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Unveiling Gaslighting: How to Spot the Red Flags and Protect Yourself

You know that feeling when something just doesn’t feel right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? Like a nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you that you might just be losing your sanity? Or like someone is playing mind games with you, making you doubt your own thoughts and feelings? Then you, my friend, might be experiencing gaslighting. 

What’s gaslighting, you ask? Initially, I brushed it off as a term tossed around by teenagers or mere slang on the internet. As I dug a little deeper, I realized that while the word itself may not strike a chord, its significance is overpowering. Gaslighting is a covert or concealed form of emotional abuse, often hard to recognize. People like myself, who may find their mental light bulbs flickering a bit later, could easily dismiss it as another online buzzword failing to grasp its true essence. 

It was during COVID that I noticed this particular term being used a lot on the internet. I was in my first ever adult long-distance relationship during that time but things took a turn. A relationship I once felt confident in turned into nothing short of a disaster. I began to lose my sense of self as my partner would say things like, "You're just sad for no reason," or "You're being overly dramatic." I am all for personal space and time but they would prioritize playing video games over having a conversation with me. They once made me believe it was a lie when my friend found their profile on a dating app while being in a relationship with me. I vividly remember moments when I'd be in tears during our calls, only for them to fall asleep, leaving me feeling alone and upset through the night and then apologizing the day after, sometimes not even that. I used to apologize in that relationship all the time without it being my fault, which I realized much later. I really hope you learn from my experiences or all the trauma I had to remember to write this blog has been a waste. 

One interesting thing about gaslighting is that it gets its name from the 1944 film “Gaslight”, where the protagonist’s husband manipulates her into doubting her own reality. It mainly comes from a scene in the movie where the husband causes the gas lights in the home to flicker and then denies it when she questions him. The movie is a chilling portrayal of how someone can systematically undermine others perception of reality.

Gaslighting isn’t just lying, it’s a calculated effort to make you question your own decisions, thoughts and feelings. It’s a culmination of all the confusing things like lying, cheating, overly apologizing and repetition of the same mistakes, being passive aggressive, manipulative, etc. It starts subtly, with small inconsistencies and denials but escalates over time. Soon, you find yourself doubting your own memory and judgement, playing right into the gaslighter’s hands. In order to keep control over their victims, gaslighters frequently use strategies including isolation, manipulation, and denial. They are going to twist the truth, deny facts, and put the blame on you. They might even cut you off from friends and relatives, which would make you feel helpless and alone.

A friend of mine found himself being in a relationship for 6 months while always apologizing for things that weren’t even his fault. He was in love, which I completely understand, but things started getting concerning when his partner would twist everything around and make him feel guilty. It was like he was constantly walking on eggshells, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Out of guilt and fear that he would lose his partner, he cut off from most of his friends and support systems without realizing the effect she had on him. It took sometime but I am thankful he snapped out of it and realized what was going on.

These are just a couple of examples, but gaslighting can happen in any relationship – romantic, familial, friendships, you name it. The important thing is to recognize the red flags so you can protect yourself. 

Here are some red flags to look out for:

  1. Invalidating your feelings: If someone constantly dismisses or belittles your emotions, it could be a sign of gaslighting. 

  2. Twisting the truth: Gaslighters are very skilled at distorting facts and manipulating situations to make themselves appear innocent or trustworthy, even though they’re not. 

  3. Blaming and Denial: They often shift blame onto others or you or deny their own actions making it difficult to hold them accountable for their behaviour. 

  4. Confusion and doubt: These tactics are designed to make you doubt your own perceptions and reality, leaving you feeling uncertain and insecure.

  5. Isolation: Gaslighters may try to isolate you from friends and family, making you more dependent on them and less likely to seek help or support from others.

  6. Repetition: Gaslighters repeat their lies over and over again, like a form of psychological warfare. This helps them stay in control of the situation and keep you confused. It's like they're trying to brainwash you into believing their version of reality.

  7. Offering false hope: Sometimes, the person who's gaslighting might act nice or show kindness, making you think, "Maybe they're not so bad after all" or "Maybe things will improve." But be cautious! This kindness is often just a trick to make you let your guard down before they start manipulating you again. It's like they're luring you into a false sense of security to keep you dependent on them.

  8. Seeking Control: Gaslighters want to control and dominate others. They use lies and manipulation to keep people feeling insecure and afraid, so they can take advantage of them whenever they want. It's like they're playing mind games to keep you under their thumb.

Secrecy and silence are perfect conditions for gaslighting, so it's critical for victims to spot these warning signs and get help. If you do see these warning signs with your personal relationships or with someone you care about, take them and RUN. Just kidding, but here are some things you can actually do to prevent gaslighting or to regain control and protect yourself:

  1. Educate yourself: Try to learn more about gaslighting and how it can manifest in different relationships. Knowledge is power and understanding the tactics used by manipulators helps you recognize them more easily. 

  2. Hold people accountable: Don’t let others off the hook for their actions. Real people are honest and take responsibility. 

  3. Document your interactions: Keep a record of conversations, text messages, and interactions with the gaslighter. Having evidence to back up your experiences can validate your feelings and help you see patterns of manipulation more clearly.

  4. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with the gaslighter and stick to them. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated or coerced into doubting your own reality.

  5. Reject victimhood: I know it’s hard but don’t let yourself feel like a victim. Affirm that it’s not your fault and your feelings are real. Gaslighters enjoy avoiding blame, so don't give them power over you. 

  6. Seek respect, not pity: Surround yourself with people who admire and respect you, avoid those who are jealous or resentful. We do not need those bad vibes in our lives. 

  7. Seek Support: Talk to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist about what you're experiencing. Having a support system in place can provide validation and perspective outside of the gaslighter's influence.

  8. Validate yourself: Know that you’re a good person despite what others try and make you believe. Don’t let the negative views define you.

  9. Be unapologetically you: Lastly, know that you don’t owe anyone an apology for being yourself. Embrace your strengths and vulnerabilities. The best revenge is living a good life so don’t let anyone bring you down. 

It's important to remember that gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, and no one deserves to be treated in such a manner. People can restore their sense of autonomy and self-worth by learning how to see the warning signs of gaslighting and take proactive measures to ensure their safety. It's okay to speak up and establish boundaries if you believe that you are being gaslighted. Recall that no one has the right to treat you badly; you deserve to be treated with respect and love. Gaslighting is a serious form of emotional abuse, but by being aware of the signs and taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you can break free from its grip and reclaim your sense of self-worth. Trust yourself and don’t let anyone dim your light!

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