Gaslighting is a very popular term in recent times and it is reasonably common to some extent, and it allowed victims and sufferers to name what was happening to them. But as the term started to gain popularity and currency, it started to lose its meaning. In this social psychology podcast episode, we look at what is gaslighting and most importantly, when is it gaslighting and when isn’t it. This is a great podcast episode, you need to be aware of.
This podcast episode has been sponsored by Psychology of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships, Prosocial Behaviour and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where someone uses psychological manipulations to cause another person to question their reality. It can happen between two people in any relationship. Like friendships, working relationships and romantic relationships. The gaslighter preserves their own sense of self and power over the other person who ends up adopting the gaslighter’s version of reality over their own.
The reason why we need to look at this is because it’s important to distinguish gaslighting from normal and healthy behaviours. Like disagreeing and we need to understand when a conflict turns into gaslighting.
When Is it Gaslighting?
Therefore, to understand this harmful behaviour, the easiest scenario to see when something is not gaslighting is something similar to this fictional one below.
Harry and his sister Claire used to spend a lot of time together and every Saturday you would go together, and bring your families along. Then when the pandemic struck they were forced to move their Saturdays together to a few hours on Teams together and they would catch up, play games and have dinner together.
However, when the pandemic eased and the restrictions were relaxed. Harry started going back out, going out on day trips and living life again to the fullest. Yet Claire wasn’t comfortable with that and she doesn’t feel like going out too much. So, the siblings spoke and they don’t agree on where to go for their Saturdays together, because Harry wants to go out-out somewhere nice and Claire wants to stay in.
Resulting in the siblings being judgemental about each other, and each one is calling the other selfish, inconsiderable and horrible. As well as Claire might accuse Harry of not wanting to
spend time with her and her family.
Now this isn’t gaslighting because even though both siblings are interpreting the same facts very differently, and they want the other sibling to adopt their perspective. They aren’t causing each other to question their own reality and they aren’t trying to manipulate each other.
However, this could turn into gaslighting if one of the siblings were so insistent on their interpretation that it caused the other one to start doubting themselves. This would create a power imbalance in their relationship that would allow the gaslighter to undermine the victim’s sense of self. As well as the gaslighter’s need for control, the very act of manipulating and leveraging of power of this relationship are essential components in gaslighting.
And hurt feelings and challenging each other’s viewpoints is not gaslighting.
On a personal note, I think it would be rather tragic if those things were gaslighting because it means you could never question other people or challenge their views on anything. I suppose that would also put clinical psychology in a difficult spot considering it’s our job to challenge the client’s maladaptive coping mechanisms, and cognitive processes.
As a result, if we apply this knowledge to our fictional example, if Claire was the sibling who was more powerful and pushed Harry around. Then Harry would be vulnerable to Claire gaslighting him in adulthood. Especially if Harry really does start to believe he is selfish, awful and horrible person by not submitting to Claire’s wishes. Then he might start withdrawing from their relationship.
Again this would result in a gaslight dance if you will, because if Harry ends up being unable to sleep at night at night because he’s wondering if Claire is right and he is selfish. Because he fears she’s right about him not wanting to spend time with her then he’s starting to question his own character and the very integrity of her relationships.
Then gaslighting is very much present.
You Need Two People To Gaslight
Moving onto the last section of the episode, I want to mention that gaslighting happens when there is a power dynamic within a relationship that ends up causing the person being gaslighted to question themselves, along with their sense of reality.
Typically, the gaslighter is constantly manipulating and attack the gaslightee as well as being verbally aggressive towards them.
In addition, the gaslighter is very likely to turn a discussion between the two into a blaming game against the other person. And they will most probably outright lie about what took place just to further their own manipulations because if the gaslighter is so certain about something then it’s easy to make you question if you’re memory or perception is right.
Then it all ends up leaving the victim of the gaslighting to feel worn out, unsure of themselves and wondering if they are crazy like the gaslighter said, and they might even end up avoiding future discussions out of fear of disagreements escalating this already disorienting discussion.
Additionally, the most concerning thing is that over time the victim may even accept the gaslighter’s views of reality as their own. And these are critical defining elements of gaslighting.
However, the most critical to remember when it comes to gaslighting is that it can only work if there are two people taking part in it. The gaslighter and the victim. In other words, gaslighting can only happen if the victim allows it to.
You can keep yourself from ending up in a gaslighting relationship by being aware of the topic and the sort of language used in arguments. As well as how it makes you feel, and noticing how you react to it.
Some helpful phrases that might be helpful to stop you engaging in a verbal loop or power struggle include:
· “What you said hurt my feelings and I’m too upset at the moment to talk about it,”
· “Let’s agree to disagree,”
· You’re twisting what I said. Let’s take a break and talk about it later,”
Social Psychology: Conclusion
To wrap up this social psychology episode, I must admit that as more and more people use the word “gaslighting” in our world, we risk its meaning becoming blurred or forgotten. Therefore, it is critical that we clearly understand what it actually means and when something is and isn’t gaslighting. Sometimes you will be involved in disagreements, it’s natural, but sometimes you might meet person who wants to gaslight you.
And that’s when you need to be aware of what’s going on for your own sake, but just remember sometimes a disagreement is simply that. Two people disagreeing and not gaslighting in the slightest.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s social psychology episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Psychology of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships, Prosocial Behaviour and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day!
Social Psychology and Relationship Psychology Reference
Stern, R. (2018). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. Harmony.
I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed this blog post and if you feel like supporting the blog on an ongoing basis and get lots of rewards, then please head to my Patreon page.
However, if want to show one-time support and appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you do that, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
Click https://www.buymeacoffee.com/connorwhiteley for a one-time bit of support.
Click www.paypal.me/connorwhiteley1 to go to PayPal.