Gaslight is a 1944 American mystery-thriller film, adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light. In this movie, the husband of the main actress constantly changes different small things in their home in order to make her doubt her perceptions and make her think she is crazy. One example is dimming the gas lights. This is where psychology gets the term ‘’gaslighting’’ from. This is an extremely dangerous and manipulative technique where the manipulator tries their best to make the victim doubt their perceptions.
Everyone could become a victim of gaslighting. This is the favourite technique of different dictators and narcissists.
It is done slowly, so the victim cannot realize what is going on. People who use this technique do the following things:
- They lie to you
You know that they are lying. However, they tell the lie straight to your face. Why? Because it creates a precedent. After they lie to you about something big you could never be sure if they are lying about the small stuff. Their goal is to make you unsure and unstable.
- They deny doing something even when you have a proof
You know that this person said a certain thing… you know you heard them. However, they deny it. They try so hard to deny it that you start doubting your own reality – maybe they did not say it after all? And the more they do it, the more you will start questioning your reality and accepting theirs.
- They use everything you love as a weapon against you
They know how much you love your children and how important your identity is for you. There are going to be the first things they attack. They are going to make you feel guilty for your children. They will tell you that you could be a better person only if you weren’t… (Fill in the blanks with whatever you want). They are going to attack everything you rely on.
- They make you feel tired with time
This is one of the most dangerous things in gaslighting – it happens slowly over time. A lie here, a lie there, a critical comment from time to time… and things get out of control. Even the smartest and most independent people can be drawn into this mess – this is how effective this technique is. A person feels like a frog in boiling water. They don’t understand what is happening until it is too late.
- Their actions don’t match their words
When you are dealing with a person or institution that use this technique try to observe what they do, not what they say. Words mean nothing. They are just words. The question is what the people are actually doing.
- They encourage you in order to confuse you
The same person or group of people, which criticise you constantly and tell you that you are worthless, are now appreciating you for something you did. This makes you more insecure. ‘’They are probably not that bad’’. No, they are extremely bad. This is a well-calculated effort to keep you in a vulnerable position and to make you question your own reality once again. Pay attention to what they appreciate you for – it is usually something that is in their interest.
- They know that confusion makes people weak
Manipulators know that all people have some sense of stability and adequacy. Their goal is to make it go away and constantly doubt your judgement. It is only natural for people then to go and search for other people and institutions to give them a sense of stability again. This usually turns out to be the manipulator themselves.
- They plan
If they make scenes, abuse drugs or alcohol or cheat, they are going to blame you for doing the same. They do this so often that you start defending yourself and are less focused on their troubling behaviour.
- They try to convince others you are crazy
This is one of the most effective tools of manipulators because it leads to neglect. They know that if they question the health of your mind in front of others, these people will not believe you when you tell them they is using violence or cannot control themselves. This is a master technique.
- They tell you that others are lying
When they tell you that everyone else is lying (friends, family, relatives and media) they once again are trying to question your reality. You have never met anyone who said the same thing before. It means they are right, doesn’t it? No. This is a manipulation technique. It makes people turn to the manipulator more and more to get the right information. And this information is usually absolutely made up.
The more familiar you are with these techniques, the less likely it is that you will fall into the manipulator’s trap.