Gaslighting: Emotional Abuse & Manipulation

Tuesday, November 7 2017 Emily J. Sullivan

Gaslighting is emotional abuse and manipulation that makes you feel like you're going crazy from confusion. Here's how to tell if someone is gaslighting you.

Gaslighting, emotional abuse that can drive a person crazy, is a form of manipulation that can lead to the victim questioning everything they have ever known to be true. Do you know someone whose interactions leave you feeling like you are going insane, either from frustration, bewilderment, or exhaustion? You may be a victim of gaslighting. Don’t panic, the silver lining is you’re not actually going crazy, you’ve just had a firsthand encounter with gaslighting -- emotional abuse and crazy-making manipulation.

Are You Experiencing Gaslighting, Emotional Abuse & Manipulation?

Red Flags

  • Gaslighters adamantly swear they never said something they did. This can make anyone feel crazy. For example, you’re certain you heard them say they went to the movies last week. You remember telling your best friend that your boyfriend was seeing a movie at the time, but now he’s staring at you brazenly and saying he never said such a thing. He’s even looking at you like you’re doing something strange or manipulating him.
  • Gaslighters tell you that you’re crazy and often tell you that other people close to you worry about your sanity as well. They may act as though they are the only person in your life that cares enough to be straight with you. They may even suggest that someone close to you, a friend or relative, discreetly inquired as to how you were doing because everyone’s been so concerned with your alleged strange behavior.
  • Gaslighters invalidate your thoughts and feelings by saying you’re overly sensitive or paranoid. They reaffirm these statements by bringing other people into their manipulation. For example, they may say something like, “Your brother is right about you, you’re always overreacting and creating drama.” Now you’re left feeling like not only does your partner perceive you this way, but your brother too. This is when you start questioning yourself, wondering if you are in fact paranoid and sensitive.
  • Gaslighters aim to alienate you from your family and friends, as well as other people in your life. They may manipulate you by claiming other people mistreat you. They may suggest that your friends are using you, your parents just want to control you, or your boss is always manipulating you. They will twist even the most ordinary things in a way that will leave you confused. Eventually, you’ll find yourself questioning the people in your life.
  • Gaslighters undermine your beliefs and delegitimize your arguments with the use of lies, denial, projection, diversion, and persistence. In response to a very direct question, a gaslighter will say things like, “I’m not going over this again, I’m done explaining something so simple,” or “You think I did what? You’re the one who has issues with that.”

Gaslighting is a tedious process that happens over time and can happen to anyone, it is not a reflection on the strength or intelligence of the victim. Discourse with a gaslighter can be so profoundly baffling and tiresome, the victim starts to give up. Rather than question or fight the gaslighting, emotional abuse begins to feel routine, the victim begins to accept whatever it is they’re being perpetually fed. Narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths often practice gaslighting with the intention of controlling, isolating, and diminishing their victim.

An important key to avoiding gaslighting emotional abuse is trusting your instincts, holding firm in your long-held beliefs, and identifying the red flags for what they are -- the crazy-making manipulation of a gaslighter.

* I feel it’s important to clarify that every gaslighter is not a sociopathic mastermind with a mind control agenda. Some people behave this way because they have really poor communication and conflict resolution skills. I hate to give someone mastermind credit when they essentially just have lousy habits and treat others badly.

Sources:

Abramson, K. (2014) Turning Up The Lights On Gaslighting. Philosophical Perspectives, 28(1), 1-30. doi:10.1111/phpe.12046

Author: Emily J. Sullivan

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Gaslighting: Emotional Abuse & Manipulation

Linda T
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Great article. Makes me feel a little saner seeing that this is ”a thing”.
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Thanks so much for reading!
Emma-Marie Smith
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Hi Emily,

Great article! I wish I had known about gaslighting when I was dating my ex, as you've basically described every interaction we ever had. I remember thinking that I couldn't tell which thoughts were mine and which were his. I would wake up in the night having panic attacks because I couldn't remember who I was. The constant diverting and blaming and avoidance really does make you crazy. Thank you for your insight :)

Emma x
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Emma, thank you!! I wish I would have known about this in the past as well... Every example I discussed here, I experienced. It is so frustrating and confusing! I feel like once you're aware of these things it's a bit easier to identify it when it's happening and be able to differentiate between what's based in reality and when someone is just screwing with you, ya know? Thanks for reading and thank you for your support! <3 -Your fellow blogger xo
Tammy welch
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Reading this article gave me insight on what I've been going through at work. People talking in code around me. Making me look like I'm crazy. When I went to the next level. The word was out who was the informant. Which caused a hostile work environment and vandolised to my vehicle. This was taken to the next level and then investigated. I was told I was hearing things and nobody heard or seen nothing. It was all in my head. Even after I have logged everything that happened. Employer closed case.
Kimberly
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
How do you even know how to get out of this situation? Always lost, scared, feeling stupid, like I'm making the whole thing up ...
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Tammy, I am so sorry to hear about your work environment! It sounds really toxic. Your car was vandalized and they are acting like you're crazy and closed the case? That is terrible! I think it's very wise to keep everything logged and documented like you mentioned. I'm so sorry, you must have a ton of stress going to work every day. Hang in there, Tammy. Hopefully, things will change soon one way or another. In the meantime, here's an article on <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/10/coping-with-verbal-abuse/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Verbal Abuse Coping for When You Can't Just Leave</a>. Thanks, Emily
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Kimberly, Hi I'm so sorry for your feelings of being lost, scared, and stupid - you're not stupid, you are worthy of love and respect. Have you considered leaving? I understand that's not always an immediate, realistic option, but could you see yourself coming up with a safe plan to leave? I do hope you realize your partner's behavior has no bearing on who you are as a person, it is no reflection on your value and it does not define you. An emotionally abusive person generally has very deep-rooted issues of their own that cause them to behave so terribly. I always recommend in these circumstances that you leave. If you're not ready just yet, consider exploring some <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/10/coping-with-verbal-abuse/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">coping strategies</a> in the meantime. Thanks, Emily
Gwendolyn Stewart
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
When I realized my husband was highlighting me, it was devastating! We owned a car dealership, but after experiencing the anxiety, sleepless nights, stress, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality I literally ran away from home. Left him, the business and everything else. This has caused a big problem for me, but I felt it necessary for my sanity. We were only married for approximately 2 years. I left on October 17, 2016, and haven't and don't plan to go back. I'm seeking divorce, but it had been an arduous process. Since leaving him, he's committed some fraudulent biz practices, that has caused some problems. I am the primary person (owner) of the business and because of that our floorplan is coming after me for the money he spent in lieu of paying them. I'm faced with a law suit in the amount of $125K. I know that I will need to secure a lawyer, but I don't have the money to do so. My husband is not cooperative neither is he willing to pay the money back. However, I'm glad that I got out of the relationship, with my right mind. Right now, I'm seeing a therapist, just to help me move forward, and reclaim my life. I'm 65 and my husband is 57. He is a great manipulator, and liar and I just want to go on with my life. It's there any advice or help you can give me?
Gwendolyn Stewart
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
When I realized my husband was using gas lighting techniques, after approximately 2 yrs of marriage, I left home, with just the cloths on my back. I felt my sanity was at stake. I experienced the anxiety, sleepless nights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, and realized I had to leave. I'm seeking a divorce but he's making it difficult for it to happen. I've tried to go NO CONTACT to avoid being sucked back in to this devastating behavior. But, thus hasn't been easy, due to owning a car dealership, however, I use limited contact, as much as possible.
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Gwendolyn, I am so sorry that you are dealing with that. I think it's amazing you left the way you did and that you are putting <em>yourself</em> first. I agree with you, no contact unless absolutely necessary is the best route. It's practicing self-preservation; having a healthy fear of his effect on your life is wise and important. Also, the fact that you're seeing a therapist is fantastic, especially when you've encountered gaslighting abuse, seeing a therapist that you click with and that listens to you, can really help you recover from that trauma and confusion. So far you're doing all the things I typically suggest-- You've left, you're practicing a no-contact policy and you're seeing a therapist. These are all such important aspects of recovering and moving on. Regarding the legal issues, have you tried reaching out to a lawyer? I understand you don't have the money for that at the moment, but many law offices will give you a free consultation and refer you to an attorney that may be able to help you. You can also use the tools featured on the Women's Law website, it should help you contact abuse advocates and has attorneys and resources that specialize in helping women leave abusive relationships, I imagine if you tell them what's going on, they may be able to steer you in the best direction to get this resolved. to <a href="https://www.womenslaw.org/find-help" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">WomensLaw.org</a>

Thank you for reaching out Gwendolyn, please feel free to reach out to us anytime! -Emily
Rachel
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Great job EM it's crazy I dated someone not too long ago where Gas lighting as you say was his go to . I will never forget We had this great night of bonding and watching movies and out of no where an argument insued about my religion how his parents wouldn't accept me because I am Jewish and if we got married how would we raise our kids I got upset and said I accept you just the way you are and I hope that you and your parents would return that acceptance I said my religion isn't his concern and maybe we should talk later when I am not so shocked and hurt . I had called him later that day and said if we did get married for our kids we would raise them all the same religion , he replied woah what makes you think I would want to marry you . I was in shock and felt baffled was I stupid for thinking that ? what was that whole argument about ? ..... Feeling pretty stupid I just dismissed the whole argument but it was the same song and dance the kept me feeling bewildered and dumbfounded . It came to a head I did not leave my abusive ex for this ..... granted its not physical abuse but a form of abusive nonetheless a more intelligent discreet way and I was not going to accept it a minute more and I deleted him from my life.
Rachel
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Gwendolyn you said the suit is for 125k alot of lawyers will take your case they will just ask for a percentage of the winning if they win the case for you this is how I handled my suit and it worked out great my lawyer took 15% of my winnings but to the alternative it was way worth it you have more power then you think !!!!
Emily Sullivan
says:
May, 25 2018 at 7:03 pm
Rachel, is this MY Jewish friend Rachel? Hey! Yea, that definitely sounds like gaslighting, he says something, you refer to it later and then he acts like he never said anything of that sort and makes you feel stupid. I'm sorry! I'm glad you're able to see that for what it is because you're clearly <em>not</em> stupid. I'm so glad you deleted him and were able to move on. Good for you, girl! -Emily

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