Gaslighting is a technique of emotional and psychological manipulation. It is commonly seen in cases of domestic and workplace abuse, where the abuser deliberately attacks the victim psychologically over a period of time in order to make the victim doubt his or her own sense of reality and sanity. This form of psychological abuse follows a familiar pattern. It can manifest itself in very subtle forms. Essentially, the abuser will consistently deny or refuse to agree with the perceived experiences of the victim, to the point where the victim begins to accept the abuser's version of reality. Over time the victim eventually gives up on their own point of view, giving the abuser the ultimate power to essentially tell their victim what to think.
How Does Gaslighting Happen?
If you think you're in such a scenario, you may be at a loss as to how you let yourself become a victim in such a way. For starters, because this type of manipulation is so subtle it's often impossible to realize it's even happening until you're already pretty deep down the rabbit hole.
Often the problem is that the abuser has many positive qualities that seem to “outshine” their manipulative tendencies. In other cases, such as a work or school situation, there's no obvious way for the victim to avoid being around the abuser. This is how abusers are so commonly able to “get their hooks in” to their victims. One of the most insidious aspects of this form of manipulation is that the abuser may not even be consciously aware they are doing it – it's simply a behavior that sprouts from unconscious patterns.
How to Fight Back Against Manipulation
As with any subtle form of manipulation, the first step in freeing yourself from gaslighting is to recognize that it's actually happening and to determine who the abuser is. In most cases this will be pretty obvious. The next step, then, is to take a firm stand against the reality this abuser is attempting to impose on you – and that's the hard part. When you're in the habit of trusting someone else's version of events above your own, it can be hard to go back to accepting what you perceive as being the truth.
Adding to that, the nature of gaslighting means that any attempt to stand up to your abuser is likely to be written off as “another fantasy.” Your complaints are likely to be met with very convincing and logical-sounding explanations, which is why it's extremely important to commit yourself 100% to breaking the pattern.
Often the victim of this type of manipulation is aware of what's happening, but the possible consequences of standing up to the effect seem less bad than “just letting it happen.” Often, if the problem is happening in a relationship, a necessary part of breaking free is steeling yourself to the fact that you have to be prepared to lose this person. Ultimately, if you're in a situation where you feel dependent on your spouse or partner, you'll allow them to manipulate you because you fear the alternative: being alone. But you have to ask yourself whether it's better for you in the long term to be stuck in a manipulative relationship, or to break free and reclaim your own ability to make choices and decisions according to your own free will.
There's no easy solution. Breaking the pattern requires you to assert yourself as someone with a right to have an independent opinion and worldview – and if you've been accepting someone else's worldview for years, it's going to take guts to change that. In many cases, the easiest way to break free is to remove yourself from the situation altogether and get a fresh start where you can rebuild your sense of self without manipulative influences.
It's important to recognize in any case that the manipulation is really happening no matter what the gaslighter says, and that there are people who can help you. Turn to trusted friends, independent support networks or therapists, or other people in your work organization (preferably those higher up the chain than the person doing the gaslighting).