- Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which the perpetrator leads one to question their own sanity or judgment through subtle tactics.
- This abusive treatment is often carried out by individuals who are narcissistic, sociopathic, or just plain abusive.
- The first step in identifying and protecting yourself from this form of manipulation is learning to listen to your body and pay attention to red flags.
- For example, if you constantly find that you’re uncomfortable around, undermined by, or afraid of an individual, they might be gaslighting you.
- The next step is to point out your feelings and the behavior: don’t beat around the bush or sweep it under the rug, put it all out in the open.
Our favorite television shows just aren’t complete without a beloved couple: there was Corey and Topanga from Boy Meets World; Chandler and Monica from Friends; and, of course, we can’t go without mentioning Jim and Pam from The Office. We often place these couples on a pedestal. We look up to them, idolize them, even model our own relationships after these picture-perfect pairs… without realizing our favorite TV couples often aren’t so perfect after all.
One popular TV couple I didn’t mention above is a trademark of the hit drama Gossip Girl: Chuck and Blair. Many viewers swoon over their chemistry and their passion, but fail to recognize the unhealthy dynamics that make this relationship so toxic. One being the ever-prevalent manipulation. The entirety of their relationship is rooted in lying and scheming to get whatever he or she wants. They treat each other like puppets and are the ultimate gaslighters of television.
Gaslighting: What Is It and Why Is It Dangerous?
If you’ve seen Gossip Girl, you might understand what I mean by gaslighting. (And what I mean when I say Blair and Chuck were masters of this manipulation). But maybe you’ve never seen the show or heard the term “gaslighting” before. Giulia Suro, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, explains this form of abuse and manipulation:
“Gaslighting is an interpersonal communication tactic that involves manipulating someone to question their own judgment, memory, or even sanity. It is often observed in individuals who are narcissistic, abusive, or at the extreme, sociopathic. Gaslighting is often done in such a subtle manner that the person on the receiving end doesn’t even realize it is happening.
Some common examples may include attempting to assert yourself to a friend, partner or colleague only to end up apologizing for something you did. Over the course of the conversation, the focus somehow shifted off of them and on to you and something you did wrong. Another example is the person in your life who may say all the right things, but their behavior does not match up. You may give feedback and find yourself having the same conversation again and again without behavior change. Lastly, a gaslighter may cut you down and make you feel bad about yourself before laying on positive reinforcement and telling you how wonderful you are. The hot and cold interactions may lead you to make excuses for the negative and tell yourself that they’re not so bad.”
Defend Yourself Against Gaslighters and Gaslighting
Now that you understand what gaslighting is, you can work on protecting yourself from gaslighters, who could very well be your best friend, a family member, even your spouse. Suro walks us through the process: “In short, interactions with someone gaslighting will leave you scratching your head. A gaslighter will use that confusion to continue to manipulate and have you question yourself. The first step to protecting yourself is to develop an awareness of the signs your body is telling you and to pay attention to these red flags. It is important to reinforce that you can trust your intuition and judgment despite the alternate messages you may be getting.” So, what are these red flags? Someone might be gaslighting you if…
- You always feel uncomfortable around them.
- They make you feel like you’re going crazy.
- They cause you to question your judgments or memories.
- They never take responsibility and turn it on you.
- You’re afraid to confront them about these feelings.
In sum, if you notice a pattern of these uncomfortable or troubling feelings that develop in their presence, it’s likely they’re gaslighting you. Now, once you’ve understood the manipulation as such, it’s time to point it out. I know, your instincts might be telling you the opposite: Run, as fast as you can! But it’s actually critical that you make them aware of their behavior and call them out on it. “Last, it is important to not walk on eggshells,” says Suro. “If you become aware that someone is trying to manipulate you, call it out. For example, a gaslighter may tell you that they never promised to do something that you are sure they did. Rather than letting it go or sweeping it under the rug, state clearly: ‘Actually, I’m certain that you did promise to do that.’”