Friday, January 17, 2020

What are the earliest signs of gaslighting? Every girl/woman should read this

I lived many years in a gaslighting relationship -- sure wish I'd had the following advice way back then.... I even saw the movie Gaslight during that time period, but didn't recognize myself in the Ingrid Bergman character.  Now when I re-watch that film, I truly empathize with her (and wince inside with remembrance of myself being that weak in self-esteem, which was true of many women in my generation). I know how it feels to be put down over and over and over. I especially relate to this sentence in the following advice:  "I remember thinking that if I could just figure out the rules, and be good, I could avoid another person ever being mad at me."  With this idea, you just keep trying over and over to try to please the gaslighter, bending over backwards to gain his approval.  It never works.

Standing up for yourself is SO IMPORTANT!  Teenage girls need to be taught this -- teenage boys, too, because gaslighting can occur in both genders, although it does seem to occur most often with the man putting down the woman.  I think the following advice is well worth passing along, especially the very last sentence that advises "See yourself for who you are."  That is most important of all.  Once you find out who you really are, you will never tolerate abuse ever again:

Natalie Engelbrecht
Natalie Engelbrecht, Psychotherapist, Researcher at WNHC (1996-present)


Gaslighting works in stages. In the beginning you may not even notice it. You pass it off as the person having some stress in their life. After a while it begins to preoccupy your life and, as more time passes, you doubt yourself and your point of view and eventually become joyless and hopeless.

Image source: Gaslighting

Stage 1: Disbelief

At this stage the gaslighter says something outrageous. For example, before the movie starts you excuse yourself to go to the toilet and when you get back your gaslighter is fuming. You ask what is wrong and he says: "How can you be so inconsiderate, I have been sitting here waiting for 20 minutes, who were you talking to?" You think to yourself, I can't have been gone that long, the movie has not even started. He says maybe you were not keeping track of time, puts his arm around you and says that perfume you are wearing is lovely, you should wear it more often.

Entering stage one: A crucial turning point.

The most tricky thing about stage one is that what happens seems so minor—a misunderstanding, a moment of disagreement, a tiny temper outburst. The challenge with this stage is that it is difficult to tell whether these are little annoyances to be dismissed, problems for which you are to blame, or warning signs of a pattern that is unfolding and what is yet to come.

This stage offers two options: a way to continue to move forward into gaslighting, or a way to stop those tendencies and move the relationship into something healthier—leave or identify.

Recognizing gaslighting at this stage is difficult, but if you can, it will save you a lot of pain and suffering down the road. You need to stop playing into the pattern that I discussed in a previous post:

Natalie Engelbrecht's answer to What is gaslighting?

You may also decide once you recognize this stage that you would prefer to leave the relationship as it will involve far less pain than if you stay in an abusive relationship.

Finally if you can identify gaslighting at this stage, it will help you see your own part in the gaslight dance.

Natalie Engelbrecht's answer to What are 10 things you should do to protect yourself from a narcissist?

These are the signs that you have entered stage 1:

How to figure out if it is gaslighting or not:

  1. Frequent feelings of being bewildered or confused.
  2. Inability to remember details about what is happening with your gaslighter.
  3. Somatic indicators: sore throat, upset stomach, tight chest.
  4. A sense of hyper-alertness when they call or are coming home.
  5. A sense of tolerating treatment that compromises your integrity.

At this stage the victim has started idealizing the gaslighter and begins to need his approval—and therein lies the trap that engages the gaslighting dance between victim and abuser.

So what can you do to avoid this dance? Every choice we make feeds one outcome or another.

Avoiding being gaslighted—you can see the behaviour of the person getting upset with you as their problem, not yours. And you can also decide if you want to have a relationship with a person who is so easily frustrated. You can choose not to dance this dance, or just walk off the dance floor.

Promoting being gaslighted—If you are striving for this person's approval, you may blame yourself for their annoyance. If you are looking for this person's approval, you will begin to do what you need to gain it… and so the dance begins.

You are more likely to be gaslighted if:

  1. You are very responsive to people who seem hurt, needy or easily frustrated.
  2. You have a strong need to be right and seen as right.
  3. You care deeply about being liked and appreciated.
  4. It is important to help people and make things turn out alright.
  5. You have a great sense of empathy and are able to see things easily from your gaslighter's point of view.
  6. You want to maintain the relationship.
  7. You have a hard time letting go of relationships.
  8. It is difficult to acknowledge when someone treats you badly.
  9. You are more comfortable relying on another person's opinion.
  10. You find conflict very uncomfortable.
  11. You are worried about not being good enough.
  12. You feel more comfortable with other people's opinions than your own.

How to protect yourself:

  1. Refuse the Urge to Merge—maintain that there are two separate views. If your boyfriend raises his voice at you, and you calmly say, "please don't yell at me," and his response is "I did not yell at you," you now have choices. Your best choice is to not say he is right. You can say, "I guess we see things differently," or "I don't want to continue this conversation." Being receptive to criticism is important for any relationship. However, if you feel anxious and reduced to feeling 'not good enough', then you are in trouble. The problem with gaslighting criticism is that it is designed to undermine, not help.
  2. Stop listening to the words the moment you sense you are being attacked and focus on the main point. YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED THIS WAY no matter what you have done.
  3. Never ever listen to criticism that is intended to harm, even if it contains a grain of truth.

What does criticism that intended to harm look like?

  1. Name calling, insults, exaggerations.
  2. Is intended to win the argument.
  3. Seems to come out of nowhere.
  4. Changes the focus from the other person to yours.

The Explanation Trap

The effort we make to explain away behavior that bothers us.

  1. It's not him, it's me—This allows us to maintain a sense of being in control, and if we just avoid the behaviour or work harder at the relationship in the future, we can avoid the outcome we don't want.
  2. They feel so bad—The gaslightee sees the abuser's behavior as caring because they are upset. For example, in the movie example at the start of the post, the gaslighter seems upset that his date took so long, and confuses that with caring.
  3. I should rise above his behaviour—And when nothing else works, you can try to convince yourself that you should not be affected by another person's behaviour. We try to not be affected by another person's behavior by becoming a better person ourselves. I remember thinking that if I could just figure out the rules, and be good, I could avoid another person ever being mad at me. This is impossible unless you are fully subservient to another person. Instead of seeing the person for who they are, and whether they are meeting your needs, we cling to the fantasy that if we were more loving, more giving, less selfish we would have the love we were looking for.

Stopping the Gaslighting Tango

TIP #1 : Do not ask yourself "Who is right?" Ask yourself "Do I like being treated this way?" Remember the need to be right is one of the biggest traps to being gaslighted.

Don't ask yourself if your boyfriend is being reasonable about getting upset about you taking long in the bathroom. Ask yourself if you want to be with someone who gets upset that you take long in the bathroom.

TIP #2: Don't try to be 'good' Ask yourself if you are taking on all of the responsibility for the relationship being good.

TIP #3: Don't debate what you know to be true. The point of gaslighting is to make you wrong.

TIP #4: Tell yourself the truth about who you are. This one can be really tough for anyone who has been abused, but see yourself for who you are.