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.
Therapy is an immensely valuable tool for mental wellbeing that should be made more accessible – it can not only be costly, but Malaysia has suffered from a critical shortage of clinical psychologists. Traditional talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is the most widely used mental health service. However, if you’re not ready or able to do so, there are other ways you can process your emotions and feelings. Even if you’ve tried counselling and found it wasn’t for you, don’t feel bad because we all have different needs. Try exploring these mental health treatments instead:
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- Yoga Therapy
Yoga therapy helps toimprove mental and physical health by using yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation and guided visualisation. Its therapeutic focus covers a wide range of clinical methods that combineboth physical therapy and psychotherapy.
- Dance / Movement Therapy
Dance therapy incorporates movement for a better understanding of self-awareness and self-esteem. By offering a space space to express your feelings, the treatment is beneficial for both physical and mental health.
- Music Therapy
Conducted by a professional therapist, music therapy uses music to promote and sustain overall wellbeing. It involves a variety of musical activities, such as listening to music, singing and playing an instrument.
- Art Therapy
You don’t need to be skilled to partake in art therapy – it just uses the creative process to help people build self-awareness, explore feelings, fix unresolved issues, enhance social skills and boost self-esteem.
- Writing Therapy
Journal writing is a popular tool used by psychotherapists. This form of therapy addresses problems through journaling techniques and prompts to increase awareness and improve mental health conditions.
Also known as nature therapy, ecotherapy offers the opportunity to explore your relationship with nature. The positive impacts of interacting with nature has been illustrated by an increasing amount of research.
Mental illness among men is a topic that needs more attention – there’s a dangerous stigma surrounding men’s mental health, which makes it harder for them to seek help. Worrying statistics from the World Health Organization show that more men die by suicide worldwide, with men making up 70% of suicide deaths in Malaysia. Although more women are diagnosed with depression, the root cause of this public health problem is the patriarchal attitudes ingrained within our culture – men are discouraged from showing emotions and start to fear being seen as ‘weak’. Society still holds strongly to these masculine ideals and norms, placing the pressure on men to be providers.
Growing up in the collectivist culture of Malaysia didn’t stop content creator, Ryan Matjeraie, from valuing his individualism. The half-Iban, half-Irish personality never found himself basing his self-worth on financial success, and instead chased creative pursuits from being in a rock band, and hosting a successful radio show, to now writing and producing for comedic talents such as Harry Kok Siew Yok and Harvinth Skin. When filming was halted during the MCO, Ryan started feeling anxious and made the decision to try therapy – we talked to him about his experience.
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What were your thoughts about therapy before you started going?
I’m not gonna lie, I had a pretty naive misconception of it! I mean, even growing up, the word ‘therapy’ drew negative connotations because of its misrepresentation. I couldn’t help but to associate it as a place for the weak-minded and people with severe mental problems – and as condescending as that sounds, I genuinely thought I was above that (at the time!). Of course, now in hindsight, I can look back and roll my eyes at that misguided outlook, but it’s discouraging to know that there’s a fairly large population of people who still think that way.
When did you first acknowledge your mental health?
I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but probably when I began hearing/seeing other people tell their personal stories about mental health and their struggles of coping with it. It was a pretty powerful moment of realisation at the time because it didn’t just destigmatise mental health, it completely disentangled it for me – I remember thinking, “Holy sh*t, I go through that too!”, “Wait, that’s exactly how I feel!” and “Oh wow, I can completely relate to that”. It normalised mental health in my head, making it a little less daunting, a little more clearer and (probably most important of all), I didn’t feel quite as alone anymore.
What made you change your mind about therapy?
When I realised how big of a role it can play in staying happy and healthy. I mean, a lot of us tend to prioritise our physical well-being over our mental uncertainty, without realising how fundamentally-linked both are in improving our quality of life. Don’t get me wrong, going to the gym everyday is a great flex, but if we glorified the idea of feeling mentally healthy just as much, we’d come leaps and bounds.
Do you remember how you felt before your first session?
I do! I was curious, uncertain and probably a little impatient to just get started to be honest. Undoubtedly, there’s always going to be a little bit of scepticism that plays out in the back of your mind as well, but I remember feeling cautiously optimistic at the time and that this was what I needed.
How did it feel opening up like that – was it your first time? Did you find yourself downplaying things?
It was mentally exhausting. I mean, talking about yourself for extended periods can get pretty tiring for anyone – but retracing through moments in your life and describing them in ways you haven’t done before to a stranger can take quite a toll. If I was to use an analogy to describe it, it would be like going through your closet and stumbling across old clothes, new clothes, clothes you forgot you had and then trying to decide which ones to let go of.
What misconceptions did you have about therapy that changed after your first session?
Honestly, I actually still can’t seem to shake off one misconception about therapy since I first began. And that’s the idea that a therapist will provide me with the quick answers I need to be able to fix and improve aspects of my life. But in reality, there’s just no way we can expect a therapist to help us make decisions about our own lives, in fact we already have the answers – a therapist just helps guide and empower us to find them on our own accord.
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What positive changes do you think we’d be able to see as a society if mental health services were made more accessible?
I mean, it could do literally everything from drastically reducing suicide numbers to optimising people’s happiness in large numbers. No doubt we’ve taken strides, but as a society I still feel like we’re far off from realising the implications mental health has to our general well-being. My sister, Risna, fell victim to suicide in 1992, at a time where mental health services probably weren’t as accessible or at least even talked about in great length. And the idea of her having that access to mental health services or even the knowledge/awareness that she wasn’t alone in what she was going through, could literally have saved her.
How do you think we can help break the mental health stigma that affects men?
A lot of men, generally speaking, associate mental health to be something extreme like psychophobia or a personality disorder – without realising that it can be born out of just regular anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health disorder at the end of the day, and a lot of men experience it.
To anyone who is now more interested in their mental health, where do you suggest they start?
As cliche as it sounds, talking to someone genuinely helps. Especially if you’re someone like me, who overthinks. There’s a lot going on up there that we need to unpack and if you just take a moment to pick yourself apart and realise your pros and your cons, you can now be privy to making decisions and taking turns on this road of life.
Mental Health Resources
The Mind Faculty
A private mental health clinic offering a wide-range of psychiatric, psychological, counselling and complementary therapies.
Contact Number: 03 6203 0359 / 03 6203 0733
A not-for-profit organisation providing emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to people who are lonely, in distress, in despair, and having suicidal thoughts – without charge.
Hotline Number: 03 7956 8145
The Malaysian Mental Health Association
A non-profit voluntary organisation established to promote mental health awareness and public mental well-being.
Contact Number: 03 2780 6803
Women’s Aid Organization
Provides free and confidential services to survivors of domestic violence, rape and other forms of violence.
Hotline Number: 03 7956 3488
When we lose someone we love, it is natural for us to grieve. The grieving process is how we deal with loss – the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief may be.
In many ways, grief can manifest and have an effect on your overall wellbeing, from mental to physical health. You may also experience a number of emotions, such as anger and guilt – not just sadness.
There are usually five stages of grief that end with acceptance. The Mind Faculty explains these below:
This is actually a coping mechanism – it helps us process news that is too difficult to handle, and can make us feel like someone else is going through the tragedy.
“What did my loved one do to deserve this?” “Why is this happening to me?” During this time, when feelings of loss feel the most painful, these thoughts are normal.
Anger is a natural reaction to injustice, and when we feel scared, it is also a way to protect ourselves.
You could find yourself thinking, “If only I had done this” or “Is this part of a master plan?”
when trying to make sense of what has happened. Confusion, longing and desperation can accompany this.
When the news starts to settle in, and you finally start to accept your new reality, you may find that grief arrives in waves of distress or sadness.
The last stage – when you’re to start rebuilding your life without your loved one in it.
It is important to know that grief is not linear – you may find yourself moving two steps forward, only to have something set you back five steps. Not everyone will go through these stage, some may even merge with each other: anger mixed with bargaining, sadness mixed with acceptance. Remember – everybody grieves differently and at their own pace.
If you need professional help when grieving, you can find out more about The Mind Faculty’s services here.