Our winter issue is out now. Regular contributor and trauma-Aware therapist Sandy Newbigging illuminates how we can recognise gaslighting in our lives and what to do about it. Dive on in to learn more…
Pull The Plug On Gaslighting
by Sandy Newbigging
Gaslighting is a term that’s getting much more exposure recently. Let me shine some light on the subject, so that you can know if you are accidentally gaslighting others, or are ever being gaslit.
The term Gaslighting is derived from a 1944 psychological thriller called Gaslight. In the movie, a husband uses mind games and manipulations to convince his wife that she is insane, so he can gain power of attorney and steal from her.
During the film, the husband dims and brightens a gaslight, and when his wife notices, he denies the light is changing and says it is only her imagination. Hence, the term gaslighting is used when a person becomes disorientated or distressed because they are made to doubt their perceptions (generally for the gaslighter’s own benefit).
How do you know if you’ve been on the receiving end of gaslighting? Well, if you have been, then you may overly question and second-guess yourself, so even this question may cause you some confusion or even anxiety. The confusion comes from constantly being told that your thoughts, feelings, intuitions, senses or perceptions are in some way ‘wrong’.
Anxiety usually arises from a history of your reality being invalidated, making it hard to 100% trust yourself.
Gaslighting reduces our self-esteem and confidence as we are made to feel psychologically impaired or misguided, and incapable of knowing what we are truly thinking, feeling and seeing – without the gaslighter’s guidance.
Let’s say you’ve been hurt by something someone said or did. Instead of your feelings and version of reality being
acknowledged, respected and responded to with an apology, you are instead shut down and accused of ‘overreacting’, ‘being
too emotional’ or ‘making a mountain out of a mole hill’. Other common gaslighting phrases include:
• ‘I never said that’
• ‘I didn’t do that’
• ’You’re imagining things’
• ‘You’re making stuff up’
• ‘It’s no big deal’
• ‘You need to just let it go’
• ‘It’s just your ego that cares’
• ‘You’re remembering it wrong’
• ‘Don’t be so dramatic’
• ‘You’re too sensitive’
Always being told you are ‘too sensitive’, for example, makes you believe that you are somehow wrong to be feeling how
you’re feeling. Gaslighting is harmful because we all need to be seen, heard and understood, in order to feel safe and trust
ourselves and others. Gaslighting, on the other hand, corrodes safety and trust, which is why it causes trauma, stress, confusion and limits our ability to live secure, sovereign and successful lives.
For the record, I’m not saying that all gaslighting is done with malice or negative intent. Most gaslighters have unresolved trauma, or are carrying shame, which gets triggered when others raise issues or show intense emotions, and so they unconsciously need to deny, avoid or suppress anything that appears to be ‘negative’.
Irrespective of intent, it is still vital that you are aware of when gaslighting is happening; to avoid its damaging side-effects and engage in healthier relationships.
So, what can you do if you recognise that you may be gaslighting others? Stop it! If someone comes to you with a problem, be willing to listen. Then, even if you don’t agree with them, aim to ensure they feel seen, heard and understood. Doing so will cultivate a culture of safety and trust within your relationships, will resolve any issues quicker than gaslighting ever can, and allow for closer connections and intimacy.
What if you are being gaslit? Know that your thoughts, feelings, perceptions and opinions are valid, even if someone
else thinks they aren’t, or you end up being ‘wrong’. Stop using phrases like: ‘I’m probably wrong, but…’ or ‘I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way, but…’. Healing, feeling better and making life improvements all require honesty, safety, trust and the ability to talk freely about things. By pulling the plug on gaslighting, you illuminate more clarity, connection and truth within yourself, others and the world.
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