Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. After many years working as a counsellor in family violence, child protection and other areas of social work and therapy, even I’d never heard the term.
Stay with me here, you’re about to get an education on something I wish I learned about many years ago. Especially since I’d fallen prey to it many times over.
Gaslighting is a particularly nasty form of psychological abuse. And commonly used by narcissists.
Perhaps this article will shed some light (pun intended) on the situation as I share with you my experience of Gaslighting.
At the beginning when you meet new people, you don’t know who you are really dealing with. Only time will tell. You don’t realise how vulnerable you are in that moment, until it’s too late.
A few years ago, I met this person, through a common friend, let’s call her Bianca (for the purposes of anonymity). I could tell you this story happened to a client of mine, (which it has, many of them), but, I want to show you, I’m not immune to this, so you can be aware and learn from my experience.
In the beginning, Bianca, would always be friendly enough. We’d be at the same party or friend’s house and she’d be there. She’d talk to me in conversation but, I always felt a bit less of a person in conversation with her. I wasn’t even consciously aware of that at the time. On the surface she was friendly enough anyway. I don’t think I even became consciously aware of any feelings of being uncomfortable around her until over a year or so later. It was a strange situation and I never felt comfortable – warning sign number 1. Even still, I tried to connect using common interests, movies, music, weather, kids, work, and talking about them – people love to talk about themselves …, you name it. I tried it. But, nothing seemed to work. I used my counselling skills to ask open questions and a curiosity framework to get to know her better – to no avail. I was met with minimal response each time. Often, she’d excuse herself to talk to someone else. I was often left feeling confused. I couldn’t work it out. Any attempts at anything minutely humorous were constantly and consistently met with a frown of disapproval, sometimes with an added eye roll. And, I was pretty much ignored by this person as much as possible – so it seemed. I tried my best to fit in. But, it didn’t matter what I tried. Nothing worked, at all. Bianca would talk to everyone else around me and be really friendly and ‘normal’ to them. She’d laugh at their jokes, include them in conversation. She was friendly to them.
She was lovely – to them! I couldn’t work it out.
Everyone thought this person was wonderful. What was wrong with me?
I really began to doubt myself. I thought I was just being negative and it was just my imagination. I was so confused. And, when a woman does this type of psychological abuse, it’s very difficult to explain to a male partner or friend. I think sometimes men don’t understand how manipulative women can be. This may be the reason men also become prey to women perpetrating psychological abuse against them.
Yes, it happens to men too. It happens in personal relationships, at work or even in sports.
It’s is very difficult to explain all the finer details to try and get your point across. It can very easily sound like jealousy. The examples, you begin to notice are just so minute and, in isolation you would really think not much of it. But, it is the compounding affect that has the impact on you doubting your recollection, your mind and, your sanity.
· But, being on the receiving end of Gaslighting is a bit like being brainwashed. The Gaslighter will use their superficial charm to discover what type of person you are. If they discovered you are highly empathic, then, you just made their list! You’re just the kind of person they enjoy playing their game with. You’re like a puppet on a string and they are the Master Puppeteer.
Not long after meeting the Gaslighter and being manipulated by their early superficial charm, they’ll step things up a notch and really begin to kick things into gear.
Something changes. You don’t know what. All you know is that they begin to give you ‘cold pig’, also known as the ‘cold shoulder’. They’ve become even colder and unfeeling toward you. But, it’s so subtle and gradual; it takes some time before you really notice.
What you do notice is, you feel confused about them.
So, what do you do?
You guessed it, you try harder. You try to get them to like you. But, their response is very unpredictable. You don’t know which way to jump. Whatever you say or do seems be the wrong thing… and now, they are wielding their web of POWER over you. They’re pulling at those invisible strings and enjoying watching the show from behind the scenes. They are master manipulators.
You try talking to the person about this behaviour but, they respond with false bewilderment and surprise. You’re accused of being overly sensitive. And now, it’s not just them, they have a posse.
After a while, an acquaintance of Bianca’s also began to display similar behaviours. She was part of Bianca’s posse, her inner circle. There was the superficial charm and similar techniques playing out. Similar, examples of exclusion, avoidance, in-group – out-group, and body language, it was like school yard bullying on steroids.
It seemed every opportunity to grow our relationship was used as an opportunity by Bianca and her friend to reduce my self-esteem, my self-worth, my confidence. Every single time I was with them, I came away feeling absolutely lousy about myself. Sometimes, it felt like they would play, good cop, bad cop as one would be nice to me. However, they both showed zero empathy or morality for how they were mistreating me. I couldn’t keep up with it. I was so confused, hurt and depressed. This continued at every encounter over several years.
So why then, given all the bad behaviour and the way they were continually mistreating me did I still want to keep trying? And I did keep trying. Let me give you an example