Updated: Oct 10, 2021
If the above question has ever occurred to you, maybe this post is for you. As a therapist specialising in gaslighting, I thought it would be useful to share the below.
The term gaslighting derives from a 1938 stage play called, (you guessed it) Gaslight. In the play, a man attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas powered lights in their home, and then denies he did this when she points it out, encouraging her to believe that she is imagining the gas light dimming. In tandem with this, the husband is flirting openly with the housemaid, leaving the wife feeling increasing on edge.
While this was a screenplay from the 1930's, the term gaslighting has become a very popular term for describing emotional abuse, usually (but not limited to!) romantic relationships. Gaslighting causes the victim to question their own sanity.
Many clients who have come to me often don't realise they have been, (or are being gaslighted). Below I have outlined the phases of gaslighting (as introduced by De Canonville, 2020).
Idolisation/love bombing- This is often the initial phase of a gaslighting relationship. The perpetrator is very intense at this stage, and the victim gets truly taken in, becoming allured by and engrossed in the gaslighters' adoration. The victim often feels as though they have found "the one".
Devaluation- The gaslighter suddenly withdraws the intense love and affection they initially showed, and go cold on their partner. They are no longer love bombing their partner, but begin to criticize and pick faults. Suddenly nothing their partner does is right.
Discarding-The perpetrator discards the feelings and needs of their partner. This leaves the victim clambering to save their relationship.
Withholding - Here the gaslighter ignores their partner's concerns and refuses to share his emotions.
Countering -The abuser will doubt the victims version of events or flat out deny they happened. "That didn't happen" "You are remembering that wrong"
Trivialising - Here the perpetrator trivialises his partners feelings, even when they are expressing severe hurt. "You are so sensitive!" "My ex girlfriend/boyfriend would have found that funny"
These are just some gaslighting behaviours.
Am I being gaslighted?
The effect of these behaviours can leave you feeling:
Like everything is your fault
Like you are questioning everything, especially your sanity.
Coercive control, which is another phrase that has become popular in recent years, often goes hand in hand with gaslighting. Similarly to gaslighting, victims of coercive control often become shadows of their former selves. They are often controlled to the point that they are cut off from friends, family members and work colleagues, leaving them isolated and alone. However, there are distinct differences and it deserves more time, so I have explored coercive control in more detail here.
Am I being gaslighted?
If anything you have read above resonates with you, it is likely you would benefit from sharing these experiences in a safe space where you can gradually rebuild your self esteem (and even your life). If you feel you would benefit from working with a therapist who specialises in gaslighting please contact me via my website. I am North London based, however am happy to see people in any location, via zoom or telephone. Trust me, there can be light at the end of the tunnel, even if you don't feel like it now.
I have also included a couple of books I have read on gaslighting that I found very useful:
Both can be found on Amazon.