I don’t know about you, but have you ever walked away from a conversation confused and apologising for something you haven’t done, feeling awful or guilty? This can be your Mums guilt-trip speech for not visiting more often because “you don’t care about me anymore”, your Boss teasing “oh come on, I never said that, you’re just being too sensitive” could be a co-worker “ha, didn’t you know they’ve all been talking about you behind your back?” even your sibling “you seriously can’t find your sunnies, what’s wrong with your memory?” or even your partner minimising your feelings “ok and here it comes, bring on the waterworks…” and what about your best mate “learn to take a joke, don’t be so sensitive, you won’t get far in life if you’re always soft.”
It hurts. This is because it comes from a person with some kind of authority or someone you care about, which is why it is easier to blame yourself. Especially if you are a people pleaser. The term Gaslighting means ‘a form of manipulation’ where – the Goal is Control. Emotional control.
This can be by questioning your own reality, memory or perceptions of the events that have actually happened. They literally make you question your own experience of situations, and the events that happened. Which in the long term, makes you feel crazy and confused because I always feel I did the wrong thing but I don’t know why. It can then make us shut down and not stand up for ourselves anymore. Then we can go into fawn mode. You have heard of flight fight freeze, well there is fawn. Your responses are to agree, comply and surrender. Your emotions are now shame, feeling empty or numb. And the outcome is usually people pleasing, justify the situation or submit. This is called gaslighting.
All this manipulation is causing me to distrust myself, making someone feel intimidated & vulnerable – or preventing someone’s ability to stand up for themselves. When this happens for a really long time, you go into the fawn mode, remember? This is a way of making themselves look and feel better, while putting you down. This generally comes from either their ego, where they genuinely think they are superior and cant be bothered with you, or from a place of intense secret insecurity, where they are projecting their own ‘stuff’ onto you.
So think about that; are they really arrogant with a superiority complex (or personality disorder), or are they riddled with insecurity and accidentally put you down to make themselves feel better?
The difference is – 1. It can be intentional & calculated, which is a conscious form of manipulation – or 2. – unconscious and automatic – this can be a learned behaviour from their previous life experiences, what they learnt off their parents, so essentially, this is repeating intergenerational cycles, or learnt as a survival mechanism to stay alive. Dog eat dog right.
So we heard some examples of gaslighting, now we need to know the meaning or the motivation behind the gaslighting. Sometimes we don’t know that we are being gaslighted. If you feel this is relevant to you, There are 9 examples, every time you hear an example that is familiar, or what you have experienced – keep a record by tallying your fingers and counting how many you experience within a relationship.
1. withholding affection as a way of punishing you (implying they don’t care, silent treatment). The worst punishment you can receive as a human, is being ostracised or rejected by those who love you, so this one hurts bad.
2. Victimhood where they always exaggerate situations to make them the victim, its always about them and their needs, even when you explain your situation they always twist it back to them. And then because they are the victim, when you are strong enough to walk away, they make you feel you need to stay because they can’t function without you. Which doesn’t make any sense, but in the moment is so convincing.
3. Aggression or personal attacks like shaming, being the scapegoat, constant criticisms, mocking you, or straight up intimidation:
4. Trivialising how you feel to make you feel belittled, like you are overreacting: You are upset over nothing.
5. Countering. is when a person questions someone’s memories, like planting a seed of doubt in your mind: That’s not how it happened. I didn’t do that. You must have made that up.
6. guilt-tripping that convinces you to feel bad: so you feel its all your fault.
7. Diverting. Diverting is when they feel trapped, so they literally divert the focus on you & your trustworthiness : Like when someone feels backed into a corner, cant argue because they are wrong, and the whole conversation is now about you and all the things you have done wrong
8. Stereotyping when they intentionally use negative stereotypes to manipulate “geeze woman, must that time of the month?”:
9. you can be accused of lying or they refuse to listen to your point of view saying you never make sense. I don’t have time for your games. You have issues and need to see a head doctor. An interesting public example would be Donald Trump – his Political and Institutional gaslighting. Think about it…
So that’s 9. How many have you encountered?
Brutal. I know right. It’s easy for an outsider to judge someone ‘falling for this’ and why don’t you just see through it and stand up for themselves? But, This is like living with the enemy, but you actually respect their opinion, or you feel like it is from love. Or they have just had a bad day. Or they just … all the excuses. This is like a form of Stockholm Syndrome or Self-fulfilling prophecy. Stockholm syndrome is when you are around someone for a long time, their words are now my words, and it all makes sense. But when I am away, it doesn’t. But when I am around them, it makes perfect sense. Self fulfilling prophecy is when you are told something so many times, you believe it and it comes true. If you are told you are fabulous and worthy of millions you believe it. But if you are told you are worthless and dumb, then I will start talking to myself that way, and it comes true.
It can start off harmless, but over time makes you anxious, depressed, feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. You’re defending their behaviour & not being honest to your mates just to protect them – but also your shame- , eventually a habit of apologising for yourself or second-guessing yourself, feelings like you can’t do anything right. This is that fawning mode I spoke about earlier.
So how do you protect yourself without ‘setting them off’ & making things worse.
Acknowledge its not your fault, you’ve done nothing wrong & accept it could be happening to you (or someone you love). Start with a journal, this is evidence of the frequency, tactics that are used and importantly to validate your suspicions but – keep this is a safe space for your eyes only. There are support groups to connect with others to reinforce you are not alone. You can see a therapist, a safe space to talk honestly about how you are feeling & strategies to protect yourself. Also there are some really good YouTube channels that have hours and hours of information about gaslighting.
Re-learn to trust your instincts, this will help you regain a sense of self again. Speak to yourself with compassion. And kindness. Remember that self fulfilling prophecy? As hard as it is, resist the urge to engage and argue as you are then playing their game – you won’t win. They have the rules and are allowed to change the goal posts. But you don’t. so literally, if you yourself are not a gaslighter, then you wont win. You just get more upset. I know its easier said than done, because you now know what’s going and and you don’t want to feel powerless. You want some control back. So get it back in healthy ways.
You can speak up & call out the manipulation when it happens – use respectful language and “I” statements to avoid aggression;
Ready. follow these steps:
1. acknowledge their perspective
2. Explain how the manipulation affects you & the relationship
3. Remind them of the original question and state facts. What’s correct & any inaccuracies.
The facts shall set you free.
Yes, it is easier said than done. So, don’t get distracted by their personal attacks, try to stay focused on what it is you originally want to say – even if you have to practice in the mirror before you can do it in person. By practicing you can correct any lies because you know the facts. Remember to keep your body language neutral to show that you are not upset or getting frustrated, be cool as a cucumber.
Importantly, remember that you can’t control anyone else’s opinion, even if you are right. You can’t change someone that isn’t ready to change, especially if they don’t think there is a problem. So please, have compassion and understanding for yourself. Growth is impossible without change.
Another invaluable resource is to understand ‘Ambivalent Attachment’ there is a great example on my YouTube channel which makes it easy to understand people’s underlying behaviour and how it may have started.
If you are looking for more information or even to talk to someone about what you are experiencing, please feel free to contact me at www.supportivetherapy.com.au. There are a lot of free resources for you to access, as well as online store so you can view self-guided therapy sessions and eBook’s that may benefit you.
You are not alone. There is always help. Thank you for your time.
All the information contained in this document is general advice only. This is not specific to any situation or person or based of any clients case study. This information is from the main concerns facing the majority of my clients as a collective and has proven to have made a significant positive difference in an individuals or couples experience.. If you are triggered or offended in any way, please contact Supportive Therapy immediately so we can make you feel at ease and explain our perspective. This information is intended for empowerment and knowledge in the best interests of my clients. This is not intended to replace therapy, but to aid in personal growth, personal development and the recommendation that this book is to be reflective within in person therapy. Everything contained in this document is the intellectual property of Elena Bishop, director of Supportive Therapy Arana Hills. You do not have permission to share, reproduce, copy, adapt, display or anything similar that violate copywrite laws. The consequences of ignoring copywrite of the contents within this document will result in legal action. I have worked hard and reserve the right to protect my property without it getting into the wrong hands and being used unethically or fraudulently.
I started my practice to make a positive difference – to have a voice for the voiceless. I am someone who inspires positive change in people’s lives. I support you in exploring your current concerns & investigating your history to uncover patterns that you may not even be aware of. I motivate you to feel strong & confident, to evolve into a better version of yourself and be happy in your relationships.
As well as running my Private Practice, I am the Brisbane Mothers’ Mental Health Network Coordinator, Publishes monthly articles in several outlets, and customises Training & Education for my clients on her YouTube channel. These are examples of a holistic approach to my clients needs for education, empowerment and normalising how we all can struggle at maintaining our unique and healthy relationships.
Any questions? Send us a message and we will get back to you. We offer counselling, mental health & wellbeing, mothers support, couples therapy and psychotherapy in Arana Hills, QLD.
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