Ever Been Gaslit

” I am successful, confident, beautiful, focused, and unstoppable.”
” I can be whatever I want to be.”
“I am grateful for everything I have in my life.”
“I am independent and self-sufficient.”

Chant this to yourself daily. These affirmations are optimistic messages to self. It helps us to uplift and boosts ourselves. So, as a part of your daily ritual, please chant this mantra. Often times it is more uncomplicated to affirm others than ourselves. However, we must remember to encourage ourselves more. You will know why I told you this by the time you finish reading this.

Ever heard the term “gaslighting”? Imagine if someone coaxes you to believe what you saw you did not see! Better, what you heard, you did not hear! Or what you sense, you are not feeling! Picture this, what if someone is always trying to convince you that your reality, truth, and facts are entirely inaccurate.” 

Gaslighting is manipulating someone psychologically by making them doubt their sanity. Just like a gas stove is being lit and extinguished, you end up in the same way with the knob in the abuser’s hands. The abuser knows which buttons to press to make you happy or unhappy and tests all your emotions. A point to note, the abuser finds happiness as long as their ego is massaged. Therefore, they can be wholly indifferent and oblivious to your emotions and feelings. As a result, you will often be confused, unhappy, and depressed as a victim. There will often be a haze around you, and you will doubt every decision you take. 

This happened a while back. One time, a mommy friend confided in me that she wanted to learn swimming, and we spoke in detail about the classes around where she could go to learn. After a few days, we met again, and I happened to ask her if she had started swimming lessons. ‘My husband told me I shouldn’t learn swimming because I might drown while learning,’ said my friend. My jaw dropped, and I expressed, ‘the whole point we should learn to swim is to stay afloat.’  By then, she had already decided she won’t learn to swim. Since I knew the couple, I recognized what was going on. He had body-shamed her and convinced her that she could never learn it. Slowly, no answer to my calls, and she started ignoring my messages, and ultimately our friendship faded. Her husband had convinced her to believe, ‘I am a bad influence.’ 

An abuser has the incredible ability to convince the victim that their friends or anyone close to them are no good, and they persuade them to stop talking to them. These are classic signs of a person who gaslights. They want all the limelight and attention for themselves and ensure the victim is always isolated. If the abusers find a well-meaning friend trying to expose them, they make sure they are out of the picture by convincing the victim that it is the friend who is rotten. So “praise a little, criticize more in the name of love and live in denial” is their policy to keep the victim next to them. After each abuse cycle, they will tell their victim how precious they are to them.

Identifying A “Gaslighter”

Following are a few classic statements that a gaslighter makes. You can get an estimate of the ploy they use to control victims. Many a time, you wouldn’t even know you are gas-lit. They very cleverly abuse you without your knowledge for years. But victims who are the survivors will vouch for these below statements:

"You know I tell this for your good" 
"I love you a lot, so I am telling you this. You don't know what the others say behind your back."
"Hey, I never said all this. I am sure you imagined all this."
"So, you think you are the best? You don't know anything about yourself, then."
If you participate in this contest, our family will be cut off from us."
"If you do not listen to me, you will land in hell someday."
"I am sick and tired of listening to you complain. I will leave you someday. You don't know how lucky you are that I tolerate you daily."
"I will tell your friends about you, and soon they will stop talking to you if you don't stop telling me what to do."
"Have you seen yourself in the mirror? Don't wear this, or people will make fun of you."
"You are insecure and jealous." 
 "It would be best if you did not talk to XYZ. She is not a good friend. She wants to spoil our relationship. Beware of her."
" I can take better care of the child than you. You are irresponsible." 

These are a few statements I have listed. But there are many more. So, what are the elements you noticed in these statements? Doubt, fear, body shaming, slut shaming, insecurity, anger, and jealousy. See if you can find more. 

Often, their statements will begin with how much they love and care about you and finally taper down to insulting you. Ultimately, the gaslighter will guilt-trip you for something you never did and may even get convinced. If you do happen to call out their actions, they will deny it altogether – even call you a liar. If you don’t get confident on the first day or the first few days, this pattern will persist until the remote control of your feelings falls into their hands. Once the remote control falls into their hands, they will press the buttons and make you dance to their tunes.  

“Love Bombing,” Their Tactic

Love bombing is praising you excessively. They may often compliment your looks and attitude. However, you will get surprises as well. Once the “honeymoon” phase ends, they will start criticizing you for no reason. You may start feeling bad initially, and when you call out their critical behaviour, you may even receive a volley of abuses for doing so. After abusing – physical/verbal, they will approach you again with gifts or come to soothe your hurt. Beware when this begins. 

Walking On Eggshells!

The abuser suddenly starts finding fault in the victim and shaming them internally. Later, they make them liars and guilt trip the victims. The aim is to debilitate the victim and keep control of them. There are many ways of weakening them, too – cutting off the victims from families and friends to draining them mentally, emotionally, and financially.

Psychologists are talking about this term a lot now, and many can identify with the word. They can detect the toxic patterns and trails left behind by “gaslighters” on their victims. The perpetrator will initially begin with “love bombing” and then pull you down so badly that you will live in constant fear and walk on eggshells. 

A rational or logical human being will be willing to listen to you and want to know why you are upset and probably even rectify your behaviour. You will even find consistent changes as well. But in a gaslighter’s case, you will find extreme inconsistency and mood swings. They will leave you dumbfounded and stunned by their behaviour. One minute, they will be critical, angry, and grumpy. You will see them upbeat and happy the next minute, praising your behaviour. An outsider is more likely to detect this pattern easily. They will ensure you do not walk away from them using this “stick-carrot” method. Stick refers to the verbal/emotional/physical abuse, and carrot refers to the compliments/gifts/surprises that will shower on you post every cycle. 

The Abusers’ Lies & Ego Massage

We all have such characters – family members, friends, acquaintances, and relatives who may initially praise you and later start commenting on your appearance, make negative or sarcastic remarks about your behaviour and judge anything you do. They will lie to you and even spread lies about you to your immediate family, so much so that you will be resented by friends because they will also get convinced by the abuser.

Their timing is always perfect! You will notice that you hear these critical remarks right when you have achieved something significant, crossed a career milestone, and even celebrated your birthday. These folks cannot just restrain themselves from passing statements that will hurt other people. They will even be extraordinarily smug and happy doing this. You may even find them smiling at the end of the conversation. But, ultimately, they will conveniently tell you (if you happen to protest or call out their behaviour) that something is wrong with you. 

Constructive Criticism vs. Toxicity

One may argue that constructive criticism is good, but how do you draw the line between both criticisms – constructive and toxic? After all, we are conditioned to believe that any kind of criticism is good for self-grooming. We must correct our “unacceptable” behaviours, especially if it is our life partner or any older authoritative person like a parent. Many gaslighters may even call these critical remarks “constructive criticism.” 

So, what exactly is destructive, you may ask in your mind instantly. In the English language, destructive is the opposite of constructive. In other words, it is essentially toxic criticism and may have a damaging effect on people or even scar someone for life. For instance, my friend, a victim of gaslighting (whom I mentioned above), did not pursue her passion for swimming and many more things she could have followed. Instead, her husband decided things for her and controlled all her actions, decisions, and movements. This will be a repeated phenomenon. So, do take note of this pattern next time you hear it.

Whatever you do, identify the red flags. Anything that brings down your self-esteem or damages your will to do things by a “person you love” is the first sign to retrace your steps back from the relationship – marriage/ dating/even family or acquaintances. It is good to cut off from toxicity as soon as possible.

Remember… the affirmations.

” I am successful, confident, beautiful, focused, and unstoppable.”
” I can be whatever I want to be.”
“I am grateful for everything I have in my life.”
“I am independent and self-sufficient.”

Follow Priya Rajendran

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