Gaslighting And Emotional Abuse Tactics

"If a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim of a sophisticated form of emotional abuse: gaslighting." Image credit: Luca Rossato/Flickr

Gaslighting is one of several emotional abuse tactics, and its effect is to leave the victim questioning his or her very sense of what is real, enabling the abuser to maintain the upper hand.

Speaking with , Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and host of the podcast The Power of Different,says,

“[Gaslighting] is like someone saying the sky is green over and over again, and at first you’ll be like ‘no, no. Then over time the person starts to manipulate you into saying ‘I guess I can’t really see what color the sky is.’ It’s just this sense of unreality.”

Ben Michaelis, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, says the first response to gaslighting is to question oneself:

“Initially, if someone is insisting on a reality that is different from your own, you’ll think, Why was I off that day? Was I tired?” As the gaslighting continues, victims begin to question themselves and their judgment more and more. Michaelis says this can go on for months or even years before they realize they’re being gaslighted. “People who experience gaslighting may show obsessive-compulsive symptoms because they want to constantly check themselves and recheck themselves,” says Dr. Michaelis.

Gaslighting is not limited to romantic relationships; it can occur in the workplace, within family dynamics, or any personal relationship. How can it be recognized?

  1. You second guess yourself all the time. You wonder if it is your fault for going on a business trip and leaving your family even though the trip is good for your career and something you needed for your sanity.
  1. You wonder if you’re too sensitive or jealous. When my husband said, “If you accuse me…” it was time to realize how ridiculous he was and recognize that I had caught him, not try to tamp down my suspicious nature.
  1. You feel confused a lot of the time. Your ability to think critically or play devil’s advocate is gone. You don’t wonder, “If I was home and she was in the apartment maybe he would have broken in and harmed her.”
  1. You start lying or covering up when there is no reason to do so. Many times people who wind up in gaslighting situations are adult children of alcoholics or grew up in a similar dysfunctional situation. In dysfunctional homes, children get used to lying to keep the terror from raining down on their heads. Very often this kind of upbringing makes you very ripe for winding up in a gaslight situation.
  1. You are constantly on "high alert" or hypervigilant. Hypervigilance is another state that people who grow up in dysfunctional homes tend to be in. This is when you are always scanning the horizon for the first sign of trouble.