Warning Signs of Gas lighting

I always thought of a narcissist as a beautiful vain person that carried an air of elitism over all in their presence. While this person could be an overt narcissist, there is another type: the covert narcissist. The covert narcissist is more dangerous as this personality type appears to be shy and humble but, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they are manipulative and selfish. Both types of narcissists actually have intense insecurities that drive their lack of respect and empathy for others. One disrespectful and emotionally abusive tactic used by many narcissists is gas lighting. 

Gas lighting is making someone question their own reality. The term came from a 1938 play where a man sought to have his wife admitted to an insane asylum so he could steal her inheritance. He did this by convincing her the changes she was noticing in her environment were from her imagination; one change he made was dimming the gas lights in their home. 

Are you a victim of gas lighting? Some gas lighting tactics that are used:

  • Making you question your memory: “that’s not how it happened” 
  • Getting mad at you for expressing your feelings: “You hurt my feelings by sharing your feelings and now I’m angry” (the guilt trip)
  • Silent treatment for expressing your concerns: either won’t talk to you at all or won’t talk about anything to do with the topic that causes them discomfort. 
  • Punishment by withholding affection: won’t support or celebrate a special day or planned event to punish you for disagreeing with them on an issue
  • Trivializing your reaction: “you are too sensitive”
  • Denial- completely denying a statement or action even with proof
  • Never let you fully express yourself, cut you off during conflict
  • Telling a child “It’s not that bad, you are just tired, you aren’t really hungry etc..” may seem innocent but these are real examples of gaslighting due to questioning the child’s reality 

Who gaslights?  

While gas lighting is mostly known as an issue in romantic relationships, it’s important to note that gas lighting can occur in all types of relationships: significant other, parents, siblings, children, friends, and coworkers. Politicians and journalists sometimes gaslight their audience as well. A gas lighter may gas light once, many times, intentionally, or unintentionally. We may gas light ourselves and other people. Victims of gas lighting are more prone to become involved in continued gas lighting by other people. Victims of gas lighting may see gaslighting as normal behavior because it has been modeled for them so frequently. It may take years, but the cycle can be broken. 

Effects

A victim of gas lighting may:

  • Feel the need to frequently apologize
  • Have anxiety and/or depression
  • Wonder why they aren’t happier
  • Know something is wrong but can’t figure out what
  • Excuse and defend the person that is gas lighting them
  • Not trust their own decisions or instincts
  • Ask themselves why they are so sensitive or if they are being too sensitive
  • Feel intense emotion when talking to the gas lighter even when no gaslighting is occurring

Healing

  • Recognize the signs.  

It’s hard to accept that someone you love is abusing you especially when the abuse is not outright physical or verbal assaults. If you know that something is wrong in the relationship, review the tactics and effects as stated above. Psychological abuse is just as bad as other types of abuse. It’s even harder to deal with because no one “sees” it. 

  • Support system

It is hard to receive support for psychological abuse as there aren’t external bruises to show. There are people out there that will support you, though, even if they don’t totally understand. They can also help by telling you that your experience is real and validating your emotions. It’s important to cultivate healthy friendships. When you have been a victim of gas lighting, you may not feel worthy of these friendships or that people even like you. It’s easier to self-isolate because of decreased trust in self and others, however, you still need others and you need to know that others can benefit from knowing you.  

  • Self-care

Self-care includes learning boundaries and discerning these friendships/relationships. Putting yourself out there as an available friend/partner is hard, you make yourself vulnerable to more hurt. To prevent further hurt and continue in your healing: be with people that make you feel good. Also, strive to feel good with yourself. Recognize if you are gas lighting yourself because you have learned to do this; try to unlearn self-gas lighting and practice speaking to yourself as you would a good, trustworthy friend. 

  • Don’t feed into it

Unfortunately, it’s best to accept that the gas lighter will not admit to their mistakes. The narcissist actually has such a low self-esteem that they are unable to admit their own problems, this is why they project those problems on others. You cannot change others but you can change how you deal with the situation. Trying to defend yourself will actually give the narcissist more fuel to use against you. Distance is the best policy. 

  • Professional Help

You may have a lot to process through, lies to unlearn, and truths to discover. A professional counselor can help you on this journey. The abuse happened over time, took time to realize was abuse, and will take time to heal; time with a professional will be worth it, you are worth it. 

I challenge you, dear reader, to think about ways that you have been gaslighted or gaslit others. Write these ways down or talk about them to a trusted friend or professional. You can heal. You can change. You can do hard things like recognizing the warning signs of gas lighting. 

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