WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Written by Lola Narawa on February 19, 2022
In a way, it’s psychological brainwashing. Gaslighting is a type of emotional or mental abuse when someone uses manipulation and distraction tactics to distort the truth, making their victim question their own reality. It can happen in any type of close relationship, including romantic relationships but also between family members, friends, and coworkers.
It may not be as visible as other types of abuse but gaslighting can be just as damaging, says Robin Stern, PhD, a licensed psychoanalyst, co-founder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and an associate research scientist at the Child Study Center at Yale, and author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life. “When a loved one undermines your sense of reality, you become trapped in a never-never land, where you feel bad, inadequate, and crazy all the time,” she says.
Lying to someone about what’s really happening is hurtful in the short term. “Wondering why someone you love is trying to deceive you can make you question the relationship and yourself,” Stern says.
But gaslighting can have terrible consequences in the long-term, destroying the victim’s self-esteem and confidence and either trapping them in a dysfunctional relationship or blowing up the relationship.
It can have broader implications, as well. Over time, the person being gaslighted becomes conditioned to trust others’ perceptions more than their own, leading to a feeling of helplessness, brain fog, an inability to make decisions, memory problems, PTSD, depression, and anxiety—and these may not end even if the person leaves the relationship.
“Gaslighters will ‘love bomb‘ you with affection, attention, and gifts, as a way to gain control and make you trust them,” Sarkis says. “Then once you love them, little by little, the gaslighter will start to pick you apart and criticize you.” This red flag shows up as early as the first date, with the gaslighter asking a lot of personal questions, pressing for intimacy very quickly, and giving lots of gifts or declarations of love, she says.
Gaslighting is very toxic for mental health so when you do see it or hear it intervene and stop it.