The Real Deal on Gaslighting

One Writer

To make sure it means what you think it means — here’s the real deal on the trending word
Image by Grae Dickason from Pixabay

I always thought I knew what gaslighting meant. The word can be heard now on news programs, seen in every other Facebook and Twitter post, and seen painted in bold lettering on protestor signs. But sometimes, given the context, I have to question if we all have the same idea of what this means. I’ll be honest, I Googled gaslighting.

I don’t want to be one of those “no idea what I am talking about” Facebookers that taint the feed with their nonsense and stand by it, guns drawn, name-calling at the ready. I want to be informed — and I thought you might too.

Here’s what gaslighting really means

First, the actual definition:

Learn to pronounce
gerund or present participle: gaslighting
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
“in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband”
 — Definition

In her article, 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting by Psychology Today, Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D. explains the term in such a way that I realize, I never should have questioned my understanding of gaslighting. As it turns out, thanks to my narcissistic ex, I am an unwilling expert.

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. — Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D.

It’s been my experience of late, that the term has taken on an umbrella-form that encompasses any form of speaking over or speaking negatively to others, when this is actually not the true form of gaslighting as it is defined. Ask any person who has been in a manipulative relationship where they were regularly subjected to gaslighting and they will tell you, it is very different than condescension, dismissal, or the other hot-term of late: “mansplaining.”

It is a very deliberate and emotionally destructive, emotionally destructive behavior. Many women and men who have suffered at the hands of an abuser will recognize this as one of the common control-and-demean tactics used by their abuser, mine included.

They shut you down.

They talk over you.

They demean you.

But in doing so — they make you question your own thoughts, your own sanity, and your own perception of the world around you. They make you mistrust your own vision of reality. They force you to see the world through their eyes — and oftentimes or else.

No one deserves to be treated this way.

Gaslighting assumes you can not be trusted to think for yourself. Gaslighting puts a person or an entity in power over your thought processes — and often makes you question whether or not you could manage to think for yourself without their assistance, approval or permission.

“Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” Sarkis says.
“In the vernacular, the phrase ‘to gaslight’ refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings. Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are as people”. — Robin Stern of Vox

In short, it is emotional abuse. Manipulation with intent to control.

I have become an expert on gaslighting because of my ex-husband, who used this form of manipulation on me for nearly 10 years. He wore at me until he nearly drove me clinically insane.

It has been my experience, you can suspect gaslighting if:

  • They tell you lies, and insist you are mistaken, even when you have proof.
  • They bend the truth of something you witnessed, forcing you to question your own recollection of the events.
  • They question your sanity when you express valid emotion.
  • They use the things and people you love as leverage to control you.
  • They use anything you have said as ammunition and twist it to prove their point — that you are crazy or wrong.
  • They wear you down over a series of events and over time and you begin to believe them.
  • They isolate you from people or things that empower you.
  • They try to confuse you. They will often be trying to convince you that you are crazy or confused, but come at you with a positive spirit, like they are empathizing and helping you. The mixed signals cause you even more confusion.
  • They try to make other people think you are having mental health problems and they can’t really believe you. They turn people against you.
  • They repeatedly deny your experience and invalidate your emotions.

What is the purpose of this article?

The point is to gently remind you to be very careful when and how you use this term.

Do not dilute the meaning by using it recklessly.

Do not further dismiss those that suffer from this mind-controlling form of abuse.

But when you do see it —call it out, hard. No one deserves to be treated this way.

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