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Are You Experiencing Gaslighting?

Are You Experiencing Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a malicious and insidious form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse. The term originates from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband systematically manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her mind, in part by dimming the gas lights in their home and then denying it when she points it out. 

The goal of gaslighting is to methodically destabilize the victim’s sense of reality, memory, and sanity through confusion, deception, and lying. By continually doubting the victim’s perception of events and undermining their judgment, gaslighters reinforce an alternate version of reality that serves their own interests and power. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), common gaslighting techniques include withholding information, discrediting independent sources, trivializing concerns, and outright denial or misdirection. Through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighters progressively break down the victim’s trust in their own mind, effectively isolating them and making them more compliant. Gaslighting inflicts immense psychological and emotional damage that can last long after the abusive relationship ends.

Signs of Gaslighting

There are several techniques gaslighters use to distort the truth and gain control:

Denial

Gaslighters will outright deny accusations, facts, or events – even when presented with evidence. For example, if their partner confronts them about flirting with someone else, they may insist: “That never happened. You must be imagining things.” Similarly, if questioned about a missed appointment, they may firmly state: “I never said I’d be there. You must have remembered wrong.”

Deflection 

When faced with uncomfortable accusations, gaslighters will deflect and change the subject to avoid taking responsibility. For instance, if confronted with their own forgetfulness, a gaslighter may retort: “You’re the one with the terrible memory, not me.” Or during an argument about their temper, deflect by saying: “You’re the one who needs anger management, not me.”

Deception

Gaslighters have no qualms about blatantly lying, even if their statements directly contradict previous ones. They will confidently make false statements like “I already told you I was going out tonight”, when they had never mentioned plans. Or they may fabricate information like: “My friend James can back up where I was last night.”

Minimizing  

Abusers may make light of the victim’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences through dismissive comments like “You’re overreacting over a little mess” or “It wasn’t that big of a deal that I forgot your birthday.” This form of invalidation and exaggeration erodes the victim’s sense of self-worth.

Effects of Gaslighting

Being the continual target of gaslighting distortions can have severe psychological impacts that permeate all aspects of the victim’s life, both during and after the abusive relationship. 

Gaslighting can lead to increased anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and other mental health issues. The victim may experience panic attacks, insomnia, exaggerated startle response, or obsessive fixating on the situation as part of the trauma response.

Victims often suffer from plummeting self-confidence and self-esteem due to the continual invalidation and attacks on their character and judgment. “I began to feel worthless like I couldn’t do anything right,” one victim described.

Gaslighting can create an unhealthy co-dependency where the victim feels compelled to continually seek approval from the abuser. Victims may paradoxically cling to the relationship because deep down they hope the gaslighter will go back to being the idealized person they posed as initially.  

In many cases, victims become isolated from friends and family because the gaslighter actively separates them from other support systems in order to further the manipulation. The victim may also feel shame about the situation and withdraw socially.

Gaslighting leads victims to constantly question their own sanity and perception of reality. They begin to distrust their own memories, judgments, and capabilities. “I started worrying that maybe I really was losing my mind,” explained one victim. This loss of psychological stability can last for years after escaping the abusive relationship.

How to Respond to Gaslighting

If you suspect you are being gaslit, there are ways to resist the manipulation: 

Keep a detailed journal documenting events, statements made, dates, and times. Write down actual quotes when possible. Reviewing this record can help counterbalance the distortions and manipulations by providing evidence of facts. 

Confide in one or more trusted friends or family members who know you well. Their more objective perspective and insights into your normal behavior can validate your point of view. They can provide an important reality check when you start to internalize the gaslighter’s distortions.

Make a list of your core strengths, principles, and accomplishments. Revisit it when you start doubting yourself. Seek professional counseling support from a psychologist, therapist, or support group experienced with gaslighting and emotional abuse recovery. Through validation, coping techniques, and rebuilding self-esteem, they can help you regain lost confidence and independent judgment. 

Be very clear with the gaslighter about what specific behaviors you will and will not tolerate. Follow through on enforcing these boundaries, which may ultimately mean ending the relationship entirely. Protecting your mental health and emotional well-being should be the priority.

Escaping a Gaslighting Relationship 

In many cases, the healthiest way to stop the abuse is to end the relationship entirely.

Make a safe exit plan for leaving. This may involve gathering documents, financial resources, and a place to stay. Cut off contact with the gaslighter. This may help break the manipulative hold and reestablish a sense of reality. Seek counseling to process the trauma. Skilled therapists can help identify patterns and rebuild self-worth. Lean on support systems. Friends and family can reinforce that the abuse was real and help you heal. Rediscover joy, passions, and interests. Pursuing life on your own terms is a powerful act of reclaiming your autonomy.

Gaslighting can inflict serious psychological damage, but understanding the signs, finding support, and trusting your own judgment again can help escape the manipulation. You have the right to live free from distorting abuse, safely determining your own reality.


About the Author

Women Thrive Magazine Article Author - Asia Jamil

Name: Asia Jamil

Professional Title: Journalist

Bio: Asia Jamil is a dedicated journalist, focused on women’s issues. She began writing about sexual assault and women’s health in college. Asia is passionate about amplifying women’s voices and bringing ignored issues into mainstream coverage. She strives to write empathetically about women from all backgrounds. In her career, she advocates for more equitable news coverage and encourages young women to pursue journalism.

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