The term “gaslighting” was coined to describe a form of psychological abuse. Shahrukh Malik, an esteemed therapist from Karachi, describes gaslighting as a form of psychological abuse or manipulation, where an individual or a group makes someone question their own judgement and the personal perception of their reality. This is done through trivialising one’s experience, making them doubt their own perception of an event or by lying to them about something and making them believe it. The term was occasionally used politically in the 1990s but rose to prominence decades later in 2016. In fact, the term is seen a lot on social media nowadays too. Therefore, we asked therapist Shahrukh Malik to break it down for us:
It’s Not Always Easy To Spot
Gaslighting can be subtle – you might not even realise that you’re a victim to it. Hence it is tricky to recognise it. According to Shahrukh, those who gaslight others, become masters of manipulation; they have the ability to twist the situation in a way where they make the victim believe that they are the one who’s wrong. She explained how the oppressor will always deny ever having said such things and plant seeds of doubt in the victim’s mind about events from the past, in order to try and discredit their perception. “In the end, they want the upper hand, and they want control”, says Shahrukh.
How Can You Recognise It?
Although it may be tricky, there are still ways to spot someone who is gaslighting you. Shahrukh suggests that the easiest way to do this is by noticing how they respond to your feelings. For instance, if you’re upset, they may say things like “you’re so dramatic” or “you’re just exaggerating things” or anything else that might sound dismissive. They also throw in interjects as a way of deflecting their sense of responsibility and gaining control. Shahrukh states that this is the “easiest” way, because your feelings are your own, so how can another person tell you how valid or invalid your feelings are? Another one to watch out for is that overtime, they may even try to cover up their gaslighting behaviour by saying that they’re joking. Sharukh suggests keeping note of how you’re feeling as well. If you’re experiencing a great deal of gaslighting, you might notice that you’re beginning to:
- Doubt or dismiss yourself
- Your confidence might be shaken
- You may begin to feel higher levels of distress and sadness
- And experience overall less joy.
Common Forms Of Gaslighting
Those who gaslight become experts at pushing people’s buttons. They familiarise themselves with your sensitivities and vulnerabilities and use that knowledge against you. In order to make you doubt yourself, your judgment, and even your memory or sanity. According to Healthline, some common forms of gaslighting include:
- Trivialising how you feel: “Of course, now you’re going to feel really sorry for yourself.”
- Telling you that people are talking behind your back: “Don’t you know? All our friends talk about you. They think you’re losing it.”
- Saying things to you that they later deny having said: “I didn’t say I’d pay the rent myself. What are you talking about? Thanks a lot for the late rent fee we’re going to get now.”
- Hiding objects from you, and then denying knowing anything about it: “You seriously can’t find your ring again? That’s worrying.”
- Insisting you were or were not at a certain place, even though it’s not true: “You’re mad. You never went to see that movie with me. I should know, trust me.”
As a therapist, Shahrukh has had clients who have experienced different forms of gaslighting. The most common form she has seen is trivialising one’s feelings, in which they completely disregard or minimise one’s experiences or feelings by suggesting that their emotions don’t matter or accusing them of overreacting. Shahrukh even shared how she too, has experienced this in her own life.
Consequences Of Being Gaslighted
Being exposed to gaslighting can lead to a lot of long-term effects on one’s mental health such as:
- Loss of confidence
- Constant dismissal of your own feelings.
This could potentially lead to anxiety and depression. Frighteningly enough, you might begin to gaslight yourself internally. Shahrukh proposes that this may occur as you struggle with doubt, therefore you may rarely trust yourself to make a decision. It can be observed that within the Pakistani society, gaslighting is normalised to such an extent that we are not even conscious of it anymore. Shahrukh claims that it’s possible that you may have even experienced it from your loved ones, friends or even your teachers.
The Best Way To Tell Someone They Are Gaslighting You/Someone Else
It’s common for people who gaslight to deflect responsibility and twist the narrative in a way where they blame you for perceiving the situation as “gaslighting”.
Some people though may be open to listening and might genuinely not be aware of the fact that they are engaging in gaslighting. In this case, Shahrukh suggests expressing yourself by speaking and calling them out on it. However, if they tell you that you’re overreacting, Shahrukh encourages that you take your power back and respond with, “I am not overreacting, you’re being dismissive”. It’s important to stay true to your experience and your version of reality here. Opposing or confronting a person who gaslights usually requires that you strengthen that inner relationship with yourself – “it involves a great deal of compassion and empathy”. For extra support, it can be helpful to reach out to a loved one or even a therapist or counsellor.
How To Be Mindful That You’re Not Gaslighting Someone
A lot of people who participate in gaslighting others, might not even realise it. We need to understand and accept that everyone has a right to be emotional, that their feelings are valid, and we need to allow them to express themselves. Shahrukh suggests recognising that it is the other person’s experience and avoid getting defensive or dismissive. She also recommends staying open to what others are saying, and to stay in tune with your empathy and compassion as you speak to them. Ask yourself before you make a comment – is what I am saying going to be harmful to someone’s mental well-being? Be mindful of your words; mindfulness may just be the key to avoid being gaslighted and to also avoid gaslighting others. It’s also important to take a step back if you are experiencing anger which may lead to defensiveness, you can come back to revisit the conversation at a later time when you feel more grounded and therefore steer clear of saying anything hurtful.
Being Gaslighted On Social Media
We have seen a lot more social and environmental activism taking place online, especially in terms of global issues. While this is definitely a positive, it’s only natural and valid for people to have differing opinions and feelings towards a cause or issue. For this reason, a lot of gaslighting can take place online during such times; it is important to be mindful of this and know how to protect yourself from it, especially as it’s becoming increasingly challenging to avoid gaslighting comments. Shahrukh suggests that it’s important to remember that when it comes to activism on social media, there will be many people who disagree with your stance, and that’s okay – it’s not about you. You’re allowed to have your own opinions and your own stance, that is your right. If you find that your mental health is being severely affected, then it’s completely appropriate that you disengage from social media for a while. Do whatever is best for you and your mental health.