Gaslighting is a subtle form of mental abuse: how to recognize it and protect yourself

Elena MedvedevaLife
Gaslighting is a subtle form of mental abuse: how to recognize it and protect yourself

Victims of gaslighting come to therapy not with a request but with a question: am I really crazy? We understand that if a person doubts the sanity of his or her mind, he or she clearly has a good reason. And this is not flirtation. It's very important for someone in his or her inner circle to make him or her think that way. There is some benefit in this, although it happens that the gaslighter does not understand why they do this. What is going on?

One day you are telling your guests a story about family travel or relationships with relatives, and your husband says it never happened. You remember exactly that certain events took place, but he laughs, adding that you're confusing everything, it didn't happen! Then more and more often you find that your partner says that you are exaggerating this situation, you are dramatizing, you are crazy, you imagined it, I was joking, you made it up; nothing like that happened, etc.

Or you suddenly realize that every time you try to convey something important to someone, they respond with something like this is the first time I've heard it, you've started to forget something, go see a doctor, you clearly have memory problems, and so on. Sometimes it's even more serious and they try to convince you that you have psychosis or bipolar disorder. We have so many homegrown "doctors" now that they are boasting diagnoses left and right. So, if they try to convince you that everything seems to be wrong, that you misunderstand, feel or remember things wrong regularly, then it is quite likely that you have encountered gaslighting, a special kind of mental violence, a rather dangerous emotional manipulation. What is it for? To sow doubts in the other person's minds about their own adequacy, and there is a benefit in this, namely pushing through their goals, their truth.

Psychoanalysts also talk about perverse narcissism in such situations, but let's try to look at this phenomenon in a simpler way: how to recognize it and what to do. To be honest, you should run away from such relationships. Although it also happens that the abuser themselvers are not aware of the problem, and if, for example, couples come to me for therapy, and I realize that one of them is just such a manipulator, then, thanks to the work done, the situation can change. If necessary, ask your friends and acquaintances if they notice the strangeness that your husband, wife, mother, sister, brother, other relatives who are interested in your madness, your boss, etc. After all, it is not always the case that your problems are indicated by gossip. It may also be that everyone around you realizes that you have problems, but you don't want to admit them.

So, how do you know if you are in a gaslighting situation and what does it look like? Re-read the fairy tale La Barbe bleue. I also recommend watching Ken Loach's film Family Life and George Cukor's Gaslight with the beautiful Ingrid Bergman. In fact, this film gave the name "gaslighting" to explain how one person can create doubts about the adequacy of another and drive them crazy by regularly denying the reality of events. And be sure to analyze your relationship if you have doubts. For example, you used to be able to defend your rightness and prove it, but then you do it less and less and now realize that you are constantly agreeing, falling under someone else's influence. It also happens that a gaslighter destroys your self-esteem: you doubt yourself, believe that you are a terrible, selfish, stupid, ugly, dumb, slightly crazy person.

Recently, I was approached by a woman who had already had one thought: suicide. Married for 15 years, lately her husband has been telling her more and more often that she is inventing events, cannot separate truth from fiction, lies to everyone, and in general, she has to be in a clinic. She had no strength to live anymore because her husband made her look like that in front of her colleagues, relatives, friends, and even her children, who believed him. He was so convincing, and they also laughed at her mother. In the process, the woman began to remember when it started and why. The picture was not pretty. He was jealous of her success at work and her achievements, so he devalued her. But he used her money (since he earned much less and liked to live large). He insulted her, "Go to your village, you'll be better at wrapping cows' tails!" He compared her to her mother and humiliated them both. But he always said it's for her own good. And if she resisted, he would give her great sex and gifts... Before the marriage, he used to make jokes, talk about her dismissively in the company, tease her, but he was passionate, called her an unearthly princess, and she seemed to ignore all that.

A gaslighter is not always an abuser, sometimes it is a person with a story, and therapy works well when you find reasons why you need to shift your guilt and your inabilities onto someone. In this case, the person does not realize that he or she is having a negative impact on the psycho-emotional state of the other person. But you also need to understand yourself: how you got into such a relationship, why you maintain it, why you became a victim. Why do you choose the nice ones, but with strange habits, and brush off your suspicions? After all, the abuser can also be a sadist who wants to gain undivided power and experience pleasure from your pain.

To confront a gaslighter is to make the invisible visible, and the secret explicit. Record video, audio, find witnesses who can tell you exactly who the problem is. In their presence, provoke the gaslighters and see what happens. Keep notes. This will help you develop a behavioral strategy and strengthen your personal boundaries. It is also important to distinguish friendly advice from destructive criticism, and to learn critical thinking in general: it is easy to be enamored of a partner, but the principle of reality must prevail, and idealizations in marriage are fraught with not only gossip.

Since gaslighting is a form of psychological violence, where the main role is played by the denial of reality, it can be a both denial of facts like I never said that and a denial of emotions like you think you're in a bad mood, but I see that you're fine. It can also be a constant emphasis on the inadequacy of perception or a possible illness. Something strange has been happening to you lately? Oh, that means your depression is starting again. Usually gaslighting hides a strong fear of recognizing one's own contribution to the problem, of losing dignity or feeling good about oneself. But you don't need to be a psychoanalyst for a ghostwriter, save yourself.

Don't double-check the facts, it will only make it worse. Trust yourself. Defend your point of view. Try to clearly describe your feelings and the situation that caused them. Say that you re annoyed that someone is trying to make you look crazy in the eyes of other people. If the gaslighter categorically does not notice their mistakes and manipulations, it sometimes means a banal unwillingness to notice them. This means that the chances of reaching an agreement and building a trusting relationship are slim.

Sadly, this form of communication can be used by both spouses or partners in relation to each other and by parents in relation to children, which leads to serious consequences for the latter. In the movie Family Life by Ken Loach, you will see such a story of a victim of mental abuse. In my practice, there have been many similar cases where parents denied the facts of mental abuse of a child. Parents don't want to deliberately drive their children crazy, but pathological communications dominate in such families.

I will say more: gaslighting can also be a way to demoralize a person in order to take possession of their property or business. This is a technique called Zersetzung. Strange things suddenly start happening in the house. Someone else's dishes, clothes instead of your own, furniture (of course, someone close is involved in this story) appear, people start calling you by a different name, everything breaks, falls, collapses, you face night calls, compromising material, threats to relatives... That's why the key word of the phenomenon is violence. And if there is violence, it must be resisted. And the sooner, the better. Sometimes it's really too late.

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