- manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
As I was browsing online one day, I found an article on something called the Gaslight Effect. After reading the article, I felt somewhat somber but had more understanding of the concept of gaslighting. I wanted to share this with you to shed some light on the issue. At some point in your life, you might encounter an emotional abuser – a relative, friend, or romantic partner who’s more interested in controlling you than in caring for you as a person. This behavior is not acceptable at all.
Were You Born Under The Gaslight?
When applied to a family, the gaslight treatment is a special form of dysfunction. It happens when you, a child, receive messages or encounter experiences within the family which are deeply contradictory. Messages which are opposing and conflicting; experiences which can’t both be true. When you can’t make sense of something, it’s natural to apply the only possible answer:
“Something is wrong with me.”
Today, scores of children are growing up under a gaslight of their own. And scores of adults are living their lives baffled by what went on in their families, having grown up thinking that they, not their families, are crazy.
I have seen gaslighting cause personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and a host of other lifelong struggles. Receiving contradictory messages that don’t make sense can shake the very ground that a child walks on.
The Four Types of Child Gaslighting:
The Double-Bind Parent: This type was first identified by Gregory Bateson in 1956. The double-bind mother has been linked by research to the development of schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder. This type of parent goes back and forth unpredictably between enveloping (perhaps smothering) the child with love and coldly rejecting him.
The Message: You are nothing. You are everything. Nothing is real. You are not real.
The Gaslight Effect: As an adult, you don’t trust yourself, your validity as a human being, your feelings, or your perceptions. Nothing seems real. You stand on shaky ground. You have great difficulty trusting that anyone means what they say. It’s extremely hard to rely on yourself or anyone else.
The Unpredictable, Contradictory Parent: Here, your parent might react to the same situation drastically differently at different times or on different days, based on factors that are not visible to you. For example, a parent who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs one day and not the next; a parent who is manic at times, and depressed other times, or a parent who is extremely emotionally unstable. Whatever the reason for the parent’s opposing behaviors, you, the innocent child, know only that your parent flies into a rage one moment and is calm and seems normal the next.
The Message: You are on shaky ground. Anything can happen at any time. No one makes sense.
The Gaslight Effect: You don’t trust your own ability to read or understand people; you have difficulty managing and understanding your own emotions, and those of others. You struggle to trust anyone, including yourself.
The Appearance-Conscious Family: In these families, style always trumps substance. All must look good, or maybe even perfect, especially when it’s not. There’s little room for the mistakes, pain, or natural human shortcomings of the family members. The emphasis is on presenting the image of the ideal family. Here, you experience a family which appears perfect from the outside, but which is quite imperfect, or even severely dysfunctional, on the inside. This can stem from Achievement / Perfection focused parents (as described in Running on Empty), or from narcissistic parents.
The Message: You must be perfect. Natural human flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses must be hidden and ignored. You are not allowed to be a regular human being.
The Gaslight Effect: You feel deeply ashamed of yourself and your basic humanness. You ignore your own feelings and your own pain because you don’t believe it’s real, or that it matters. You tend to see and focus on only the positive things in your life, which fit into a particular template. You are extremely hard on yourself for making mistakes, or you put them out of your mind and simply pretend they didn’t happen. You may be missing out on the most important parts of life which make it worthwhile: the messy, real world of intimacy, relationships, and emotion.
The Emotionally Neglectful Family (CEN): In this family, your physical needs may be met just fine. But your emotional needs are ignored. No one notices what the children are feeling. The language of emotion is not used in the home. “Don’t cry,” “Suck it up,” “Don’t be so sensitive,” are frequently uttered by the CEN parent. The most basic, primary part of what makes you (your emotional self) is treated as a burden or non-existent.
The Message: Your feelings and needs are bad and a burden to others. Keep them hidden. Don’t rely on others, and don’t need anything. You don’t matter.
The Gaslight Effect: You have been trained to deny the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are, your emotions, and you have dutifully pushed them out of sight and out of mind. Now, you live your life with a deeply ingrained feeling that you are missing something that other people have. You feel empty or numb at times. You don’t trust yourself or your judgments because you lack your emotions to guide you. Your connections to others are one-way or lack emotional depth. Even if you are surrounded by people, deep down you feel alone. None of it makes any sense to you.
Were you born under the gaslight? If so, you are not alone. You are not invalid or crazy or wrong. it’s vital to realize that you have been, by definition, deeply invalidated. But “invalidated” and “invalid” are not the same. “Invalidated” is an action, and “invalid” is a state of mind. You can’t change what your parents did and didn’t do, but you can change your state of mind.
Gaslighting (in the simplest terms) messes with your mind. It makes you think that YOU are the one doing something wrong when really, it’s the other way around. Although this article went into detail about family gaslighting, it happens in friendships, partnerships, and other relationships.
Many people, including myself, have suffered and still are suffering from gaslighting. This type of manipulation technique is often slow and subtle. At first, the abuse can occur in such small instances that it seems silly to argue over it. But over time, these small instances build up and they cause a person to question their own behavior and thoughts on the situation. A few results of this manipulation is a loss of faith and a doubt in one’s self to interpret situations correctly. There are some ways to identify a victim of gaslighting. They constantly doubt themselves and apologize often. They also hesitate and avoid saying certain things out of fear of others’ responses. I’m sure most people have experienced manipulation at some point in their lives and have even manipulated others. However, if you experience manipulation to the point where it can be classified as gaslighting, I encourage you to take a step back and find a way to destroy that manipulative interaction. Even if you don’t believe it, there are many people who have experienced similar situations and can relate to these scenarios. There are some really great listeners out there who will listen to your every word and offer you their own advice. Whether that be your friend, neighbor, or relative, find someone who you fully trust and be willing to open up to them about your issue.
Going through any sort of trial alone is never fun (and I don’t recommend fighting them alone). Sometimes, you can become your own worst enemy by manipulating yourself into thinking that the only problem is yourself. I understand that some people think their problems are no one else’s business, but being exposed to a different perspective can be a healthy option. Once you’ve been fighting a battle for so long, it can be challenging to change your thought process to a more positive one. After all, you’ve been trapped in a black hole of abuse for so long, feeling hopeless and completely alone. Take a chance, show a little vulnerability, and reach your hand out for someone to grab. You might be surprised by how strong someone can be to be able to pull you out of that black hole. Although society’s standards say you must never show weakness, I encourage you to let someone else be strong for you every once in awhile. Sometimes you can’t do it all on your own and that’s okay to admit.
On the other hand, if you believe that you can push through everything on your own, then kudos to you! With that strength, I hope you can be that person who walks into the darkness and pulls people into the light. Take as many people out of the abusive environment as you can. Be strong for others when they can barely stand anymore. The result of that can be better than any physical reward you could receive. Trust me. In my opinion, changing someone’s life for the better seems like a really wonderful reward to carry with you. Once they escape gaslighting, they will help others escape it as well, creating a ripple effect. Whether you’re a gaslight victim or not, just take a risk and call out to people. Call out to people for help or call out to people who need help. Nothing’s going to change if you don’t take action. You never know who you could be saving from the Gaslight Effect.
Article: Were You Born Under the Gaslight?