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Gaslighting

Melinda Toth, LPCC
Counselor, Insight Clinical Counseling and Wellness, LLC

Gaslighting is a term that has come up quite often in today’s society, it can come up in your romantic life, friendships, families, or even in your professional life. Did you read that first sentence? No, I don’t think you read it correctly…You must be going ‘crazy’, go back and try again…

Don’t worry, you read it correctly, that is just a few examples of gaslighting statements. Did you feel the need to reread it, or actually went back to read it again? That is gaslighting, when you doubt your reality due to others. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in interpersonal relationships.

So, let’s get the official definition for clarification purposes. Gaslighting is defined according to Merriam Webster as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.” Gaslight was a term coined by a play in 1938, and the play was just about that, and emotionally abusive relationship surrounding a literal gas light. Emotional abuse? Yes, that is right, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. We need to recognize what it is, and what it is not. This is not a term that should be thrown around lightly just because it was deemed the word of the year by Merriam Webster in 2022 or if you hear it on TikTok, see it on Facebook, Instagram, etc. If it is used loosely so often, how can we recognize when to take it seriously? This is a form of emotional abuse that we need to address, just as much as physical abuse. Emotional abuse is difficult to detect because there is no physical ‘evidence’, we do not get bruises, broken bones, or cuts. Instead, we received bruises to our mind, heart, and soul. Ever hear of the phrase “depression doesn’t always have a sad face?” This is the same with emotional abuse, it can be very latent in our lives or in our loved ones.  As a victim of gaslighting, this can lead a person vulnerable to chronic anxiety, depression, panic attacks, low self-esteem, codependency, and more. 

Is there a solution to prevent persistent gaslighting in your life? Yes! Increasing your self-awareness in all relationships in your life is the first step. Being mindful of what your actions are and others around you. You can strengthen your awareness by practicing various mindfulness exercises (see below for a reference of exercises). The idea is to learn to trust yourself again, this can be a slow and tedious process, because being ‘present’ does not happen as quickly as we can google something (although that would be nice). You can also strengthen your support group, find people you can trust that can reassure you of your reality. It is refreshing to be validated, especially when you are a victim of being gaslit. Another way to combat gaslighting is to assert yourself, using ‘I’ statements. A common mistake that people make is they end up gaslighting the gaslighter. Improve your communication! Using “I” statements clarifies your reality. If you hear yourself starting a statement with “you” while in an argument or heated conversation. STOP…form this into an “I” statement. For example “you always make me feel this way,” to “ I feel hurt and my feelings are my feelings.” It is common for gaslighting to be in both parties of the interpersonal relationship. Working on communication, trust, and awareness will be key. 

If gaslighting is persisting in your life and you are noticing an increase in depression and or anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. This is your validation to reach out! You are worthwhile to receive help, and your feelings do matter! Let’s say that out loud together, “I am worthy, and my feelings do matter.” You can reach out for help through counseling with a clinician that remains objective and provide validating person-centered feedback. There are plenty of resources to support you. Remember gaslighting can be present in all relationships of your life such as romance, friendships, families, and even in your professional life. Asking for help can be difficult at times, but you are capable and strong.

Please see below for a handful of external resources. 

  • You can even reach out to a crisis hotline with emotional abuse:  Crisis text line :Free 24/7 Support – Text HOME to 741741 
  • If you are in a domestic violence relationship, please reach out to: National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233
  • If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, intent, or making a plan, please contact 988 National Suicide Crisis Lifeline or contact 911 in immediate emergencies. 

References

Mindfulness exercises

“Gaslighting.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaslighting. Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.

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