What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting involves psychological manipulation that prompts the recipient to doubt their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. This form of manipulation is employed by both men and women and is regarded as one of the most damaging tactics in interpersonal conflicts. Gaslighting encompasses a range of strategies, including:
- Feigning a lack of comprehension despite understanding.
- Dismissing your partner’s thoughts as irrational or fabricated.
- Challenging another person’s accurate recollection of events.
- Simulating forgetfulness about events you actually remember.
- Refuting promises you are aware of having made.
- Undermining the validity of another person’s emotions by portraying them as overly sensitive, even when their response is reasonably justified.
While these behaviors might initially appear innocuous, their cumulative impact can lead the targeted individual to experience feelings of bewilderment, unease, isolation, and despondency. In essence, it inflicts emotional harm. Disrupting another person’s emotional well-being, as seen in gaslighting, constitutes a form of emotional abuse. Equally significant, though less overt, is the toll it exacts on the gaslighter. Navigating a partnership strained by stress, melancholy, or detachment isn’t enjoyable or conducive to a desirable relationship. This recurring pattern obstructs the path to fostering a close, thriving connection. The majority of my posts recount my personal journey in overcoming my own history of violent or abusive conduct. My intent is to share my experiences for the benefit of others. In the case of gaslighting, however, I find myself in the role of the recipient. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that my perspective can offer insight. My (now former) spouse accused me of actions and statements I never committed. When I contested these claims, she escalated by asserting that I lacked self-awareness. She insisted that others shared her viewpoint, yet she refrained from divulging their identities, citing their “protection.” With each retelling, the alleged transgressions became increasingly severe. Initially, I grappled with self-doubt. Could it be possible that my recollections were flawed, and my self-perception skewed? Was I losing my grip on reality? With time, I discerned that her narrative was a tapestry of falsehoods she wove to deflect accountability from herself onto me. Instead of controlling me, it only eroded my trust in her. And without trust, the foundation of any relationship crumbles.
Tracing Back to the Past
The origins of dysfunctional behaviors like gaslighting often trace back to our personal histories. Some individuals who engage in gaslighting may have learned these tactics from their parents or other influential figures. For instance, a parent struggling with addiction might resort to gaslighting to manipulate their child into concealing the addiction within the family. My former partner was raised in an extremely rigid household, where deviating from rules resulted in severe consequences. It becomes comprehensible why she might have developed defense mechanisms like gaslighting to shield herself during her childhood. However, transitioning into adulthood does not render such behavior acceptable. It remains injurious to her relationships, her partner, and ultimately to herself; it remains her responsibility to address and rectify.
If you recognize any of the gaslighting techniques outlined above in your behavior, I’m not here to pass judgment. My aim is to guide you toward a more positive life. This transformation begins by delving into the deeper motivations that drive these negative behaviors and subsequently seeking healthier ways to respond to inner thoughts and emotions. Gaslighting, much like other detrimental actions, often emerges when we attempt to control our circumstances by exerting control over others. None of us relishes being at odds with our partner, engaging in conflicts, or confronting our own shortcomings. In an effort to evade these discomforts, we shift blame from ourselves onto our significant other. Frequently, we avoid these emotions because we perceive them as more agonizing than they truly are.
We perceive criticism, disappointing others, and conflict as dreadful, almost perilous situations. Consequently, we react excessively by resorting to a no-holds-barred approach of deflecting attention away from ourselves. Even in healthy relationships, disagreements are inevitable, and occasional negative feedback is part of the package. Facing disapproval from a partner or even acknowledging our own room for improvement need not escalate into a major ordeal. Most individuals navigate relationships without resorting to this damaging pattern, and you are capable of doing the same. Rather than viewing criticism or conflict through a negative lens, we can reframe them as opportunities for growth and feedback.
Admittedly, altering our perspective on such situations is easier said than done. Confronting this deeply ingrained issue is a formidable challenge, and seeking assistance from a counselor is a prudent step forward. Evading gaslighting does not equate to conceding agreement on every matter. It is natural for two people to have varying recollections of an incident. Moreover, not comprehending something is distinct from gaslighting. The boundary is crossed when one pretends not to understand when, in fact, they do. In a court of law, distinguishing between an honest error and intentional manipulation can be complex, but within a relationship, both partners often intuitively discern the difference. Feel free to express disagreement if it genuinely reflects your standpoint, and do so with sensitivity. Since establishing who holds the accurate perspective can be challenging, maintaining humility and recognizing the potential for errors in memory or interpretation is essential. Uncover the emotions underlying your partner’s words (such as hurt or fear) and approach them with compassion, even if differences in details persist.
A Note of Faith
At its core, gaslighting hinges on deceit. Our human nature often inclines us toward falsehood, self-misrepresentation, or downplaying uncomfortable truths. While we may rationalize it as self-protection or conflict avoidance, dishonesty corrodes our relationships and tarnishes our integrity. Recognizing the detrimental effects of deceit, God beckons us to embrace honesty and follow His path. This call isn’t merely about being virtuous; it’s about embracing a life of integrity to receive His blessings. Through a connection with God and allowing Him to guide our lives, we can draw upon His strength even in the face of challenging honesty.