The concept of “gaslighting” seems to have come out of nowhere and captured the attention of popular culture, relationship psychologists and political commentators alike. The Oxford Dictionary even made “gaslighting” one of their most popular words of 2018! But when people ask themselves “am I being gaslighted?” do they actually know what to look for?
What is “gaslighting” and why is it called that?
Despite the novelty of having a strange name, “gaslighting” is not all that new. We see it all the time here at Loukas Law, but perhaps we just never knew what to call it before.
According to Robin Stern, the psychologist who coined the term, “gas light effect”, gaslighting is controlling and manipulative behaviour that boils down to:
the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.
Stern borrowed the term from the 1944 film, Gas Light. In a pivotal scene, a man makes his wife think she’s crazy by turning their gas lights off then on again, causing them to flicker, only to deny it when confronted. He tells her “it’s all in your head”. And because of her devotion to her husband, instead of doubting him she starts to doubt her own sanity.
“Am I being gaslighted?”
Here are just some ways it can manifest:
- You feel strongly that something is wrong, but you just don’t know what;
- You’re told things like “it’s all in your head!”
- You’re often asking yourself, “am I just being too sensitive?”;
- You get trapped in spirals of reasoning away the other person’s troubling behaviour;
- You’re always apologising for things you’re not even sure you did;
- You’re having trouble making simple decisions; and
- You’ve started doubting yourself about things you normally wouldn’t question.
One thing for certain is that perpetrators of gaslighting are often very smart, charismatic and (to the outside world) the perfect spouse. They can be male or female and their persona makes you question your reality even more, as the idea of changing people’s perception and making them open their eyes to what you have been enduring just feels impossible.
How do you even start to explain what has been happening and the impact on your and the children’s lives? How do you communicate to the Court that this type of psychological war potentially will be the unravelling of your children as the gaslighter’s manipulation has no boundaries? This is a seriously complex situation and without articulating your experiences properly to expose your spouse’s behaviours you will always feel unheard and vulnerable – this is part of the gaslighter’s power over you.
What can I do about it?
Gaslighting relies on not being obvious and it is therefore often hard to call out. It exploits any imbalances of power that exist in a relationship. There is a lot of crossover with narcissistic behaviour. Or it could simply be that one party is too trusting in the other person’s view of particular situations or world view.
Breaking the cycle of gaslighting starts when you take control of the situation. Here are some starting points:
- Understand that it is a form of emotional abuse;
- Ask yourself: “what would I say to a friend in the same situation?”;
- Document a person’s words and their actions and consequences that come as a result – do they match?;
- Rely on trusted friends external to your relationship to give you perspective;
- Speak to a counsellor with expertise in the area; and
- Speak to us if you feel that your relationship is ending or over. We can help you navigate your way out of this.
Please call us now on (08) 9381 0208 or fill out this form to schedule your first 30-min free telephone appointment.
You can find more information about gaslighting in this piece from Robin Stern herself.