Gaslighting: it’s real, and it happens more than we even realize.
It’s a slow, torturous form of manipulation and abuse. It’s gradually being fed a poison through words that creep into our minds and gnaw away at any semblance of self-worth and happiness inside our heart. The worst part is, you don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late and the damage has already been done.
Often, the lover who holds us hostage through this tactical method is a cunning, charming type. We are blind to the writing on the wall, because we’ve been conditioned to see our abuser as wonderful; our heart is already ensnared within their clutches as the first signs that something is wrong start to wash over us.
But what does gaslighting really look like? What does it cause us to believe as reality? The harsh reality is, well, it can really look like anything and convince us of infinite fallacies. The thing is, though, they really all can intertwine and start to sound the same, but here’s a few lies that you’ll start to hold onto as truth if someone is gaslighting you.
You’re lucky to have anyone at all because else would want you.
How do you keep someone caged? You trick them into believing that the cage is the best place for them. The same is true for a master manipulator; they hold you close by blinding you to the possibility that things could or should ever be different. They’ll sow the seeds of trickery that blossom into a belief that they are your salvation, that, without them, you’d quickly perish from loneliness. Sometimes simple phrases like, “What would you do without me?” or “You need me to take care of you,” can become a blindfold or rose colored glasses that never allow us to see others around us who may also care.
It’s all in your head!
Ah, yes, the mind games to convince us we are crazy… they are all too common in these types of situations. Truly gifted gaslighters will create an illusion that even your five senses can’t be trusted, that your eyes and ears are failing you completely. There’s no danger; you imagined those times they slammed doors or shattered glasses. The reality, though, couldn’t be farther from what we begin to believe at the hands of our hurtful lover.
No wonder you don’t have many friends… you are really hard to love.
Master manipulators know how to spin yarn that completely alters our self-image. One clear sign of someone who gaslights is the way they project blame and try to shame the victim. By convincing you that you are “hard to love” or “too much,” they are made out to be heroes or saints because they are willing to “deal with you” or “stand by your side” despite these (non-existent) character flaws. Extremely skilled gaslighters take this a step further and also convince the people in your lives that you really are “crazy” or “difficult.”
Everything that goes wrong is your fault.
This one can really become all-consuming and develop into a serious problem. Like all the other tactics, it starts with seemingly small things. The dog destroyed a pillow? Well, clearly, it’s your fault for leaving it there when you know it’s the dog’s spot. Passed up for a promotion at work and you feel it was discriminatory? No, you just need to learn how to actually do your job well and get recognition. This can go into extremes, like having the person blame you for their own struggles, addictions, and self-destructive behaviors. And, speaking from personal experience, once the damage is done here, you’ll find yourself living your life with a constant sense of shame and blaming yourself for literally everything that happens in the world around you.
I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?
One thing that partners who gaslight love to do is tear you down. But, because everything is a carefully planned strategy like a game, there has to be a way to go back and clean the slate so that it doesn’t seem like they are mistreating you with their words. So, how can you say horrible things to someone and attack their character then make it seem like it didn’t really happen? Say that it’s a joke, of course! Not only does this remove your thoughts that they were being verbally abusive (which they were!), it also throws the blame back into your court because you are “too sensitive” or you need to learn to “lighten up.”
I never said that!
Once the environment and relationship are established with a gaslighter, they will find ways to completely pull the wool over your eyes and send your thoughts spinning. They will claim things didn’t happen the way you perceived them, or maybe claim they didn’t happen at all. Often starting with words and claims that “wasn’t what was said,” this can move into even more elaborate schemes by claiming that entire actions, scenes, and events didn’t occur. You start to question your own thoughts and feelings, or even wonder what is wrong with you and if you are actually losing your mind (which they want you to think is happening). Sadly, it has taken me years of working through and reliving some of the trauma that I was told “didn’t happen” to really see the full effects of the damage of this seemingly simple phrase.
You know, you’re really not that great at _______.
We all have natural talents, skills, and parts of ourselves that we take pride in. These things, however, can help us stay in a place of self-love or serve as a means of escape, so they must be torn apart, too. Maybe it’s your career, a hobby, or just something you like to brag about… but a gaslighting partner will start to slowly, systematically break your confidence and self-worth by making claims that go against what you believe about yourself and your talents. At best, this breaks your spirit a bit, but the worst case scenario is that you believe these webs that the gaslighter spins to a point where you sink into a place where you become completely dependent on them, be it emotionally or even financially.
You’re “just a crazy ex.”
Maybe you saw the light, smelled the coffee, wised up and walked away. Good for you! But, as you see the gaslighter’s next victim, you try to intervene and save someone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work (if ever), because it opens up space for your ex-partner to tell the new person in their life that you are “just the crazy ex.” This can happen with mutual friends who you may try to tell about your relationship struggles or even professionals you may reach out to for help.
Maybe things fell apart and you’ve started seeing someone new. But, as you start to tell this new person in your life about that last relationship you were in, they question you and say, “Are you sure you aren’t just being a crazy ex?” It could be that they are innocent and your story seems unbelievable, or the more likely case is that you could already be falling into the hands of yet another master manipulator. The sad reality is, once you’ve placed yourself in these types of relationships, you have a higher likelihood of placing yourself into a pattern of these types of situations because you believe that’s just how it’s meant to be.
The reality is, many of us find ourselves trapped in these seemingly hopeless situations at one point or another during our lifetime of relationships. What makes matters worse, it’s nearly impossible to spot a gaslighting, manipulative person in even the first few dates; many of us find ourselves imprisoned in these harmful types of love for years or even a lifetime.
If these phrases ring all too true for you, though, please know this: you are loved, you are beautiful and amazing, and it’s not your fault.