According to Merriam Webster dictionary, gaslighting means attempting to make someone believe that he or she is going insane by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation.
The term gaslighting gained more attention once social media users started to chucked the word around but the term was actually originated from a 1944 film of the same name which tells the story of a husband who manipulated small elements of their household like dimming the gaslight of their house among others. When confronted by the wife, the husband denies and kept insisting that nothing has changed and that she is being delusional.
This is the manipulation that often seeps through relationships right under our noses. It could start as subtle as your partner saying;
“No lah babe, we agreed on Saturday remember?”
This is to cover up their mistake for forgetting the date to meet when you could have sworn they agreed to meet you on Friday for dinner.
These mind games, when executed with the right charm and suave, over time will make you question your reality and belittle you into feeling like you can’t trust yourself. The effects of gaslighting can be very detrimental and might even push you to the edge of insanity if subjected to frequent and complex manipulation. Nobody wants to admit that they are in a toxic relationship especially when the partner is one to practice subtle manipulation while showing immense affection.
If you are always doubting your memory and relying on them for information of what happened in the past, you need to be wary of the possibility that you are being gaslighted. Even with concrete proof, they may twist this information to fit their own narrative. To illustrate, you’ve invited your partner to join your family for dinner this weekend and they said yes. You have the whole conversation on your WhatsApp as proof.
Weekend comes and they didn’t show up and insisted that they have told you they won’t be able to make it. When you confront them with the texts of them agreeing, they charm their way into saying that they have told you over lunch on Wednesday but claimed that you were replying your boss’s texts so you might not remember clearly that you have acknowledged that they won’t be able to make it.
You are now a little confused but partially agreeing because you do remember that you were busy attending your boss’s queries over lunch and remembered that you were unconsciously nodding in agreement with them without fully understanding the context. The fact that you acknowledge that there was a brief moment over lunch that you were not focused and present during the conversation is giving them the benefit of the doubt that yes, maybe you did acknowledge what was said even if the conversation didn’t even take place.
So you let this one slide with a reminder for them to make sure that they wait until both are truly consciously present before decisions are made. Agitated at your attempt to make them look bad, your partner is now shifting the blame on you presenting themselves as a victim. This is another tactic that they use to gain control over your emotions.
“How is this my fault? You’re always busy. You never make time.”
You start to cave in because you agree that for the past few weeks you have been a little busy with work. However, in this situation you are communicating your concerns calmly to ensure that any misunderstandings can be avoided in the future. But typically, gaslighters cannot stand being portrayed as at fault. So they shift the blame to you. If you always find yourself going round and round in arguments and being blamed at every turn even if you are clearly not at fault there might be chance that you are at the brunt of mental manipulation.
“Fine, I’m sorry you feel that way. Maybe if you were more present this wouldn’t have happened.. I’m sorry then.”
This is how gaslighters apologise. It is known as a non-apology. Gaslighters will utilise this line when they are at wits end at making excuses for their behaviour. This is another attempt to make you feel guilty and evade responsibility. They will manipulate you into thinking that they acknowledge your worries but victimised themselves at the same time.
To push you to the edge, gaslighters will go as far as using your insecurities to push their narrative unto you. In the beginning of a relationship, you would share your intimate thoughts and feelings with your partner as any normal healthy relationship should. Say you might have confessed to them that you have problems connecting with your parents and this is one of your biggest obstacle in your life. They will use this as ammunition against you.
“See.. now I know how your parents feel. You are impossible to communicate with.”
This is the similar pattern you are looking for. Their relentless attempt at making you feel small and confused. They will use an insecurity that you already have and project in unto you. This will in turn make you think that they are right and make you feel like if this is already an issue you have with other people; what makes it more impossible is that it could happen in your own relationship. Gaslighter are master manipulators and they will always find ways to make you doubt your own reality.
At this point you give up. You begin to believe that you are at fault so you apologise even if initially you are confident that you are at the right side of the story. But because you’ve been manipulated, patronised and belittled, your self confidence has now eroded, so you choose to side with their narrative. This is the ultimate goal of gaslighters. They want to break you down and make you question reality and in turn rely on them for support and guidance.
“You know I love you.. I will never hurt you on purpose.”
At the very end of it all, they will confuse you even further by using compassionate words as weapon. These are the words that you want to hear but it is not fueled by the sincerity that it should have had, especially if the same behaviour is repeated.
It is important to note that what differs the situation described from a harmless misunderstanding is the frequency of it happening. If you find yourself feeling stupid and crazy and it’s as if you’re walking on egg shells all the time, you need to step back and analyse the relationship that you are in.
Gaslighters are sneaky so you might find it difficult to escape them. It’s important that you find support from loved ones and seek professional help right away. In the meantime, make a journal of your conversation so you could have a clearer look at it so you could identify when the conversation is steering off from reality. Also remind yourself, that you are not to be blamed and you did not bring this unto you.
You need to put your mental health a priority and in this episode of WTF: Mental Matters, with guests Daniella Sya and Wani Ardy will weigh in their opinion on escaping the stigma around mental health.