What is Gaslighting & Signs to Look For

What is gaslighting and how can you know whether or not it’s happening to you? Gaslighting is one of the more harmful forms of emotional manipulation you can experience and takes place in several contexts including:

  • A romantic relationship
  • With extended family
  • A friendship
  • Gaslighting at work
  • As a nation under tyranny
  • Cult-like scenarios

What makes gaslighting particularly dangerous is that it throws off your inner self, making you question and eventually doubt your intuition and judgement. It’s often easy for even the most insightful individuals to fall prey to gaslighting. Most times, the process is quite progressed and a lot of damage has already been done before the victim catches on, if they do at all.

Gaslighting tends to be a drawn-out process. Months and years of manipulative tactics aren’t uncommon, especially when it comes to gaslighting in relationships. Why would someone gaslight you? It boils down to an unhealthy desire for power and control. And if you become a victim, make no mistake, it will diminish your mental wellbeing, causing your feelings of self-worth to plummet over time.

“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think,” says Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D. in her “Psychology Today” article entitled 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.

What Does it Mean to Gaslight Someone? Here are Some Examples 

Making sense of a gaslighting definition or a gaslighting meaning requires examining common tactics used. It’s nearly impossible to define gaslighting in a few sentences.  Instead, you need a gaslighting example, or better yet, several of them. What follows are some of the more common tactics used.

Obvious Lies

Is someone telling obvious lies to you? They may be such ‘stretchers’ that they seem ludicrous. However, if those lies are repeated often enough over a long enough time span, you may gradually start to believe them.

Gaslighters may deny their bad behavior, lie to you about others or tell lies about you to your face. This gives the gaslighter power over you. After all, if they can get you to believe blatant lies, what can’t they get you to believe?

Questioning Your Sanity

One common tactic for a gaslighter is to question their victim’s sanity. They may say, “you’re imagining that,” or, “you’re crazy.” You may aggressively and emotionally deny it and, the more you do, the ‘crazier’ it makes you look.

Gaslighters love to watch you defend yourself about something that isn’t true. That takes the attention off of their bad behavior. And the reality is that none of us are perfectly mentally healthy and a self-reflective, empathetic person knows this. Such accusations can be read too far into by the victim as a result.

They Act Superior 

Gaslighting fails miserably if the playing field is even and fair. For that reason, your gaslighter will look for things you’re insecure about and put you down for them (like you didn’t already feel those vulnerabilities strongly enough).

It may be your weight, your past, your lack of education or income level to name a few. Usually, they’ll attack you with something they feel they’re better than you at. The goal is to create an uneven, double-standard relationship, where they’re ‘obviously superior to you’ and, therefore ‘have a right to exercise their authority over you’. 

Attack the Core of Your Identity

What are the fundamental things that most make you who you are? Maybe it’s a special talent, your beliefs, your kids, your choice of partner or something else. A gaslighter will search for the ‘root of your tree’.

Then, if you let them, they’ll take up their emotional ax and chop away at the core of who you are. After all, if you stay true to who you are, you’ll have the power to resist their manipulation games. And that’s the last thing they want.

Random Positive Reinforcement 

Why would a gaslighter throw in some random compliments? Because this continues to keep you inwardly conflicted, confused and trusting. One moment, you’ll think, “I need to get away from this toxic person.” The next, you’ll feel guilty and confused for having had such thoughts. And getting you to feel guilty for the gaslighter’s abusive behavior is a major goal for them. 

Words and Actions Don’t Match 

Take a step back from the situation if you think you’re being gaslighted. Now, compare your potential gaslighter’s words with their actions. Do they talk nicely to you but treat you badly?

Most habitual gaslighters are charmers outwardly. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be so successful at sucking people into their toxic game. Once you see the vast difference between their words and actions, you’ll feel more empowered and confident about what’s going on (and how to protect yourself).

Isolate You from Others

Gaslighters thrive best (or worst) when there is no one left who can help their victim. For that reason, they’ll do anything they can to erode your support system. That could include telling others close to you that you’re ‘crazy’ or saying blatant lies to them about you.

The hope is that your would-be support system will side with them instead of you. And if this happens, you’ll be way more vulnerable to believing the lies of your gaslighter and, as a result, being controlled in any way they want.

What is Gaslighting Doing to My Self Worth? Do I Need Help?

What does gaslighting mean in a romantic relationship or any other context? A lot of struggle with self-worth and doubt. The truth is that all of us can exhibit gaslighting behaviors every once in a while. This could be done knowingly or could happen without us realizing what we’re doing.

This article focused on gaslighting at its worst though. It was written to warn you of how some regularly use these manipulation tactics to wage emotional warfare on others to underhandedly get what they want. Because gaslighting is so insidious and harmful to one’s self-worth, it’s often a good idea to seek out a licensed professional counselor for help.

You’re not ‘weak’ or ‘dumb’ if you’ve fallen for gaslighting tactics. As said earlier, gaslighters are often very believable even to the most observant individuals.

Could you benefit from an appointment with the OC Relationship Center? If so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for couples’ counseling, marriage counseling or individual counseling. The truth is gaslighters only have power if you give it to them. We’ll show you evidence-based ways to take that power back.

We provide therapy to the Orange County, California region with counseling in Newport Beach, CA and Mission Viejo, CA. We look forward to meeting you!

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