Updated: Feb 12, 2021
I wanted to write about gaslighting because I recently encountered it and it’s cathartic for me to write and explore a shared experience of many. Like most people, I did not know it happened until after the behavior/relationship ended. And knowing how much I know about gaslighting and manipulation (and mental health/relationships), I certainly was surprised to finally come to terms that it happened, and then of course..infuriated. So, I have some points about gaslighting that have helped me. Perhaps they shall help you.
I think we all know what being gaslit is. It is likely that you have experienced it in your family of origin, friendships or romantic relationships. Gaslighting is the behavior of manipulating someone into believing things that are not true and/or having someone question their lived experience/sanity in efforts to validate their own experience and simply get what they want.
It’s a shitty thing to do and experience. The thing about gaslighting is…not all those who do it always know they are doing it. That’s important to mention to discussing manipulation. Attachment issues, distorted belief sets, fears, trauma, mental illness, etc can often rile up manipulative behaviors such as gaslighting as a means of protection or a defense mechanism. We manipulate by controlling situations to get what we want, we use skills and behaviors to do that. People learn to take care of themselves from early on and long story short, many people learn that the only way to get their needs met is to manipulate. And when this is the case, the person who learned this skill has difficulty seeing the issue with the behavior. Sometimes (maybe many times) they do know what they are doing and are more centered on getting their own needs met. They simply don’t care.
This is what makes relationshipping so hard. Figuring out what peoples intentions are and figuring out how to move based on what you’re seeing from the person. And doing this while trying to understand how the individuals behaviors may be rooted in traumatic experiences and analyzing what’s possible for them to change and when to walk away. It’s tough shit. Especially when you care for someone. If people who gaslit were 100% evil and horrible to be around that would result in different outcomes. And as a matter of fact, I think gaslighting is done best by people who aren’t mostly shity people.
It needs to be said that knowing where a behavior comes from, understanding that a behavior is rooted in trauma, knowing someone isn’t a bad person altogether..doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate toxicity or the person has to remain in your life. Often times, you should exit. People can change, however, it becomes harder to change dynamics within a relationship that has experienced a consistent amount of a dysfunctional behavior like gaslighting. It is tricky behavior identify and you also run the risk of engaging in it yourself!
Sometimes we remain in relationships because we don’t want to believe that we have been manipulated or gaslit or we don’t want to give up trying to change an individual because we are consciously or subconsciously trying to avoid a confirmation of some belief sets we may have (I’m unloveable, something is wrong with me, this is all I can get, people REALLY can’t be trusted, I can’t be in a relationships, I attract specific kind of people, I won’t ever date again, and on and on). Or we blame ourselves for being duped and have a strong desire to right the wrong of being made a fool or being manipulated. These responses are understandable but not effective. The first example leaves you wide open to continue to experience the behavior and the second rarely works because people who gaslight can struggle to be called out on the behavior in real time and you are unlikely to get the apology you deserve.
Accountability and self-forgiveness are both important when looking at relationships we’ve exited that were painful. Even when we feel we were the ones wronged. What part did you play in the poor interactions/demise of relationship and how do you make amends and improve any ill actions? What part did the other person play and how do you forgive yourself for not seeing warning signs? How do you let go? Think specifically about your experience with gaslighting. Have you done it? Has it been done to you? Have you held yourself accountable? Have you forgiven yourself for any anger that’s self directed and/or were you able to receive amends or call the person out?
I know the question you have. I’ve been asked it multiple times..how do I avoid this experience altogether? The answer to that is, you can’t. Everyone is susceptible to being gaslit and it doesn’t mean that you are stupid or unaware. Manipulation is insidious and some people are simply good at it so the better question is, what lowers your chances of experiencing it?
Awareness of Self: Do you know and trust yourself, your internal world and lived experiences?
Check Yourself: Are you good at checking yourself on your own shitty behaviors?
Self-Validation: Can you self-sooth and talk to yourself in a way that is supportive?
Awareness of Others: Can you identify red flags (lying, inconsistent behavior, cheating, manipulation, deceit, etc) in others and call them out on it? (And LEAVE when you need to?) Most importantly, can you identify green flags (honesty, kindness, shows up, respectful, listens, calls themselves out on issues)?
Assertiveness: Can you speak up for yourself and ask for behavioral changes?
Boundaries: Can you enact consequences when boundaries (behavioral changes you’ve asked for) are crossed?
Support: Do you have enough support in your life that you don’t feel you NEED an individual?
Vulnerability Factors: Can you identify what may make you more suspecible to not being able to engage in some of what’s listed above? Your own trauma history, grieving, chronic illness, unidentified belief sets, loneliness, stress, pandemic, racial unrest, etc.
And of course, therapy always helps with the things listed here (and more) as this list is not the be all end all. Keep thinking on it.