and what they’ve actually done stays hidden. Plus, as you consistently get blamed for something you didn’t actually do, you feeling crazier and crazier over time.
5. They also accuse others of things that aren’t true
This sets you up to question others - just like he sets others up to doubt you. Because if you suspect someone else then when they give you advice, tell you they notice abusive behavior, or you go to them in confidence and tell them what is happening - you will discredit what they tell you. Ultimately keeping you trapped by having you question your reality.
6. They will use things against you
They utilize that which is closest to your heart to use against you, fill you with fear, and force you into submission. Anything is fair game to the gas-lighter.
A gas-lighter knows when they have control over you and what works. If you ever start to gain freedom, they will find something else you value and try and use it against you.
7. They will try and isolate you.
If you go to another person and describe the abusive behavior you’re experiencing, the gas-lighting individual will likely get called out (If the person you’re going to is a healthy individual). But to keep you trapped, they will try to isolate you from others or put others in your life that are unhealthy and are easily manipulated. Ultimately leading you right back to them and keeping you trapped.
These behaviors can be so severe and exhausting that it gradually wears you down. And because it’s gradual, it is easily missed at the beginning.
People that are in close relationships with a gas-lighter after often people that have experienced trauma or grew up in a dysfunctional family system. So your “radar” for seeing gas-lighting behavior is turned “lower,” if you will than those who grew up in a healthy family system.
You may fight back at first, but then as time goes by and you’re worn down more and more, you eventually give up. Things may seem not so bad, but that’s because the abuser has you right where they want you and their constant gas-lighting techniques work on you.
Gas-lighting is a form of abuse, and it crushes and destroys the soul of the victim. Remember, you aren’t the crazy one! You were highly abused and manipulated and give yourself time to heal from this trauma.