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You’re not crazy, insane, or overreacting. You’re human.
This is what you should remember when someone gaslights you.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is when someone does or says something, and later tells you it didn’t happen the way you remember it or even happen at all.
It’s also the term for when you move all the living room furniture an inch to the left every day and act like your parents are crazy for stubbing their toes every night on the coffee table.
Here’s an example:
Your mother-in-law makes a comment that you’re an unfit mother and that your child should live with her instead.
You react: “Excuse me?! WTF did you just say??”
“What? I didn’t say anything. You must have imagined it. You’re clearly overreacting to-” she huffs, “-SOMEthing.”
You have every right to feel upset because this person is insisting that you’re remembering wrong – or no, it didn’t even happen.
The definition of “gaslight” as a verb is “to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
When you think of it like that, it’s so insidious and dark.
The origin of “Gaslighting”
The origin of this word as a verb is the 1938 play “Gas Light” and its 1944 film adaptation, “Gaslight”, in which a woman’s husband slowly manipulates her into believing she’s going insane. Things like losing a brooch (even though it had been in her purse), pictures disappearing off the walls, footsteps in a sealed attic, and – where the title comes from – the gaslights dimming and brightening for no apparent reason.
Its tagline: Strange drama of a captive sweetheart!
This film was nominated for SEVEN Academy Awards and won two of them. Scary, huh?
I wonder how many people saw that film and recognized the potential for inflicting psychological damage on people.
Oh, you say you overheard Muriel admit she cheated on her husband? No, you didn’t. Muriel’s the best wife any husband could ask for. You must’ve imagined it.
Oh, are you sure you cleaned the bathroom? It looks sooooo dirty. Look, there are stains and mold everywhere! You must’ve imagined yourself cleaning and didn’t actually do it!
Oh, I would NEVER go against your wishes as a parent. (Said after having just gone against your wishes as a parent.)
There’s a Reddit sub called JUSTNOMIL which is full of mothers-in-law (MILs) gaslighting (among other, more nefarious things) their sons-and-daughters-in-law. Unfortunately, it’s mostly the daughters-in-law (DILs) recounting these stories, but the point is that it happens frequently enough (at least by MILs) that people congregate on the internet for advice about it.
So no, you’re not overreacting. You’re human. You’re not crazy.
Welcome to being gaslit.
How do you recognize when someone is gaslighting you?
There are a few questions to ask yourself when you suspect you’re being gaslight:
- Is this person calling me insane, crazy, a failure, unstable, or overreacting? Using these labels is a dead giveaway that the person saying them is, consciously or unconsciously, trying to undermine your credibility.
- Are my disagreements being dismissed or invalidated because of being called a liar, crazy, unstable, etc.?
- Am I questioning my own judgment? Is someone else trying to define my reality?
- Am I losing control of my life or situation to this person? This one is particularly important because, for gaslighters, the ultimate goal is to control.
- Have I started to agree with what this person is saying to me? DANGER! You’re now not only being gaslight by someone else, but you’ve also begun to invalidate yourself too!
PsychologyToday has a great article about tactics gaslighters use, as well as an article with 11 warning signs. The above questions are a good finger-in-the-wind test to see if you’re being gaslight or just disrespected.
So, what do you do about it?
If you believe you’re being gaslight by someone, reach out to a trusted friend or relative. Reach out to a therapist. Being validated by just one person can be the catalyst to escape and recovery.
It may very well be impossible to get the person gaslighting you to actually stop.
Fortunately, you have options. Even if you can’t always physically leave, you can set boundaries. You can establish a clear line that, if crossed, consequences will be meted out.
So when your MIL says that she should be raising your child and tries to say, “Oh, you must’ve imagined me saying that.”
You respond with the following: “No, I didn’t imagine it. You said it.”
If appropriate, this would be the point where you cut off MIL from your lives for a bit – or indefinitely! Sometimes the right decision to make when it comes to your relationship with the gaslighter is to go low-or-no-contact.
If your gaslighter is a spouse or partner, you might face additional difficulties when attempting to leave—specifically financial ones. Shockingly—or perhaps not—financial abuse goes hand-in-hand with domestic abuse, which can be punctuated by gaslighting.
Bankrate has an excellent guide on how to rebuild your finances after getting out of a domestic abuse situation.
Has it happened to you? Is it happening right now?
The most important thing to remember is that you are not the one in the wrong here! If someone is gaslighting you, it’s because THEY desire control over your life. THEY desire to make you feel like you’re losing it. YOU have done nothing wrong, and you shouldn’t feel like you have.
Have you been gaslit before? How did you recognize it? What was your reaction? Let me know in the comments.