Gaslighting : Know the Strategies, Vulnerable Traits and Helpline Numbers


The gaslighting effect comprises psychologically manipulative actions, which are subtle yet elaborate, that systematically dismiss personal beliefs and bend reality to attain power and maintain controlled dependency.

In simpler terms, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser (here, the gaslighter) psychologically manipulates the abuse victim (here, the gaslighted) such that the latter doubts their own mental capabilities; their perception, their memory, their judgment and their sanity. You may believe that something is wrong but you may be made to believe that it is not. They may maintain power and dependency by defining your sense of reality and attacking your sense of judgment.

The term originated from Patrick Hamilton’s play, ‘Angel Street’ (1938) and George Cukor’s subsequent film adaptation, ‘Gaslight’ (1944). The play revolves around a man who has murdered an apartment owner in her building to acquire her jewels but fails to find them. He visits her apartment every night to search for them. Only, he turns on the apartment gaslights which dims the building lights. His wife, anxious about his disappearances, notices the dimming and questions him about the same.

In response, he dismisses her claims and manipulates her into believing that she is insane because she is imagining the dimming of the lights. When she asks about the sound of the footsteps in the apartment, he reinforces the insanity angle by stating that since the apartment is empty she is obviously imagining the footsteps as well. The popularisation of the gaslight effect motivated specific psychological research.

According to psychological research literature, ‘Gaslighting’ is a form of narcissistic abuse where gaslighters have a pathological need for veneration and constant affirmation that they satisfy, by generating dependency in others. They do so by attacking and denting a person’s confidence and sense of judgment to manipulate them into believing that they are reliant on the gaslighter for basic emotions and understanding. They make emotional slaves out of those who they abuse.

Gaslighters may use several strategies over a considerable period of time. Some of the most common strategies are listed here:

Denial</h3 >

Gaslighters often deny or pretend to forget their history of abuse, pertinent situations and conversations, factual information and even physical evidence. It may be in the form of calm understanding (Are you sure that it happened? You may be mistaken.) or irritated aggression (Why are you making up stories!? What is wrong with you!?). One may certainly know that it happened but their blatant (confident) denial of the reality may make you doubt your memory entirely. The more one doubts themselves, the more one allows them to manipulate oneself. For example, in Gaslight (1938), the protagonist blatantly denies the dimming of gaslights and the sound of the footsteps to make his wife believe that she is imagining things.

Pretending Innocence/Confusion

Gaslighters may often feign innocence or act confused. They may pretend that any harm done was unintentional. They may act surprised when confronted to make their victim doubt their perception and judgment. Feigning innocence may facilitate guilt tripping – another gaslighting tactic discussed ahead. Gaslighters may also pretend that they are confused by the confronted information by pretending that they were unaware of it.

Selective Attention/Inattention

Gaslighters may purposefully not attend or pay attention to situations or information that diverts them from their agenda. Instead, they may state that they do not want to hear it and may ask one to leave them alone or themselves leave the room. They may adopt this strategy to evade a channel of communication. Alternatively, this may make one think that the gaslighter is so sure of their ideas that they simply do not want to waste time on alternative logics. Their absolute confidence in themselves may make one doubt one’s own confidence.

Projection

Projection is an ego defense mechanism where one subtly projects their personality traits, emotions or actions onto another. In terms of gaslighting, the gaslighter may project his negative actions and emotions onto one. For example, you may confront your partner about how their excessive alcohol intake is harming or affecting you. However, they may counter by stating that in actuality your alcohol intake is increasing and affecting them.

Trivialization

A gaslighter usually tends to trivialize or minimize one’s concerns, desires or necessities. That is, they may depict it as less important than it is or is supposed to be for you. This may make you feel like your needs are burdensome and you may reduce yourself and your requirements according to due to their statements.

 

Reinforcement

 

Reinforcement can be positive where a gaslighter superficially compliments, charms, apologizes or sympathizes (crocodile tears). They may at times provide excessive attention, love, money or token of appreciations and gifts. The idea is to show love so you do not doubt it. When you believe they love you, you may also believe that you were wrong in doubting them. For example, adulterous partners often show excessive superficial love through sweet talking and gifts.

 

Guilt Tripping</h3 >

A gaslighter may take unethical advantage of your conscientiousness by falsely victimizing themselves. They may claim that you are hurtful, inconsiderate, selfish or narcissistic or they may state that they often feel attacked, taken for granted or unloved even when that may not be true. They seek to depict deprivation so you believe that any wrong they may be doing is because you are isolating them. It intends to make you doubt your morality and efforts. In guilt tripping, gaslighters may also revive past issues, which may be irrelevant to the present context or confrontation.

Conscious Manipulation

 

A gaslighter may often provide wrong information or manipulate your environment to facilitate beliefs and ideas which are advantageous to them in you. For example, in ‘The Shining’ by Stanley Kubrick, the hotel sets had been deliberately constructed to be architecturally and geometrically impossible such that the faults were not immediately noticeable but created a subconscious sense of unease in the audience.

 

According to George Simon’s book, ‘In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People’, manipulators are seen to exploit personal vulnerabilities.

He termed the following individual traits that make one more prone to get manipulated:

  1. Naiveté:  It involves you finding it difficult to accept that people can be exploitive or you may be in denial that you are being exploited. You may focus too much on the positives to take note of the wrongs which are happening.

 

  1. Over-Conscientiousness: It involves a tendency to provide people with a benefit of the doubt when they blame you for a problem. While that is considerate in some situations, overdoing it may allow gaslighters to exploit that tendency greatly. They may take your consideration for granted and take advantage each time they are in the wrong.

 

  1. Over-Rationalisation: you may be an empathetic person who often rationalizes others’ reasons to be hurt. Again, while that may be considerate in some situations, over-rationalization may allow for gaslighting. Gaslighters may also reinforce your excessive rationalizing by acknowledging and complimenting it. For example, a gaslighter may state, ‘I have never met somebody more understanding than you.’ to maintain your practice of excusing them for their future wrongs.

 

  1. Low self-confidence:  Since gaslighters strive to dent an individual’s confidence it may facilitate Gaslighting if you are naturally under confident and have a tendency to doubt your perception, memory, and judgment. Additionally, the gaslighters’ formulated dominance and sense of ‘having their act together’ may facilitate emotional dependency in you. For example, excessively controlling parents often undermine initiatives taken by their children. It creates an overprotective parenthood and instills a sense of basic inability or under-confidence to take decisions with them.

 

  1. Emotional dependence: If you have a naturally submissive personality, you may allow yourself to gradually be dependent on another person to make decisions for you, especially emotional decisond. This also facilitates gaslighting at different levels.

 

While a simple awareness of the gaslighting effect has been impactful, one may often require support to escape an unhealthy or abusive relationship or individual. For this, a strong social support system is necessary for the form of friends and family, it also makes sense to seek professional help for a strategic assistance such that it has minimum emotional damage.

For the same, you can contact your nearest therapists and psychological helpers or consider the following American helpline numbers:

S. NoNameNumber
1.Adolescent Suicide Hotline800-621-4000
2.Adolescent Crisis Intervention & Counselling Nine line1-800-999-9999
3.Child Abuse Hotline800-4-A-CHILD
4.Domestic Violence Hotline800-799-7233
5.Domestic Violence Hotline/Child Abuse1-800-4-A-CHILD (800 422 4453)
6.Healing Woman Foundation (Abuse)1-800-477-4111
7.Help Finding a Therapist1-800-THERAPIST (1-800-843-7274)
8.National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
9.Panic Disorder Information Hotline800- 64-PANIC
10.Runaway Hotline800-621-4000
11.Self-Injury (NOT a crisis line. Info and referrals only)1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
12.Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK
13.Suicide & Crisis Hotline1-800-999-9999
14.Suicide Prevention – The Trevor Help Line (Specializing in gay and lesbian youth suicide prevention)1-800-850-8078
15.Teen Helpline-1-800-400-0900
16.Victim Center1-800-FYI-CALL (1-800-394-2255)
17.Youth Crisis Hotline800-HIT-HOME

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