Gaslighting is a fairly common thing but not very many people know they are experiencing it in their friendship or relationship. In short, many people do not know what gaslighting is, so I will seek to educate you about gaslighting in friendship and other relationships in this post.
Have you ever heard any of these phrases before:
I didn’t say that
You are just being dramatic, I never meant it that way
You know I love you
You don’t have any reason to be angry at me, etc
These statements and their variants are often used when someone is being gaslit. One thing that is common to all these phrases above is the obvious attempt to deny what you feel or experience, and in most instances, that’s a good sign someone is gaslighting you.
Where does gaslighting originate?
The term gaslighting originated from a play titled Gas Light, written by the British Playwright, Patrick Hamilton in 1938. In this play, a man named Jack was portrayed as trying to drive his wife insane in order to steal from her, or as an excuse to cheat on her.
The wife whose name was Bella was set on edge by her husband’s actions. He flirts with servants in front of her and claims that the wife was going insane when she tries to confront his actions. To make matters worse, Jack would disappear from the house without letting his wife know but instead of owning up to his actions, he was bent on convincing the wife that she is overreacting or actually going insane.
Jack explains that the apartment above was once occupied by a wealthy woman who was murdered by an unknown robber for her jewels. Jack would go to the flat each night, and lighting the apartment’s gas lights causes the light to dim in the rest of the building. His footsteps in the supposedly empty apartment and the apparent dimming of the lights by the gas light made the woman imagine that she must have truly gone insane or now “hearing things”.
Finally, everything cleared off when a police detective called Mr Rough led Bella to realise that Jack is responsible for her torment. This was where the term gaslighting originated from.
What Gaslighting means
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or manipulation that makes survivors feel like their memories, and experiences are made up and that their feelings are not real. It makes the victim question every memory that has about certain events and trauma they experience. This inflicted doubt is exploited by gaslighting abusers to gain power over the victim and excuse their own abusive behaviours, referring to them as “they didn’t happen”.
Several movies have portrayed gaslighting when an abuser tells a victim that what they just saw never happened, most often at gunpoint or other threats. However, beyond the movies, gaslighting has become a thing in friendships and other relationships, in which case the abuser exploits the victim’s attachment to them as a tool to invalidate their memories and feelings while keeping them glued to them in the relationship or friendship.
How Gaslighting Works
At the core of gaslighting are power, control and manipulation. It is most common in romantic relationships and marriages but can be seen in any relationship dynamic including friendship.
Sometimes, the people who gaslight others lack the self-awareness that they are being abusive. They might have acquired this behaviour from a past relationship or even grew up around it and sees it as perfectly normal. However, there is no excuse for manipulative behaviours like gaslighting.
Gaslighting in friendship is an abuser’s way to gain dominance in the relationship. The victim is constantly made to deny reality and is made to believe that they are going crazy.
It might be easy to suggest that a victim can just say “f*ck you” and walk out on a gaslighter but it’s not that easy for some of these reasons. It is possible that the victim may have grown up in an environment where gaslighting was predominant, and hence, conditioned to think that this kind of behaviour is normal even in their adult relations, relationships and friendships.
Also, a gaslighter often has a way to convince the victim that they do not mean any harm, or as though they genuinely care. The person begins to rationalize their actions with statements like, “They probably didn’t mean it like that.”
How to recognize gaslighting
Men have been more often associated with gaslighting while women are the usual victims but that is not to say that women cannot be gaslighters – the numbers just seem to skew more towards the men. This may probably be due to the influence of society in making women feel as though they are not good enough for themselves, or being placed in a position to constantly apologize for their actions, irrespective.
While it may be easy to confuse gaslighting for normal logical conversation or sensible disagreement, gaslighting is different because only one of you is considering the other’s feelings and perspective while the other is negating the other’s feelings and reactions as “crazy” or irrational.
Gaslighting can happen in almost any kind of relationship at varying degrees of severity. The intentions are often to be able to control the victim so that they don’t question the abusers’ behaviours which are almost always malignant.
In the next section, we will see signs of gaslighting in friendships, romantic relationship relationships, family, and the workplace.
Gaslighting In Romantic Relationships
Victims of gaslighting in a romantic relationship are manipulated by their gaslighting partner to believe that what they know is not true; that it is fabricated falsely in their minds. The abuser tells you that you are just overreaction or too sensitive, while they keep on doing their wrongs and repressing your feelings and emotions altogether.
Unfortunately, gaslighting in a relationship can make the victim into questioning their own sanity. The person might exploit the vulnerability by cheating on their partner, lying to them, and emotionally abusing them.
For fear of abandonment, you may remain in your romantic relationship despite being regularly gaslighted. Also, you might not want to lose the person you love, especially if they have significantly made you feel dependent on them, or diminished your self-confidence.
Gaslighting in Friendship
Gaslighting in friendship is slightly different from what is seen in romantic relationships but they are both largely similar. It occurs when one friend possesses a domineering personality over another. Gaslighting in friendship is commoner among females than males.
Deceit is the core undertone of gaslighting among friends. When you have a friend who is a gaslighter, you might notice that they love to gossip and create unnecessary tension between you and your partner or your other friends. In the end, they will blame you saying that you are overreacting and taking things too seriously.
For example, a gaslighting friend can gossip about you to other people so as to gain information from them. They later utilize this information against you, and when you try to react against them, they will stand by and watch the drama they created as if they were never involved in the first place. This is their way of exercising control.
If you notice that your friend gossips a lot, or if there has been a series of quarrels involving them, you might want to limit how much information you tell such a friend because they could probably use it against you. Gaslighting friends who bring other people’s lives to your ears probably also take yours to their closets too. So you need to be careful around them.
If your friend gives you information about another person that could lead to a fight, assume that they lied about the information because they probably did so. Thereafter, avoid giving them any more opportunities to feed you with such information.
Examples of gaslighting in friendship
Gaslighting in friendship likely follows the patterns: the gaslighter draws close to you, gossips to extract information from either side, starts a conflict, and then watches the fight from a distance while claiming that the fight is caused by your overreactions and not by their malicious activities.
A few more examples of gaslighting in friendship include; befriending your partner so that they can create tension between the both of you and then watch the fight as though they had nothing to do with it; avoiding house chores if you are roommates by saying things like, “I wasn’t the one who made the mess”, or “You used the dishes, why ask me to wash?”; lastly, they could invite everyone else but leave you out of a gathering they planned so that when you confront them, they would tell you, “You are just being too sensitive”, or, “You are overreacting.”
If you are deeply convinced that you are not overreacting in any scenarios with your gaslighting friend, you should not allow them to manipulate you to believe otherwise. You should stay away from a gaslighting friend if you feel there is nothing more you can do.
Gaslighting In Parenthood
Gaslighting in parenting is a difficult situation to control as a child. Gaslighting in a parent is a sign of narcissism in which the parent creates some kind of dynamic within the home in order to maintain power and control over their household, in a way that only benefits them.
It occurs in the setting of a golden/favourite or scapegoat child who can’t do much wrong in the eyes of the gaslighting parent. This child is not punished for the same offences you would be severely punished for and yet, if you speak up, your parent would say that you are being too sensitive and would hate you even more for trying to shift the power structure they have created.
Gaslighting by parents hits differently if you are the scapegoat child. You are considered never good enough, your feelings are invalidated and you are mentally beaten down every day so much that you almost lost your sense of self or self-worth in the home.
The scapegoat child will feel like they don’t have a purpose and feel unsure of what to do with their life. This is because the gaslighting parent has manipulated the child into doubting their own sanity, worth or purpose, and if left unchecked, the child might not be able to make anything out of his or her life.
Gaslighting In The Workplace
Gaslighting in the workplace is a whole different experience from gaslighting at home, in a romantic relationship or among friends. It could take different forms; gaslighting by a co-worker, by the boss to an employee or by the boss to all employees.
A very common type of gaslighting in the workplace is the one you get from a colleague. The gaslighter will do everything possible to make you look like a bad person among your colleagues and your boss, such that if you do not take the right actions, it might affect your performance and mental health.
A gaslighter in the workplace will stop at nothing to sabotage your efforts and take credit for your good works but they will amplify your mistakes or even push their faults over to you. This is their way of exercising control over you. They will push you to the wall through their actions and when you are about to speak up, they will create a scenario that portrays that they are innocent and you are just acting up.
Another example of gaslighting in the workplace is when your boss or supervisor harasses you physically or sexually by virtue of their position but when you confront them, they dismiss it by saying things like, “So, you can’t even take a joke”, “Come on! I was just playing with you”, or “That never happened!”
How To Deal With Gaslighting
Having seen various scenarios of gaslighting – gaslighting in friendship, romantic relationships, in parenthood and in the workplace; we will now see some ways you can deal with it when you encounter a gaslighter in any scenario.
There is no simple way to immediately make a gaslighter stop manipulating you but you can reinforce your stance to regain control. It takes a combination of specialized tactics to be able to break free from the manipulations of a gaslighter. These I will describe briefly in this section below.
1. First, recognise that you are being gaslit
The greatest weapon of a gaslighter is being able to keep you from accepting that you are being gaslighted. After having considered all the signs of gaslighting in this article, you should be in a better position to recognize when you are being gaslighted.
2. Keep a journal of every encounter with the gaslighter
The very concept of gaslighting is based on a gaslighter’s ability to manipulate you into thinking you are being too sensitive over small issues. To counter this, keep a safe journal or log of your conversations with the gaslighter so that you can keep track of what really happened.
When your memory is not so acute, the gaslighter can insert anything they want into the picture, making you feel like you are imagining things or just making them up. A journal can help you determine the truth from the falsities your gaslighter may be trying to create.
Documenting events in your journal also makes you feel like you are being listened to. While writing, you might find yourself thinking about your actions and speech in the third person. This way, you give yourself the audience that your gaslighting friend, partner or parent never gives you.
If your gaslighting boss is being manipulative, be sure to document everything that happened as soon as you can. Register these events on off-work documents or your cellphone, for the records.
3. Express your feelings
Trust me, there are times when you might become overwhelmed. But you should understand that it is totally normal to feel however you feel.
After having to put up with being made to think you are going insane for so long, it might feel hard trying to start believing in yourself again. You should express your emotions. Cry if you need to, look for someone you can trust and share your feelings with them.
If you have to confront your gaslighter, do so in a gentle way to avoid setting them off and making them defensive, especially if you are alone together.
If gaslighting colleague becomes defensive or gaslights you more, you should take your written or recorded evidence to your supervisor or boss, or appropriate authorities.
4. Protect your defiance and resistance
While a gaslighter may try to make you feel unreal and worthless, you must not give in. Protect your confidence in yourself and trust your version of reality.
You are sane and your feelings are real, and no one can deny you your existence. If you fight long enough, you will be able to achieve your biggest dreams despite the potential effects of a gaslighter’s manipulation in pulling you down. Not for long, you will soon find your way to a new place or position where you will be independent of the gaslighter.
5. Focus on your feelings, not right or wrong
The gaslighter’s tactic is not to tell you that you are wrong. It is to make you think that everything you are feeling or experiencing is unreal and made up. To be on a level playing ground with the gaslighter, you need to adopt a different strategy other than the one they are most comfortable with.
Focus on your feelings and accept them as reactions to what they did or said to you. Whether your reaction is right or wrong is nobody’s business at this time. It is just sufficient to acknowledge that they are real and based on some actions by someone else.
6. Talk to friends and family
It is very important to find friends and family who would understand the situation. Talking with such people who love and believe you can make you feel validated and remember that you are not making up feelings and experiences that do not exist.
In the event that the issue escalates, you can be sure to find someone who understands your side of the story, and who will not be brainwashed by the gaslighter to believe that you are making things up.
7. Accept the situation
This should have come first but it’s not too late. As mentioned earlier, gaslighting is a tool often used by narcissists to manipulate other people and make them feel superior to them.
Another important fact about narcissists is that they will never think or accept that they are doing something wrong. So, instead of trying to change them, simply accept the situation that as far as they are concerned, you will almost never get accountability for how your experiences and feelings are taken.
Instead of getting yourself worked up over their inability to allow you to feel or express yourself, focus on consolidating yourself and what you believe so that they don’t take that from you as well.
Gaslighting in friendships, relationships, workplaces, and homes can be a painful experience. You struggle with your own mind and reality because someone is constantly telling you that you are wrong. While gaslighting may not be such a popular word, the action plays out in several forms in our day-to-day life. Hence, this article is important in showing you the signs that you are being gaslighted and how to deal with them in every situation.
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