The term comes from the movie “Gaslight.” In it, the wife complains that every evening, the gaslights flicker and dim, which the husband does secretly. But he insists the lights are bright, and she’s just delusional.
Since then, gaslighters are described as people who manipulate their victims into doubting what they see and believe. Gaslighting is a form of abuse.
How does gaslighting happen?
Gaslighting happens in toxic relationships and may be facilitated through deliberate deceit, passive aggression, open aggression and bullying, defensiveness, sarcasm, and undermining someone else’s expertise and experience.
Gaslighters often shut down their victim’s rational thinking with,
“So you thought you should do it? Why do you think so much? Why can’t you simply do what I ask you to do?”
As a result, the gaslighted person becomes so dependent on their abuser that they turn to them for every little decision and fact-checking of any news.
Types of gaslighting
Technically, gaslighting behavior can be of four main types:
- Blatant lie (hiding, denial, or falsifying of facts),
- Reality distortion (gradual manipulation of one’s version of reality and losing grip on their sanity),
- Blame-shifting (assigning the blame to another person, the scapegoat), and
- Coercion (forcefully betrayed by charms and seduction, constant pressure, and bullying).
Situationally, there are mainly six types of gaslighting.
1. Medical & Professional Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting is often overlooked and can go undetected because people lay utmost trust in their doctors. It can happen in any medical setting, including hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices.
The medical person can question the patient’s validity of symptoms, and even doubt their sanity.
Suspect medical gaslighting when the consulting doctor minimizes or dismisses your symptoms refuses to prescribe diagnostic tests, labels you as an anxious patient, and blames complaints on mental health.
Recently, I came across a patient who had been medically gaslighted for nearly three years. Every place he visited, he was dismissed within 5-10 minutes with antianxiety medications. He turned out to be suffering from subclinical thyrotoxicity.
Gaslighting by doctors and nurses can also lead to patients not following their treatment plan or not taking their medication as prescribed.
It also leads them to distrust themselves and the health care system they are receiving treatment from.
Medical gaslighting can also be practiced by practitioners of alternate therapies and predictive pseudosciences.
When this manipulative behavior is shown by people from other professions, it is professional gaslighting.
Like technical help departments gaslighting the user and blaming them for the issues with using the software or app.
2. Racial & Gender Gaslighting
Racial gaslighting makes people of color question their own experiences of racism.
Gender gaslighting makes people of a particular gender question their own experiences of gender bias and gender abuse.
Both of these try to invalidate the credibility of the person’s identity, stereotyping them negatively so that they are not supported by others of their own identity.
Both happen at workplaces. While racism and gender maltreatment occur because of power imbalance, and the same factor feeds their gaslighting.
3. Parent & Family Gaslighting
Gaslighting in families usually occurs as a result of power imbalance. Mostly, it is the older and stronger person who gaslights the young children. Though occasionally, they can reverse their roles.
A parent may criticize a child or even beat them for doing so for their betterment or making them emotionally strong (“toughening them up”).
The sad fact is that these gaslighted children grow up into gaslighters themselves.
4. Political & Governmental Gaslighting
What we know as North Korea has the official name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Notice the irony there – democratic and republic as descriptors of an authoritarian regime.
Many would call Russia’s Putin a partial dictator. In 2020, Putin secured 22 million extra votes, which many deem to be fraudulent. He will continue to be the president until 2036.
Political and governmental gaslighting begins by securing high honor, almost to the level of awe, for the person in authority. They also tend to decimate the opposition to secure their monopoly.
Once this power inequity is set, they unleash their false narratives on the people, most of whom believe the gaslighter.
Repeated lies (like coronavirus is fake and science is a hoax) constantly bombard people’s rational minds, tiring them out and undermining their judgment.
5. Institutional & Media Gaslighting
It is all too evident today when media houses have become spokespersons for the political party in power.
People are played to by the government-directed narrative each hour of the day. The political manifesto is played out in newsrooms in different forms – debates, public polls, street interviews, etc.
Few understand that almost all of it is stage-managed. The people randomly picked to answer the reporter have already been fed on what to say.
Newsrooms have become echo chambers of governmental messaging. And the people have become gaslighted victims.
6. Intimate Partner Gaslighting
This is the most commonly discussed form of gaslighting. It is so because the term itself found its way into public consciousness from a film that had a husband gaslighting his wife.
An abusive partner may accuse the victim of being insane or hysterical. They erode their self-esteem and keep them emotionally disoriented.
They actually do not know whether to laugh, wonder, or cry in response to a circumstance. As a result, they are easily manipulated.
Narcissists are habitual liars and gaslighters. Narcissistic gaslighting can be any of those six types of gaslighting when the person in the more powerful position is a narcissist.
What is self-gaslighting?
Self-gaslighting is when a person convinces themselves that they are not being abused, mistreated, or gaslighted. They do not see the abuse happening to them, nor they are aware of the consequences of it.
Self-gaslighting can happen when a person is in an abusive relationship with another person for a long time. They learn to convince themselves that the other person cares about them and loves them, even when they have been abused by this other person many times.
A self-gaslighter might also convince themselves that their own thoughts or feelings are wrong or inaccurate. For example, they would get angry at those who tell them that their parents or partners have been gaslighting them.
How to quickly spot gaslighting?
The gaslighter uses a variety of tactics to make the victim question their own sanity. These tactics are meant to confuse and disorientate the victim so that they don’t know what is real anymore.
Some common signs of gaslighting include:
— The gaslighter denies they said something when they did say it.
— The gaslighter blames you for things you aren’t responsible for.
— The gaslighter tells you that your feelings are wrong or unreasonable.
— The gaslighter notifies you that what you think happened didn’t happen.
— The gaslighter constantly makes fun of your opinions, beliefs, values, or ideas.
Why do people gaslight?
People like those with narcissistic and sociopathic personalities are often gaslighters because it makes them feel powerful to make other people question themselves. They might also gaslight as a way to get attention and approval from others, especially if they have low self-esteem.
Finally, there is a specific type of gaslighting—Accidental Gaslighting.
Accidental gaslighting is when someone unintentionally does something that causes someone else to feel manipulated or confused. This can happen when someone makes assumptions about another person’s thoughts or feelings without checking with them first.
Gaslighting is a psychological game that narcissists play to undermine your intelligence, security, and sense of self.
If you feel you are being gaslighted, reach out to a mental health expert.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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