Gaslighting is a term used to describe a manipulative tactic where a person causes someone to question their own sanity. The term comes from a movie where the husband manipulates his wife’s environment in subtle enough ways to convince her she is going insane. Gaslighting might not always happen in that dramatic of fashion, but this form of manipulation can show up in everyday imbalanced power dynamics such as a work environment. If you have never heard the term before or have never experienced gaslighting before, you might be unsure of what it looks like and what to expect. Here are some things to keep in mind about gaslighting:
- It is emotional abuse.
- It is a form of manipulation.
- The person will deny doing it.
- They will make you seem like you are crazy.
Gaslighting is a form emotional abuse. An abuser wants to maintain their power over the individual. In a physically abusive relationship, they use their body to exert power and force over a person. When gaslighting, an abuser is making someone question themselves which helps them maintain power and control over the individual. It is also a form of manipulation. It involves using tactics to make someone question themselves. For example, imagine that you had an issue with your boss taking credit for work you did. You decide to sit down and discuss the issue with them. You communicate what is bothering you and your boss tells you it did not happen the way you heard it or they completely deny it. They might say you are being overly sensitive or call you territorial. They might even tell you that no one else has complained about something like this before. At some point in the conversation, you might start to question the whole incident, begin blaming yourself, or even wondering if you are being too sensitive. This is what gaslighting can look like. If you confront them about it or push back in any way, it is likely the person will deny it. They are either not going to admit or even realize the manipulation tactics they are using. The denial can further make a person question their own thoughts and feelings. These types of situations and interactions can make you feel crazy. In the example above, you might have gone into the conversation confident about how you felt, but walking out of the conversation, you might have felt confused and embarrassed. Constant questioning and doubting of yourself can leave you feeling crazy or in the case above “too sensitive.” Seeking help is always an option.
If you have never experience gaslighting before, it can be a strange and unsettling experience. It is important to be aware of and understand what it looks like and the feelings that may result from it. If you understand the warning signs, it can allow you to either address the issues with the other person or at the very least help you work through the unsettling feelings you might experience. There are times where we will be in the wrong and were we will be “too sensitive.” However, if you are in some kind of relationship with a power imbalance where find yourself continuously apologizing and doubting your own thoughts and feelings, you might be a victim of gaslighting.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.