The term gaslighting has become extremely popular over the last few years. It’s common to hear the term in discussions of politics, race, and relationships. While the term is becoming quite common, the etymology of gaslighting is not at first clear. To help understand this idea, it is important to return to its origin.
The term gaslighting originates from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play titled, “Gas Light.” In the play, an abusive husband attempts to convince his wife she is insane by making her doubt her perceptions of reality. One of the main ways he achieves this goal is by slowly turning down the gas lights throughout the play.
Whenever she asks if they have been dimmed, he rejects that reality and tells her that it is all in her head. Over time, these small rejections of reality create serious doubt in her mind, leading her to accept a false reality.
Thus, the term gaslighting refers to a subtle form of mental abuse where the victimizer slowly and deliberately distorts the victim’s way of thinking and persuades them that the victimizer’s perspective is true. The subtle nature of this technique is what makes it most dangerous because the abuse is never overt which makes it exceptionally difficult to address.
Unfortunately, in this fallen world, gaslighting is common in many different relationships. It goes directly against the teaching of Jesus who teaches, “the truth will set you free.” At its core, gaslighting is a rejection of the truth and an attempt to manipulate others for personal advantage. In light of this, Christians and non-Christians alike must be vigilant to identify gaslighting in their relationships.
Conscious and Unconscious Gaslighting
Now, it’s important to note here that this form of abuse may be conscious or unconscious. Not every gaslighter is aware of their behavior. Many have experienced this behavior or observed it and are simply practicing what they’ve seen to be a way of getting what they want out of a relationship.
Sin has corrupted the world and for those who have not let Jesus reorient their way of engaging in relationships, things like gaslighting are natural. It gets you what you want but does not consider the impact on other people.
While Jesus calls his followers to bear one another’s burdens, gaslighting seeks to solve your problems by burdening others with a false reality.
Signs of Gaslighting
The bread and butter of a gaslighters is lying. Unlike other forms of abuse that rely on fear or emotional manipulation, gaslighters rely on untruths. In this sense, Satan may be the ultimate gaslighter, and Eve in the garden may be the first person to experience this form of abuse.
At the core of Satan and Eve’s encounter is a questioning of Eve’s understanding of reality. Satan makes no direct claims, promises, or threats. Instead, he plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind about who God is and what he wants for her. Up until this point, Eve had lived in an unquestioned reality, but one question brought that all crashing down.
If you are concerned someone may be gaslighting you, then the first step is to identify the lies they are telling you. If they are telling you blatant, boldfaced, unbelievable lies, you need to be careful.
It might seem ridiculous and silly, but this is a strategy to keep you off balance and establish an alternate reality. The more you spend time engaging these bald-faced lies, the more you begin to acknowledge and affirm their projection of reality.
Next, you need to be careful and notice when they lie about what they said. If you know they said something and heard it with your own ears, and they are now lying about having said that, then you need to be careful.
This is the next step in warping your reality. They’ve already established a precedent of telling lies, so you see things differently, now they are rewriting the narrative of your relationship.
They don’t give up
Gaslighting is a long-term form of abuse. It operates overtime, slowly wearing you down until you aren’t sure what to believe. The attacks and lies will be subtle and small. For this reason, you need to keep the whole narrative of the relationship in mind.
It’s easy to discount one lie here or one lie there, but if you keep track of the overarching story of the relationship and how it affects you, it will become clear these aren’t small, isolated instances, but rather a carefully coordinated attack on your understanding of reality.
Another strategy of the gaslighter is to talk one way and live the opposite. You need to keep track of their actions, not their words. As already discussed, lies are the foundation of gaslighting, so you need to keep an eye on how they are actually living, not how they say they are living. Otherwise, their words will be able to misdirect you.
They also will give you positive reinforcement to keep you guessing. Amidst the lies, there will be positive affirmations sprinkled in to throw you off. The goal of this is to make it harder to discredit them. If they only lie and speak negatively, then you are more likely to acknowledge it and act, but if they occasionally affirm and encourage you, then you are more likely to miss the larger reality of what they are doing.
They isolate you
Gaslighters are notorious for finding people who will agree with them. Then they can pit people against you. Other times, they will just lie and tell you that your friends and family agree with them. Either way, it leads you to feel more isolated and unsafe. This pushes you back toward the gaslighter as your primary confidant, exactly what they want.
They also may try to isolate you by calling you crazy or by telling other people you are crazy. This is a particularly devasting strategy because nothing makes someone look crazier than trying to convince you that they aren’t. If you feel crazy or if other people think you are crazy, then you are further isolated from real relationships and communication.
Enduring this sort of abuse is not the light and easy yoke Jesus promises. Human relationships were meant to be a powerful source of life, not a manipulative place of destruction. Jesus’ harshest words on earth were for the self-righteous religious leaders holding people in bondage. His heart is the same for those who hold you captive through gaslighting.
If feel like you are in a relationship where someone is gaslighting you, then you may need professional help. It’s likely best to not tell your abuser if you feel like you need help. The last thing they want you to do is to share your experience.
One of the safest places to share is with a Christian counselor. They are not connected to your personal life or relationships and will be able to a powerful objective force in your life. They will be able to help you determine exactly what is happening in the relationship and give you guidance on how to move forward.
By working with a Christian counselor, they will be able to remind you of the truth of Scripture and how to move forward in a God-honoring way. Humans were never meant to go through life alone. If you feel like the closest relationship in your life is unsafe, then a Christian counselor can be tremendously powerful in helping you overcome the gaslighter in your life.
Don’t settle for a warped reality. If you feel like someone is intentionally refusing to accept the truth and lies to make you believe what they want, then you need to address it. Even though it’s scary, Jesus told his followers the truth would set you free. Don’t settle for less than the truth in your relationships. Reach out to a Christian counselor today to regain health in your relationships.
“Footprints”, Courtesy of Celine Lityo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rocks in the Water”, Courtesy of David Kohler, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Crossroads”, Courtesy of Jonny Caspari, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sea Cave”, Courtesy of Curtis Hystad, Unsplash.com, CC0 License