There are loads of reasons why the term “gaslighting” has been on my mind. It did come in as a runner-up to the 2018 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: toxic.
To be honest (I know you expect nothing less of me), the announcement the Word of the Year is something I get super excited about. I consume a ton of media (if that wasn’t obvious) and the Word of the Year is very telling commentary on what drove our online conversations the whole previous year.
I really thought it was going to be “gaslighting.”
“Gaslighting” has been showing up in bizarre pop culture contexts, like an episode of a kids’ cartoon a friend was telling me about, news articles and shows, Youtube Videos, and so much more.
One of the reasons “gaslighting” was searched online frequently enough to be on the Word of the Year shortlist may be that people don’t really know what it means. I think it’s one of the more important words popping up in our media and daily conversations.
Hopefully, that means people are thinking about how this behavior affects others and themselves. But, if not, here are the deets to get those brain gears turning.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. The gaslighter will use multiple tactics to manipulate a person into questioning their own sanity and judgment.
This is an extremely effective form of abuse as it gives all the power to the gaslighter. They make sure you do not trust yourself and then force you to trust their judgment over your own.
The effectiveness of gaslighting isn’t limited to person to person communication, but also to mass communication. Instead of the masses questioning their sanity, they question if their views are somehow extreme or they question if extremist views are actually commonplace.
Real quick, gaslighting is in no way the same as taking a “spin” on a topic. A spin attempts to shift the interpretation of a real situation by presenting it differently.
Gaslighting is the presentation of a false narrative that contradicts the real situation. Gaslighters’ intentions are to purely lower and ultimately eradicate a person’s confidence in their perception of the world or of themselves.
Gaslighters don’t want a discussion. Their view is very black and white. Their behavior is a way to have power and control in the situation. They believe they are right, and you are wrong, and that they have a responsibility to make you believe differently.
What does gaslighting look like?
Gaslighting is a convoluted, disturbing skill that masters of manipulation can readily call upon to control others. It involves a variety of methods and strategies, but below are some of the main ones to keep an eye out for.
Strategy 1 – Deny, deny, deny
You know what the gaslighter said before and now they’re telling you they didn’t say that at all. Even if you have proof, like a text message or a video, they will deny everything. The more they do this, the more you question your reality.
When we’re looking at mass communication, this can extend to things not said by the gaslighter. For instance, facts are often targeted by mass communication gaslighters as they might not support the gaslighter’s opinions. They will deny that a fact is, well, factual.
Strategy 2 – Liar, liar pants on fire
Similar to the first strategy, blatant lying accompanies almost every strategy a gaslighter will use. The gaslighter will lie straight to your face and you’ll know it’s a lie.
What’s even the point when you know they are lying, right? Well, their goal is that eventually you won’t know what’s true and what isn’t.
This particularly hits home with mass communication gaslighters. When you don’t know what is a fact and what the gaslighter said on the fly to support their opinions, it leaves you questioning your beliefs.
Strategy 3 – Actions speak louder than words
When confronted or challenged, the gaslighter will definitely say they are hurt or play the victim. But, the behavior that is (purposefully) driving you insane doesn’t stop.
Alternatively, the gaslighter will throw in positive reinforcement. It will probably be for something that supported the gaslighter and their views. Again, the abusive behavior never actually changes.
This strategy is purely to confuse you.
Gaslighters need you to be confused so you can give up your reality and beliefs and start accepting theirs.
Strategy 4 – They’re rubber and you’re glue
Projecting is another way that a gaslighter will keep you questioning your reality. They are a liar, but they call you one. They are stealing from you, but they call you a thief. The examples go on. And, like above, if you call them out on it they’ll bounce it back to you.
I realize that this strategy sounds very much like elementary school when you can’t think of a good comeback so you called the person (honestly probably your sibling) the same thing they called you.
I ask you to think of this, how many times will you call someone a liar if they say ‘no you’re the liar’? Don’t you just eventually accept that they are a liar/thief/cheater/zebra (you still with me?) and stop bringing it up?
Strategy 5 – You’re dismissed
Not only will the gaslighter tell you that you’re crazy, they’ll tell all the people close to you too. This allows them to tell you that no one will believe you if you tell someone the gaslighter is abusive. With your own judgment and sanity in question, you might be compelled to believe them.
This also pairs nicely with reducing the credibility of competitors for mass communication gaslighters. When they dismiss competitors and promote conflicting opinions as extreme, you don’t know who you can trust for information.
How to start recovering from the effects of gaslighting.
First, and foremost, it is entirely possible to get out of a gaslighting relationship (or step away from a gaslighting form of mass communication). No matter if that means leaving the relationship you have with a gaslighter or changing how you inform your opinions, it is possible.
If you have decided to get away from your gaslighter, that is an important step and you should be proud of yourself. I am proud of you. I need you to know that.
So let’s talk about healing:
Remember that your gaslighter won’t take responsibility.
It is particularly difficult to move on from a situation when the responsible party won’t take responsibility. It leaves you feeling like there will never be closure. They will never understand your point of view. Logic and reason doesn’t apply to them. So accepting this will allow you to give some type of closure to yourself.
Trust your own version of reality.
Your gaslighter had you questioning everything. It’s important to take the time to start trusting your own opinions and views again. It could be little by little or blanket coverage trust. Not allowing your opinions to be altered on demand will make you resilient.
Forgive yourself and own your feelings.
Gaslighting is literally a master manipulator’s bread and butter. It’s okay to accept that it happened to you and to feel angry or frustrated or sad or anything. It’s important to let yourself feel how you need to feel. Then, it’s important to forgive yourself.
Let’s remember that “gaslighting” might not have made Word of the Year, but it has a massive effect on our mental health and the mental health of others. Because it’s not a word that’s going to disappear anytime soon, getting informed and informing others about gaslighting is one step toward taking care of your own mental (and general) health.