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The Danger of Doubt: Understanding and Overcoming Gaslighting

relationships Apr 21, 2024

The term "gaslighting" traces its origins back to a 1938 stage play, "Gas Light," and its subsequent film adaptations, where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her sanity, notably by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home and denying it is happening. This act of psychological manipulation has since evolved into a widely recognized phenomenon, referring to emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into doubting their own reality, memory, or perceptions. It's a tactic that can cause significant psychological trauma, leaving individuals feeling isolated, confused, and questioning their sanity. As coaches we can guide you through the often tumultuous journey of emotional recovery, we aim to shed light on gaslighting—clarifying what it is, what it isn't, and offering pathways to healing and empowerment.

Gaslighting: The Invisible Wounds

At its heart, gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation. Unlike physical abuse, the scars of gaslighting are internal, manifesting as deep-seated doubts about one's memory, judgment, and reality. The trauma from gaslighting arises from the persistent undermining of trust in one's thoughts and feelings, leading to anxiety, depression, and a debilitating loss of self-esteem.

Examples of Gaslighting

Imagine a scenario where one partner constantly dismisses the other's feelings, saying they're overreacting or too sensitive whenever they express hurt or concern. Over time, the victim starts believing they are indeed too emotional, doubting their reactions to situations that feel inherently wrong.

In another case, a person might deny events ever happened, despite their partner having clear memories of the occurrence. This can escalate to the point where the victim relies on the gaslighter to define their reality, feeling unable to trust their own recollections and perceptions.

Signs You Might Be Experiencing Gaslighting

Identifying gaslighting can be challenging, especially when you're in the thick of it. However, asking yourself the following questions can help clarify whether you're a victim of this form of abuse:

  • Do I often find myself questioning my memory of events, even when I feel certain they happened a certain way?
  • Have I become more indecisive because I fear my judgment is flawed?
  • Do I feel increasingly isolated from friends and family, believing that they wouldn't understand or support me?
  • Have I started believing I'm too sensitive, overreacting, or going crazy?
  • Do I apologize excessively, feeling as though I'm always at fault?

If these questions resonate with you, it's crucial to acknowledge that your feelings and experiences are valid. Recognizing the presence of gaslighting is the first step towards reclaiming your reality and healing.

Gaslighting: What It Is and What It Isn't

While gaslighting has become a buzzword, it's important to differentiate between true gaslighting and other forms of conflict or misunderstanding:

  • Gaslighting is a deliberate attempt to manipulate someone into doubting their reality for the abuser's gain.
  • Gaslighting isn't a simple disagreement or misunderstanding. Healthy relationships involve differing views and can include constructive conflict without undermining each other's reality.
  • Gaslighting is a pattern of behavior, not a one-off incident. It involves consistent manipulation over time.
  • Gaslighting isn't poor communication. While communication issues can lead to confusion and hurt, they don't necessarily involve the intent to manipulate.

Strategies for Dealing with Gaslighting

Seek Professional Help

A coach can offer a safe space to explore your feelings and validate your experiences. Through therapy, you can begin to untangle the web of doubt that gaslighting weaves, rebuilding your trust in your perceptions and yourself.

Reestablish Your Support Network

Gaslighters often isolate their victims to weaken their sense of reality. Reconnecting with friends and family can provide you with external perspectives and affirmations of your experiences, reinforcing your sense of self and reality.

Document Your Experiences

Keeping a journal of your interactions, feelings, and any incidents of gaslighting can help you maintain a record of your reality. This can be invaluable in moments of doubt, serving as a tangible reminder of your experiences and feelings.

Set Boundaries

Determine what behavior you will no longer tolerate and communicate your boundaries firmly. If safe to do so, reduce or eliminate your interaction with the person gaslighting you. Setting boundaries is an essential step in protecting your mental and emotional well-being.

Focus on Self-Care

Prioritize activities and practices that strengthen your sense of self and well-being. Whether it's through meditation, exercise, hobbies, or spending time in nature, nurturing yourself is crucial for healing from the trauma of gaslighting.

Conclusion

Gaslighting is a profound violation of trust, creating wounds that are invisible but deeply felt. Understanding what gaslighting is—and what it isn't—is the first step toward healing. By asking yourself the right questions, seeking support, and employing strategies to reclaim your reality, you can begin to recover from the trauma of gaslighting.