Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse, and it can be an important warning sign of an abusive relationship. Basically, it refers to someone trying to manipulate someone else into doubting their perception of reality. It’s a technique used to keep the victim confused and feeling bad about themselves so the gaslighter can maintain power and control over them. There are various forms of gaslighting that are commonly employed to these ends.
As a method of abuse, gaslighting can have serious negative effects on the victim. These may include chronic stress, diminished self-esteem, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. The effects typically become more severe over time with continued exposure to any of the different forms of gaslighting.
Where Gaslighting Occurs
Before identifying the most common forms of gaslighting, it’s important to note that this type of psychological abuse can occur in many different circumstances and in all sorts of interactions between people.
Remember, any relationship can be abusive. Gaslighting is certainly seen in romantic relationships, but it also takes place in parent-child relationships, friendships, between bosses and employees, between coworkers, and in other personal relationships. It doesn’t ever require direct one-on-one interaction; for example, some politicians engage in gaslighting. It’s also a tactic used by cult leaders.
Common Forms of Gaslighting
Here’s a look at five forms of gaslighting that abusers often use. They’re not the only ways to gaslight somebody, but they’re quite common.
- Lying about things the victim knows to be true – The lies may be blatant or subtle, but they’re always persistent. For example, the abuser may continue to deny having done something, no matter how well the victim knows it happened and no matter how much evidence there may be. They will simply refuse to acknowledge the truth and continue to distort it.
- Accusing the victim of doing things the abuser did – This is a form of projection in which the gaslighter denies having particular negative qualities or acting in negative ways, and instead attributes them to the victim. Abusers are actually trying to cast themselves as the victims when they use this tactic.
- Calling into question the victim’s mental health – Often, gaslighting entails telling the victim that they’re overly sensitive, emotionally unstable, crazy, etc. The abuser may deliberately do things to upset their victim, then deny having done anything wrong and accuse the victim of being paranoid or jealous. They may even express concern about their victim’s mental health to family or friends.
- Undermining the victim’s sense of self-worth – Gaslighting typically involves subtly undermining the victim’s faith in their own abilities and value. The abuser draws attention to the victim’s flaws and plays on their insecurities, both in private and in front of others (often brushing it off as joking around). They may also give backhanded compliments or make insinuations about the victim being incapable or incompetent.
- Deflecting any conversation about the behavior – When confronted about it, the abuser will distract and deflect to avoid any blame or conversation. In classic gaslighting fashion, they will turn it onto the victim by insisting that it’s in their head, or that they’re the ones behaving abusively. Or, they will often blame the victim for making them act the way they do.