Gas lighting is an unusual term for what is possibly one of the most insidious forms of emotional manipulation and abuse. The term comes from an old black and white movie where one of the characters manipulates the lighting in the house and when his wife comments on it he tells her it’s only her imagination. He is attempting to overwrite her sense of reality and that is what ‘Gas Lighters’ do to their victims.
Click to view my video on Gaslighting
I believe an aspect of gas lighting that makes it more insidious than ordinary manipulation is that manipulation usually involves changing another’s behaviours. Gas lighting involves actually changing the victim’s view of themselves, their experiences, their reality, their trust in themselves and so on.
There are many different types and levels of gas lighting. For example showering the victim with lots of love and attention, but never what they asked for or what they need. When the victim asks for something like support in a difficult situation or even just a hug the gas lighter refuses, may become angry and point out all the other things they do, leaving the victim apologizing for asking and feeling guilty for having needs. Eventually the victim feels worthless and hollow but maybe uncertain why. Their self-esteem deteriorates and they lose trust in themselves.
It’s perfectly normal only to remember an aspect of events. We all have perspectives and its okay for those to change. Sometimes the gas lighter will pick up on something they consider an inconsistency in the victim’s version of events, no matter how small, and turn into undeniable proof of how the victim can’t trust their own memory or is lying, and how their version is the truth.
Another common trait of a gas lighter is to have to argue for hours over things you really don’t have to argue over, such as feelings, experiences and so on. For example:
V I felt uncomfortable when you did that.
GL I don’t understand.
V When you did that just then, I felt uncomfortable.
GL I don’t know what you mean.
V I didn’t like that. It made me feel bad about myself.
GL Perhaps we should explore why you feel that way.
V It was because you did that.
GL I don’t accept that. It must be something else has you feeling that way. Your dad feels like that too doesn’t he?
In this case the victim was expressing how a particular behaviour left them feeling. The gas lighter continually blocked any attempt at resolution. This left the victim feeling worse than the initial behaviour did.
Another example is when the gas lighter actually becomes the victim, withdraws, becomes tearful, pleads all they want is to help and so on until the victim actually apologises for disagreeing, pointing out the behaviour or expressing a need they have.
Something to remember is that although gas lighting is a form of abuse and manipulation, and that many gas lighters are highly skilled operators, some have no idea what they are doing. To them the gas lighting may be unintentional but they might have such low self-esteem or have never developed a healthy resilience to being wrong or disappointed. This isn’t to excuse anyone, it is still a toxic and unhealthy relationship but it may help provide an explanation of their behaviour.
A few common characteristics of gas lighters can include, a lack of empathy, quickly challenging your opinion or curtailing any kind of autonomy on your part, controlling conversations to the point where they answer a completely different question to the one you asked, or not answer at all, or even just talk over the top of you when you’re asking. Some even accuse you of doing the very things they are doing such as being abusive, controlling, or crying how uncertain and unsafe they feel with you.
There is so much more could be said about gas lighting and gas lighters but ultimately being gas lighted is not a pleasant experience, leaving the victim full of self-doubt. Counselling can help regain that level of control over yourself as you break away from constantly second guessing yourself. It can help you recognise it’s okay to get it wrong occasionally, to remember something differently and that it’s not unreasonable to have needs.
This article was written by sentientcounselling