Gaslighting: Definition and Examples that happen in everyday life

gaslighting definition

Key takeaways

  • Gaslighting occurs when an individual (the abuser) manipulates another person (the victim) by making the person question their own perception of reality, memories, and ultimately their sanity.
  • In addition to intimate relationships, gaslighting can happen in other relationships, such as between friends, at work, and even with your doctor.
  • Signs of gaslighting include feelings of confusion, constantly second-guessing yourself and defending your abuser’s behavior.

What is gaslighting?

via GIPHY

Gaslighting is the form of psychological and emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim by getting the victim to question their memories and perception of reality. They force the victim to doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and memories through various tactics. In the most severe cases, the victim may even question their own sanity.

In recent times, gaslighting outside of intimate relationships has come to the forefront of our attention. With, that we are beginning to recognize how gaslighting can occur in other areas of our lives. We saw this play out publicly after the death of George Flloyd, as our black colleagues from across the globe spoke up about their lived experiences at work and in life. Many times, how they felt about their experiences was often rejected by non-black peers.

Gaslighting tactics

When gaslighting occurs, the abuser will usually use one of the following tactics to bully their victim:

Withholding – this form of abuse occurs when someone refuses to engage with you or when they do they pretend to not understand what you are talking about.

Denial – the number one tactic used by a gaslighter is denying someone’s thoughts and feelings. They do this by saying this such as “I’m pretty sure that’s not what he meant,” or “You’re making that up, that never happened.”

Diverting – this happens when the abuser consistently changes the focus of the discussion away from the topic and onto the credibility of the abused. Instead of being able to have a constructive conversation on a topic, the focus of the discussion turns back on you.

Countering – this occurs when a gaslighter questions your memories. For example, if you are discussing an incident they may say “are you sure you remembered that correctly?”

Trivializing – a common behaviour in gaslighting is when an abuser belittles or disregards your feelings. They do this by telling you that you are too sensitive or overreacting.

Stereotyping – another common behaviour of an abuser is to use stereotypes of your sexual, racial, or ethnic identity to manipulate you.

A gaslighter will use such tactics to circumvent having a conversation about the issue at hand. Furthermore, the abuser will typically draw any and attention away as much as possible.

Examples

In some cases, it is very difficult to spot gaslighting. This is because when you’re in it you are constantly questioning the validity of your thoughts. Additionally, gaslighting doesn’t just occur in intimate relationships. In fact, gaslighting by workplaces and the medical field have been recorded.

For example, medical gaslighting occurs when a medical professional dismisses a patients’ signs and symptoms. They may suggest “it is all in your head.”

Another form of gaslight is institutional gaslighting, where a company may hide, deny, and or lie about information to their employees. This may be especially prevalent in cases of whistleblowing, where the company pretends the whistle-blower is making up things that are clearly documented.

How to recognize gaslighting

Being able to recognize that you are being gaslighted is very important because it allows you to identify as the victim and take the necessary action for preserving your sense of self. It also enables you to remove yourself from relationships that are not serving you.

Signs of gaslighting may include:

  • Feelings of confusion
  • Constantly second-guessing your own thoughts and feelings
  • Constantly apologizing, even though you did not do anything wrong
  • You defend your abuser’s behaviour
  • You often feel hopeless, joyless, and incompetent

Reading the list above, if you feel you are experiencing any of this, be sure to take action by doing the following:

How to deal with someone gaslighting you

If you are experiencing gaslighting, there are approaches you can take to re-establish a sense of truth. Many of these tactics have to do with gathering proof in order to orient yourself back to reality.

Disengage from the abuser – when you find yourself in a confrontation with your abuser, disengage by walking away from the conversation. This will prevent them from sowing seeds of doubt in your mind.

Keep a recorded diary in a secret place – the best way to keep a grasp of truth is to keep a diary. Track any events that happen along with dates, times, and details. Store this in a place that only you have access to. Replay these anytime you are in doubt of an event or what occurred.

Take pictures – capture photos and screenshots to support any fact-checking you may need to do later down the road. Store these photos in a safe place and or locked device. Having these photos will help you validate certain moments and conversations, alleviating any doubt you may have in your mind.

Talk to a trusted friend or family member – confide in a friend or family member who you trust about the experience. This will give you another data point for validating your experience later on. Additionally, if you find yourself in a situation you are unsure of gaslighting, having an external perspective of a friend can help provide you clarity on the incident.

How to seek help if gaslighting continues

If you suspect you are a victim of gaslighting, you can reach out to different agencies to seek help.

For those who are experiencing gaslighting from their partner, reach out to the National Domestic Violent Hotline at the following:

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