As a therapist I find myself assisting people in finding their way out of the abyss of dysfunctional and often one sided relationships, or so it seems. The term ”gaslighting” refers to an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in her/his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering the individual pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in her/his thinking or feelings. ( source Gas Lighting, Human Behavior Encyclopedia Britannica, contributor Brian Duigan 2019).
As I researched this topic and reviewed several articles most focused on the victims of this horrible behavior which frequently leaves victims devoid of self esteem, self worth, and self confidence.
I began to think about the making of people who gaslight others. In my opinion these individuals are personable, as they appear vulnerable and transparent. They use these qualities to show that they are just like us, struggle with the same self doubts and insecurities. Unfortunately, not only are they good at gaining others’ trust they also gain access to the victims innermost thoughts and feelings. Surprisingly, the gas lighter may be adept at anticipating the victims’ needs or wants even before these needs are vocalized.
Slowly and over time, the gaslighter manages to work their way into every aspect of the potential victim’s daily life, causing the victim to feel dependent even helpless when they are not available to cheer them on or provide support.
Who are these people you might ask, well let’s just say they are made. When I say made I mean environmental, social and emotional influences. A childhood impacted by abandonment, loss, rejection and survival of the fittest can create a gaslighter mentality. Early on the individual learns emotions and vulnerability can be a sign of weakness, no one is to be depended upon and no one is to be trusted. This individual may also struggle with emotional attachments and therefore view emotional connection and attachment as a feeling smothered or overwhelmed. When the love interest gets too close or desires too much of their time they resort to pushing them away.
The weapons of warfare become words or statements such as, “What’s wrong with you?, What happened to you, you were never like this before?” “You used to be so strong and confident, now look at you.” Sound familiar? Worse yet, the gaslighter begins to attack and question the victims perception or memory of what they think they saw or heard. Feeling frustrated and unsupported the victim retreats, boundaries weakened, confidence destroyed.
The victim begins to question themselves, especially after being told that they are the problem. They are always the problem and everything, I mean everything somehow makes its way back to the victim.
The gaslighter who learned long ago to not let emotions show may stand back and survey the brokenness of the victim. The gaslighter will not offer an apology and will not take any ownership of the damage. In fact, the gaslighter will wait silently and sometimes coldly for an apology.
As the victim attempts to right the wrongs, close the breach, establish connection, the gaslighter waits for the right offering. The victim offers more of themselves, their soul, their very being in an effort to regain some connection. When the price or offering is right, the gaslighter will offer the victim a slim ray of hope. Perhaps giving advice as to how the victim should handle the issue in the future. The victim believes that s/he cannot live without the gaslighter and gaslighter needs the constant pursuit and anxiousness of the victim to feel whole.
The victim sighs in relief, only to learn that the gaslighter has actually raised the bar. The victim jumps higher only barely reaching the bar, the gaslighter takes solace in knowing the balance of power is in tact.
Two lonely people, never able to fully connect or achieve a healthy relationship built on trust, love, shared goals and genuine concern/acceptance of the other person. Does this blog describe your relationship and are you the victim or the gaslighter? There is help, but first you have to be honest with yourself and which role you play.
For victims, let’s talk about becoming a victor:
Safely document your observations, thoughts and feelings.
Notice your thoughts and feelings and look for patterns of behavior or events which trigger these thoughts and feelings.
Safely set goals for yourself concerning how you want to think and feel in certain situations involving the gaslighter.
Identify your trigger points with regard to arguments with the gas lighter, perhaps when you start to feel flushed, shallow breathing, headache, rapid heart rate- stop and consider using a coping statement. Examples may include, “ I hear your concerns and they are important as are mine. What can we do to make us better in this area ?”
Identify at what point do you stop arguing or defending to keep your self esteem and self worth intact.
Recognize that in the eyes of the gaslighter you will never be enough, not beautiful enough, fit enough, sexy enough, smart enough, not enough.
These are just a few strategies to consider, you may not win the argument but you will begin to find yourself within the relationship. If the arguments and tactics become personally insulting or physically abusive you must decide when enough is enough. Gaslighting is a form of Narcissistic Abuse. You may have doubts and fears about leaving the relationship or letting it go, however with time and work, you will find the jewel you have always been.
For the gaslighter:
Consider your motivation in the relationship, ie. Do you want to actually trust and emotionally connect with your partner? Do you like and value qualities about your partner? Can you accept your partner as their authentic and genuine self?
Do you like the version of yourself that you bring into the relationship? Do you recognize your own emotional distress (behaviors that cause you to feel frustrated or agitated or anxious) or your partners’ emotional distress?
Do you want to be in a relationship that is built on valuing and supporting the emotional needs of both of you?
Is your partner lucky to have you or are you doing them a favor by allowing them to be in your life?
What do you bring to the table and how do you add value to your partner’s life?
The victim will never be enough, you will always find a reason to minimize their contribution and value to the relationship. They will never be able to fully make you feel bigger than who you know yourself to be at your core.
If you are unable to answer these questions or you recognize that you are unable to truly care or connect with another person, plan to be alone. Most likely the victim has read this blog article and will remove themselves from the dysfunction.
~ Tammy Austin
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