Gaslighting. It’s a phenomenon that, while only recently popularized, has been experienced by women and other victims of abuse for centuries. Being able to recognize actions that stem from gaslighting is extremely important when identifying an abusive relationship. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what gaslighting is, and what signs to look for in order to identify it.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that men commonly exercise to keep women in a place of submission. Of course, men also use it against other men, women against women, etc. However, gaslighting is a common trait of toxic masculinity. Consequently, it is most prominently seen in male-female relationships. It is also important to recognize that in addition to romantic relationships, gaslighting exists in the workplace, friendships, and even the family. When an individual “gaslights” someone, they typically discredit or invalidate the feelings, concerns, and emotions of their victim. This invalidation is generally not direct, but rather a more covert operation.
For example, consider that a man makes an insensitive comment to a woman, and she gets upset. He may gaslight her by responding with something along the lines of “It’s not that deep; it was just a joke.” By responding in this way, the man is essentially making the woman question whether or not her sentiments were valid. Because of this self-questioning, it is often difficult to remain upset or to stand up for oneself in a situation of gaslighting. This is due to the fact that the victim is reassured that what was said was meant to be taken lightly, and the victim is overreacting. This phenomenon is typically something that occurs and intensifies over time. It can also lead to long term psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.
Phrases to look for:
Gaslighting can come through a myriad of words and actions, but some common phrases and examples include the following:
- “You sound crazy right now.”
- “I’m sorry that you got offended by that, but you should learn how to take a joke.”
- “Why are you getting so mad? Don’t you trust me?”
- “Everyone else has been saying ____ about you too.”
- “You’re going to regret that.”
- “Do you seriously not remember (xyz)?” *usually in regards to something that didn’t happen.
These are just a few of many examples regarding what gaslighting can look like. In more extreme cases, gaslighting can also be seen as an abuser hiding objects and making the victim feel like they are “losing their mind.”
How it affects the victim:
If you believe that you or someone you know is a victim of gaslighting, it is important to check in on mental health and feelings of self-worth. Often times, when an individual is gaslit over long periods, they may begin to feel like everything that goes wrong in their life is their own fault. They may also begin apologizing unnecessarily for circumstances that were out of their control because gaslighting often leads to an extreme sense of guilt (due to the fact that the victim is constantly experiencing blame).
It is also common to see the victim make up excuses for the abuser. This causes them to fail to share a great deal of information about the relationship with friends and family, often resulting in isolation from loved ones. This triggers a cycle of abuse because the victim feels as if the abuser is the only reliable person in their life. Additionally, the impending sense of messing up often leads to anxiety in many victims of gaslighting.
Why is this important?
As women, we are constantly living in a world that works to support and validate the male experience. We see time and time again that despite centuries of standing up for ourselves, men still view us as inferior. In our fight for equality, it is of crucial importance to be able to recognize emotional manipulation and when others are using it to hold us down. Understanding and identifying gaslighting and other forms of emotional manipulation is a key step in truly implementing female equality.