You’ve probably come across the word ‘gaslighting’ recently – it’s been commonly used to describe a certain president (who now can’t admit defeat) and has been popping up all over social media with the rise in mental health discussions. But what does it mean and why is it named after a lamp?
The term ‘gaslight’ was coined by psychotherapists after the play, Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton – it tells the story of a manipulative husband attempting to control his wife by convincing her that she is going insane. One of the ways he does this is by adjusting the flame on a gas lamp and insisting that she’s imagining the light change.
According to Psychology Today, this manipulation tactic is prevalent among abusers, dictators, narcissists and cult leaders who slowly make their victims question their reality so they don’t notice they’re getting brainwashed. How do they do this?
Gaslighting techniques include:
- Lying – they tell blatant lies, even when there’s proof, to confuse you and wear you down.
- Projecting – they will accuse you of something they’re guilty of to distract you from their bad behaviour.
- Using things against you – after gaining your trust, they’ll use your insecurities against you and make you feel even worse.
- Love bombing – to keep your trust, they’ll surprise you with expressions of love.
- Turning you against others – they will try to convince you that everyone else, but them, is bad for you and has been lying to you.
- Turning people against you – to isolate you, and gain more control, they will lie to others and make you look bad.
If you’ve experienced any of the above, you may have found yourself:
- Questioning yourself – you begin to doubt everything from your feelings and reality to judgement and perceptions.
- Apologising a lot – you’re afraid of being ‘too sensitive’ and start walking on eggshells around your abuser.
- Feeling insecure – their abuse has affected your self-esteem.
- Isolated – you feel helpless and are convinced that you can’t turn to anyone.
Here’s what you can do if you recognise the signs:
- Seek professional help – please consult a doctor if it has caused you mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
- Ask a friend or family member – talk to someone outside of the situation to help clarify your doubts.
- Document the abuse – as evidence, write down everything from when it happened to how it made you feel. This will also remind you what really happened instead of depending on their version of reality.
- Distance yourself – if it’s tough to cut them off completely, you can start by setting boundaries such as saying “no” and not engaging with them. Avoiding arguments can prevent you from being put in a vulnerable position.
- Practice self-care – take care of your mental and physical health during this time, and start building yourself up again with positive affirmations.
Remember, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and the abuser is responsible for their own toxic actions. You are not to blame for what you have experienced.