Gaslighting is a term used by psychologists to describe manipulative behavior used by abusers that makes the victim and those surrounding the victim question reality. This subtle form of mental torture is not just manipulative- but also quite damaging to the person being gaslit.
If you have ever heard the saying “if you repeat a lie often enough, it will soon be accepted as truth,” then you have a small-scale idea of what gaslighting is.
Gaslighting is when you recall abuse or wrong-doing from an individual, and they counter you by saying “Now that isn’t how it happened.” or “You can’t possibly believe that, can you?” They may even tell you that you are being too sensitive or that you are crazy. Whatever they can say to make you doubt your experience with them, they will say it.
And if you are in a relationship with a gaslighter (regardless of whether it’s romantic or not,) the person won’t come on strong with their attempts to make you question your sanity. Instead, it comes in waves and stages. Abusers slowly and subtly gaslight to prevent you from realizing what is happening until it’s too late.
However, if you recognize the stages of gaslighting, it might be easier for you to recognize it and stop it before it snowballs out of control. The following stages are listed in expert Preston Li’s book “How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying.”
1. Lying and exaggerating.
In the beginning, the gaslighter will try to make you feel as though there is something wrong with you. They may exaggerate things you say or do to make you feel crazy, or accuse you of things you have not done or things you have not said. They will criticize and belittle you in subtle ways and lie to you about things they have done.
To slowly break you down, a gaslighter will continue to repeat themselves and the lies they tell you. They will likely consistently call you out or call you crazy, or question your judgment. Their goal is to make you feel like you are the inherently wrong one, not them.
If you call them out on their BS, a gaslighter will deny any wrongdoing. Instead, they will turn the blame around on you, and will not back off from their stance. Even if you bring proof to them of their wrongdoing, they will tell you that you are wrong.
4. Wearing out the victim.
Over time, the gaslighter will continue to master the tactics that will wear you down. They may start to realize what phrases and situations are working to their benefit, and they will come at you full force with them. They may even try to bring outsiders in and make them believe you are crazy too.
5. Forming codependency.
Codependency happens when we rely on our partners emotionally and psychologically. They may isolate you from friends and family, or try to make you believe that you need them to feel validated and loved.
6. False hope.
To keep you on their hook, they will cycle between idealization and devaluation. One day they may make you feel on top of the world, almost like you are on a pedestal. On other days, they will tear you down and berate you. During the bad spells, you may look back to the good times, and think “Oh they are just having a bad day. They do love me.”
7. Domination and control.
By taking full control of you, the gaslighter will make you feel powerless. In turn, their power will continue to grow, and you will feel as though you have no other option but to abide by their will. This is the ultimate goal of a gaslighter.
If you feel like you are being gaslit, becoming aware is a great first step towards breaking the cycle. You may feel tempted to allow the abuse to continue because you are in love. But the fact of the matter is, if someone is making you question your reality- they are toxic to your well-being. Go to a trusted friend or family member, and explain what is going on, and get their opinion. Above all, have compassion for yourself and be honest with yourself. No one deserves to lose their sanity to an abuser.