Is Gaslighting Ruining Your Relationship & You?
“How do you think you will present this to the board tomorrow? There are too many grammatical errors.” That was what my boss said at 11 p.m. I spent the whole night reading my presentation from top to bottom and bottom to top, trying to find the errors. I could not find one. I started doubting my sanity. The boss was also my lover.
- Amaya Dasgupta, Banking Professional, 31
He shattered my self-worth to pieces. Always bringing up my past relationships. Abusing and taunting for kissing my boyfriend when I was 'ONLY 16'. Till I walked out of that relationship, I felt like I was such a bad and cheap person to have kissed my two boyfriends in the past, knowing that I wouldn't get married to them!
He told me that the way I dressed was slutty and asked me to pin up normal tunic tops in such a way that my neck is barely visible. I had to sit with my legs closed otherwise I lacked sanskar. I had to be thin as compared to his female friends, otherwise, I was made to feel like I was ugly.
If I dressed well, he would say, this is the reason girls get raped or cat-called. He said that if someone wants to flaunt a cleavage I might as well stare at it, why else would one flaunt?
- Devajaani Niranjan, PhD Student, 23
Do any of these circumstances seem home to you? Do you second guess your decisions? Do you feel you are losing your sanity? The thing is that you are perfectly okay. It’s just that you are going through gaslighting.
What is Gaslighting?
Urban dictionary defines Gaslighting as, “A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse, where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity. The classic example of gaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they're sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they ‘must be imagining things’ when they challenge these changes.”
In simple words, when you are lied to about things you know to be true and eventually you start doubting your own sanity, your own judgments - you are being gaslighted. In a gist, it alters your perception of reality. The word gaslighting has its origin from the 1938 stage play called Gaslight, which was later adapted into a movie in 1940. In the play, a husband systematically manipulates his wife which leads to severe psychological conditions.
Criminal lawyer Arfin Murtaza recounts about her friend in law school who was in love with her. She never was. But as a friend, he gained her trust and that was when gaslighting happened. For instance, when she refused to meet his mother, he kept manipulating that it was just a friendly meet and nothing to do with marriage. Though she never went to meet his mother, yet the instances of lying and deceit continued.
Gaslighting can happen amongst lovers, friends, family, parents and colleagues. We’re discussing it here mostly with an intimate partner as it is common.
Here are 8 signs that you are going through gaslighting. Also, here I am using the pronoun ‘he’ but it can be done by a female too.
Signs of Gaslighting:
You start second guessing yourself: Your gaslighter very systematically manipulates your everyday reality. This happened to me in the year of 2006. I was in love with a boy from a law school. Fortunately, he graduated and left the town.
He was immensely charming and used to gaslight me. So he happily promised to come to meet me the very next day. The next day he absolutely denied having said that and blamed me for accusing him of lying. He was shouting at the top of his voice acting angry and hurt. I almost apologized. Only now I realize that it was gaslighting.
This is what gaslighters do - they lie and manipulate even the simple truth and one day, you start second-guessing yourself.
He turns hot, he turns cold: Gaslighters are narcissists who get easily bored with their gaslightee. They begin with grandeur and absolute attention. The first red flag of a gaslighter is that they don’t take time. They promise everything in the initial stages. They almost mirror you and project to be your soulmate; and once you open up to them, they begin their mind games. They act hot on you, almost idolize you and then criticize you. Gradually, everything about you becomes wrong. When you question or if you dare to stand up, you will be called oversensitive, crazy or too emotional.
Amaya Dasgupta recalls her lover would cry wanting her till death over the phone and the very next day at work, he made sure her promotion was stalled. Post he left the company, she realized the vicious rumours he spread against her. This is a classic gaslighting syndrome.
The gaslighter thrives on drama and attention. It is their addiction and they will do anything to get it.
When you stand up for yourself, he plays the victim: The gaslighter manipulates the gaslightee to such an extent that it becomes difficult to stand up to them. And if you do, from being the abuser they change instantly to the victim.
Arfin Murtaza recalls how her friend would fight and be angry with her and when she once confronted, he threatened that he would jump from the building because no one loves him. He then kept weeping like a baby, until she counselled him.
Gaslighters take minutes to change their stands and act as if in the whole situation, they are the one suffering.
When you are forever sorry: Gaslighters are classic manipulators. They almost change your perception of reality. Everything about you is suddenly wrong. All good that you thought of you, is wrong and you reach a place where you are apologizing for everything that surrounds your life. Nothing about you is good anymore. Your friends, clothes, career choice, everything is never good enough.
Devajaani Niranjan says, “I was never allowed to have friends who are guys. But he was allowed to have female friends since he had made those friends before his relationship (I still cannot see the logic). But any guy, literally any guy I even said Hi to, was assumed to be hitting on me.
If there was a guy sitting next to me in any group picture, there was a fight. If I sat behind on a motorbike merely for work-related travel, it was an issue. My girlfriends were bad in his opinion because they were into consensual casual sex or wore short skirts. I was asked to stay away from them because they were a bad influence on me and his reputation, apparently, as I was his girlfriend.”
This is where gaslighters derive their power from - the confusion and the diminishing self-worth of the gaslightee. Gaslighters mostly have a tendency of feeding off women whose self-worth are not that great and they almost look around for preys they can feed on.
You can’t figure out what is wrong: You are in a perennial state of confusion. You sense something is amiss but you can’t pinpoint. You can’t figure out where you stand in your life or relationship. You second guess yourself. There is mindless drama. When you are just 3 minutes late for a date you wonder how he convinces you that you are half an hour late. You are blamed for everything and you wonder if he is right. In all, you start losing your sense of self and you wonder what’s wrong with you, rather than what’s wrong in the relationship or him.
You centre your life around his approval: It almost becomes like a drug. After he acts cold, you want to know what is that you can do right so that he gives his attention and the love he showered at the beginning of the relationship. Tragically, his approval or doing things right his way becomes the centre of your life. He almost becomes a far-off dream you seem too unable to achieve despite your desperate attempts. In short, you act desperate.
He denies everything: The gaslighter will deny anything that goes against his grain. Even when you come with proofs, he will deny things he said or did even a few minutes ago. The gaslighter cannot stand being questioned or being wrong. He can’t stand a moment where he is not in power and power is his biggest addiction.
His crazy ex: The gaslighter mostly talks about women, especially an ex who was crazy. He will tell you all crazy things she did and how he had to run away to save his life and the kind of damages he suffered post that. Hear this now, he is telling the same things to others about you.
You are a crazy woman in his story to someone else. Even when he is singing praises to you, he is telling others that you are crazy. Because that helps him isolate the victim and gaslighting becomes easier when the victim is not trusted by anyone.
If this list resonates with your relationship, you need to wear your running shoes. If you are married to one, you either need to check with a couple therapist or call your lawyer. It is often asked if a gaslighter can be changed, but he can be changed only when he wants to, only when he recognizes his syndromes.
Don’t try to change someone who is not willing to change. Move on, because if you stay, your mental health will take a toll and the price becomes higher with each passing day. I spoke to 25 women to bring all these 8 points which almost resonates with each woman I spoke to. They could survive because they severed all ties, some even lodged police complaints.
The only sane advice I can ever offer to someone going through gaslighting is to run, as fast as you can. It’s like living in a burning house with no respite, one day the fire and smoke will engulf you and will char you until nothing is left.
Disclaimer: Gaslighting can be done by anyone. Here we are using 'he' as a gaslighter and 'she' as a gaslightee, just as pronouns. It can be vice-versa too.
S*****This article can really solve many problems,thank you for sharing ur knowledge and i hope to read more and more of ur articles
A*****It's really bad what people's thinking is ! I think Every girl love herself nd leave the world on its on
A*****I can relate to this , but helpless
M*****Excellent piece, a reality of life that we hardly discuss in the Indian context.
S*****Learnt something new today. Thank you.