Gaslighting - The practice of brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that they are going insane or that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false. The term “Gaslighting” is based on the 1944 MGM movie “Gaslight”.
Casting You as the Crazy One
In the classic suspense thriller, Gaslight, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) marries the villainous Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), not realizing that he is the one who murdered her aunt and is now searching for her missing jewels.
To cover up his treachery, he tries to persuade Paula that she is going mad, so he can search the attic for the jewels without her interference. He plants missing objects on her person in order to make her believe that she has no recollection of reality. He tries to isolate her, not allowing her to have visitors or to leave the house.
If this sounds somehow familiar, you have probably encountered the form of psychological abuse we call Gaslighting. Essentially, it describes forms of manipulation which are designed to make the victim lose their grip on the truth or doubt their perception of reality.
What it Looks Like
- A family member who steals something from you tries to convince you that it belongs to them.
- A person acts threateningly and then accuses you of abuse when you react in self-defense.
- A spouse tries to persuade you that you said or did something that you know is inaccurate.
How it Feels
Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive - trying to justify your own actions or behaviors - when you started out by challenging someone else’s questionable behavior.
A gaslighting perpetrator's fabrications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction you begin to question yourself and your own memories and judgment. You may begin to fear that other people - who don’t know the truth - might be persuaded believe some of the distortions.
What NOT to do:
- Don’t equate intelligence with character - just because someone can run rings around you in an argument doesn’t mean they are right.
- Don’t waste your time trying to convince someone who has already made up their mind about you that they should reconsider.
- Don’t argue with a person who is fabricating the facts. Wait for them to return to reality before engaging them in a discussion and do it on YOUR terms - not theirs.
- Don’t allow yourself to be isolated from others against our own better judgment. Insist on your right to have your own friends and family.
- Don’t blame yourself for what the other person is feeling or how they are behaving. Don’t look for ways to change yourself to try to fix another person. As the OOTF 3 C's mantra says: “You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.” You are only responsible for your own words and actions.
- Don’t stay in the room if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy or unsafe.
- Don’t go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret.
What TO do:
- Remind yourself that you are not to blame for the other person’s behavior.
- Detach yourself from feeling responsible for how another person is feeling, behaving or thinking.
- Turn your attention on your own behavior and your own thought patterns. Discard the unhealthy and learn what is healthy for yourself and pursue it - regardless of what reaction you get from the person with the Personality Disorder.
- Talk about it! Talk to trusted friends and family about what you are dealing with.
- If you are ever confronted with violence or abuse, get yourself and any children immediately out of the room and call for help. Report all acts of violence, threats of violence or self-harm to the police immediately every time.
- Maintain your healthy lifestyle and thought life. You will need them. If necessary, explain to your loved-one gently, but firmly that you are doing what you need to do for yourself and then close the conversation.