One of our viewers recently asked, “Dr. Paul, how do you defend yourself against gaslighting?” I didn't even know what that was to start with. I'll define it for you and give you some clear steps so that you don't get stuck.
The term gas lighting comes from a movie that was created back in the 40’s where a man was manipulating this woman in some very subtle psychological ways. Every time that he did certain things, he would adjust the intensity of the gaslights. So that's where the term comes from.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the perpetrator of the manipulation is trying to get the other person to feel like they are crazy or to doubt their own sanity or judgment or perceptions. Sounds fun, right? It's not fun. When you are on the receiving end of the gaslighting, you start to wonder if you have lost it somehow, and it's subtle. It is not easy to detect sometimes. So, one of the first things that we need to do is start tuning in to our own body and our own reactions when we are around other people. If you predictably feel like something is off or you start to wonder about whether you are perceiving things correctly or you are remembering things correctly, this could be a form of gaslighting. Pay attention to that.
As you become aware that something might be going on, try to notice the patterns. For example, there will be times when you are not happy about how someone treated you or something that was done. As you approach that situation with that person, you end up apologizing every time. I'm just using that as an example. Sometimes that is an indicator that that person has switched or flipped the concern that you are trying to share with them and bringing it back on you. If you find yourself trying to apologize or personally backtrack when it is really someone else that you are trying to confront about their behavior choices, that may be a sign. Pay attention to it. When you start to notice the patterns that are developing in a particular relationship, it actually starts to reduce the personal impact that it has on you.
Part of what we are trying to do here is get to a point where in your own mind, you are not questioning or doubting your own sanity and judgement. One of the characteristics of gaslighting is that perpetrators of this kind of manipulation usually try to isolate the person that they are gaslighting so that they don't have contact or exposure to outside influences. That way they have a better chance to manipulate them psychologically, which leads us to another strategy that can help. Associate or network with other people, talk to some people. A lot of times what is happening in a gaslighting relationship only works for that person if they can keep the other person very isolated, very contained. When you start to talk to other people, you start to notice, “Hey, wait a minute. This isn't a normal thing to happen in a relationship.” It can give you a little heads up to what is going on.
This next step is really important because I want you to realize it is not about you. This is about someone else's pathological need to control other people. Which when I say that sounds like pathology, doesn't it? If you have to control other people, that's not healthy. And this is usually about someone who has a pathological need to control other people, it's not even about you. In fact, if it were me in that situation, I'd be experiencing the same thing that you are. If it were my sister in that situation, she'd be experiencing the same things that you are. It's not about you. Don't take it too personally. That is hard to hear because it is you. When it's happening to you, it's easy to take it personally. I want you to detach yourself from it enough that you can see this isn't about you.
When you start to see the patterns and you know that this is happening, there will come a time when you have to reevaluate the value of this relationship in the face of the kind of dynamics that you are observing. It may not be worth maintaining that relationship. Now, I'm saying that with an acknowledgement that this can happen on a lot of different levels. I've heard of all kinds of gaslighting behavior and manipulation that happens in the workplace for example with a boss or with a co-worker. That's a little different than if it is happening at home in your key relationships. You have to take all those things into consideration. I'm not saying that you should leave that person or separate yourself from the relationship. Although you may consider that, it's important to start to address the dynamic that's going on here because it's not psychologically healthy, for you or for the gas lighter.
I already mentioned that it could be helpful to fortify yourself through social interaction and networking so that you can have other minds and eyes looking at this dynamic and giving you feedback. Another really important part of this is to strengthen yourself mentally and psychologically. You've got to be able to take care of yourself.
And then finally, get help if you need it. There are counselors and therapists and coaches that can assist you with this dynamic. Often it is very helpful to get someone else involved because that can break some of the dynamics that are happening in the relationship. Coaching is a wonderful way to get outside of your own head and see something from a different perspective. There are so many resources available to you. We have Live On Purpose Coaches, you can schedule a call to find out what we offer at www.drpauljenkins.com/breakthroughcall.
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