To manipulate by distortion…a short way to define gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a subtle yet harmful way of manipulating and controlling others. Gaslighters will make their victim doubt their own memory, judgment and even sanity. In simple terms, it’s an effective way of making someone believe that you’re right and they’re wrong, even if it isn’t the case.
People who gaslight distort reality to control other people’s actions so that their needs are met and the other person is put in a weaker position in a relationship. Gaslighting is also a form of power-tripping. What makes gaslighting worse is that if left unchecked, the manipulations can grow so complex and potent that the person on the receiving end may find it hard to recognize and get out of this toxic relationship.
Are you guilty of gaslighting?
Usually, we think of gaslighters as people who are strategically and consciously manipulating others, and many people do use gaslighting to intentionally take advantage of other people. It’s recognized as a form of intentional emotional abuse.
But there are also cases where gaslighters act in a way that makes people question their version of reality that affects their self-esteem and disempowers them, even if it wasn’t the intention. Without being aware of it, you could potentially gaslight others and not even know.
Gaslighting can happen in all types of relationships, not just romantic ones. It can also happen between family members, friends and coworkers. Here are some signs that you may be an unintentional gaslighter:
1. When people express opinions that differ from yours, you tell them they are wrong.
It’s natural for people to have different ideas and responses to situations. Some behaviors are so rude and unacceptable that, as a decent human being, it is just right to call the person out.
But gaslighting is different. It is when you are, by default, unable to accept the fact that other people have a right to think or do things differently, and you feel compelled to tell them that what they are thinking or doing is wrong.
Do you struggle to keep an opinion to yourself that could be very hurtful to someone else just because you think you know better?
Do you make people feel afraid to disagree with you? Or do you put them in a position where they find it hard to respond to you? If your answer to these questions is a YES, then you are using the emotional abuse tactics of a gaslighter.
For instance, bosses who gaslight their employees when they are challenged will double-down with counterattacks or arguments. These arguments could digress from the points at hand to discredit, confuse and distract their employees from the main issue and make them feel guilty for being human with real thoughts and feelings.
As a leader, you are not expected to be right all the time, but you are expected to be human. It’s important to know the right words to say and when to say them so that those who belong to your team know that you care for what they think and what they feel.
Your employees should not be afraid to be their real selves in the workplace.
2. You believe it doesn’t hurt to tell a lie.
Most of us, if not all of us, have told a little lie to get ourselves out of a sticky situation. However, if you are constantly lying just to hide your mistakes, you need to ask yourself: how do my lies affect the person I’m lying to?
Have you ever made a promise or a commitment to someone and then lied about having forgotten it? Or maybe you denied you ever said anything about it at all. Were you ever confronted for doing something that you’ve done but lied your way out of it?
You might think that it’s better or easier to lie to get out of a difficult situation. However, it may cause the person on the receiving end to doubt themselves and what they believe to be true not only in this situation, but going forward as well.
3. You are guilty of downplaying others’ emotions.
When a person is hurt by something you’ve said or done, your usual response is that they’re overreacting and to stop making things up. This may make a person believe their emotions are not valid or excessive.
If this sounds like you, you are definitely gaslighting.
Gaslighting goes further than invalidating other people’s feelings, which makes it more damaging than we think. Invalidating means telling someone they shouldn’t feel a certain way. Gaslighting, on the other hand, makes someone believe that they do not actually feel that way. A combination of the two could have long term effects such as self-doubt, paranoia and anxiety among other traits that display a lack of confidence.
Why we need to stop gaslighting.
If you are guilty of any form of gaslighting, it’s time to change. Gaslighting often leads to terrible long-term consequences. It can damage someone’s self-esteem and confidence. It can also cause relationships to suffer.
Over time, it can also cause more severe problems to the person being gaslighted, including depression, PTSD, feelings of helplessness and a condition called brain fog where people are unable to make decisions. These may continue even if the person is no longer in that particular gaslighting relationship.
Changing an ingrained behavior like gaslighting is hard, but it is possible. The first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem and you are at fault. The next steps are as follows, in no particular order:
-Stop making excuses
-Start making amends
-Identify patterns of your manipulative behavior and what triggers it
-Do not be ashamed to seek help from a professional if you must
Ultimately, the antidote to gaslighting is empathy. It is a skill that can be developed by anyone. It is never too late to cultivate empathy in the workplace, in romantic relationships and between family and friends.
As human beings, we all have the capacity to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Understanding the feelings of others is what makes us human, after all. Of course, it is not always easy to get out of our heads and see things from another person’s perspective. It takes time and conscious effort to build and maintain empathy. But it is worth it.
I wish you patience and strength as you or your loved ones face how gaslighting affects your lives.
In love and respect,