Gaining power and control through psychological manipulation is, in a nutshell, gaslighting. The term became a hot topic in politics in 2016 and continues to be. But its origins are much older. Gaslighting as a practice is likely nearly as old as humankind. The term itself dates back to a 1938 play adapted into the 1944 movie, “Gaslight.” Ingrid Bergman’s portrayal of a victim of gaslighting ( Experiencing Gaslighting ) earned her an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best actress.
More recently, Justin Theroux portrays a master of gaslighting in “The Girl on the Train.” And Emily Blunt isn’t the only victim of his narcissism and psychotic behavior.
Gaslighters’ manipulation makes their victims doubt their own recall of events, their confidence, and perhaps even their sanity. Gaslighters may be a spouse or romantic partner, a family member, a friend, or a colleague. However, they may also be people you don’t personally know, like political figures or internet trolls.
Escaping the grip of gaslighting isn’t easy, but recognizing it’s happening is the first step in fleeing such emotional abuse. There are many indicators of this extreme method of exerting control over you. Here are four signs you might be experiencing gaslighting.
Signs You Might Be Experiencing Gaslighting
1. You’re Becoming Paralyzed by Anxiety
Severe anxiety can become physically and emotionally paralyzing. You may find yourself unable to do your job, perform household tasks, or make even simple decisions. You may also feel unable to function in social situations, retreating to isolation in your home rather than facing them.
Fear is a survival mechanism when facing a known danger. Anxiety is a survival mechanism against threats perceived but unknown or undefined. But anxiety’s heightened emotional state is a very real and physiological response to gaslighting.
Treatment for anxiety includes psychotherapy and stress-management techniques like deep breathing or meditation. But because anxiety is a physiological response, it may also be reduced by medications that stabilize the brain’s neurotransmitters. A combination of medication and other therapies should help restore your self-esteem and self-confidence when you have taken a beating.
Left without intervention, anxiety can progress to major depression and even PTSD. If your anxiety is paralyzing you, you need to reduce it right away. Then, you’ll have the balance you need to determine who’s gaslighting you and how to flip off the switch.
2. You Feel Like You’re Not Enough
If you’re like most people, you have felt insecure at certain times during your life. Perhaps you weren’t sure your prom attire was up to par or that you could attract a good-looking person to date. Or maybe you’ve feared failing at your job because you aren’t clever enough or lack the skills you need.
A little insecurity from time to time is normal. Being in a constant state of feeling like you’re never enough for anyone or anything is not. It may be a sign that you’re experiencing gaslighting.
There are a few ways you can feel perpetually inadequate. You may doubt every memory you have and believe your perceptions of events are wrong. You may begin questioning if you really are who you think you are by buying into what others say about you.
Constantly apologizing for everything is a symptom of the battering gaslighting renders to your self-esteem. You are enough. You just need to recognize that someone else doesn’t want you to believe you are.
3. You’re Questioning Your Sanity
Probably everyone has said, at one time or another, “I think I’m going crazy!” It’s usually said in jest, accompanied by a chuckle and a brief head shaking. But it isn’t funny when you begin to earnestly question your sanity.
The psychological manipulation that occurs with gaslighting is designed to make you believe you have lost touch with reality. A gaslighter wants to make you see things through a distorted lens to control you. Your confusion and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness make that easy.
Convincing you that you are going mad makes it easier for the gaslighter to isolate you from others. Those are the people who can refute what the gaslighter is telling you and confirm what you thought was true. Such evidence should be enough for you to begin realizing what’s really going on.
Pay special attention to being told by the gaslighter that you have done something you know you would never do. That may be difficult given your low self-esteem and your belief that you may be losing your mind. But you should give yourself the benefit of the doubt because your gaslighter for certain will not.
4. The Ground Constantly Shifts
Part of the ability of one person to control another rests on keeping the victim off balance. In gaslighting, that means sprinkling a little false compassion among the volumes of cruelty. With the ground shifting below you, it’s natural to grab onto that other person to keep your footing.
Narcissists and psychopaths speak a common language with some frequently used phrases. “You’re crazy/insecure/overreacting/imagining things,” are a few. So is, “It was just a joke,” and “Let it go.”
If you’ve been hearing these phrases every time you dare bring up an issue, you’re probably experiencing gaslighting. And don’t be fooled by the rare times the gaslighter compliments you or expresses compassion, friendship, or love. Shifting ground is built on such manipulative contradictions.
Everyone can run hot and cold from time to time, brought on by stress, insecurity, or doubt. Gaslighters master the art of knowing when to occasionally turn up the heat just enough to temper frigidity. You should remember that healthy relationships provide stability rather than chaos.
Turn Off the Light and Leave
Recognizing the signs that you’re experiencing gaslighting and extricating yourself from that relationship is difficult by nature. Symptoms such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and questioning your sanity are antithetical to reasserting your own power.
Start by considering the possibility that you’re being gaslighted. Then, find the courage to talk to someone outside the relationship about it. It may give you the confidence you need to extinguish the gaslight and leave the room.
Senior Writer, has been with Rottenpanda.com since 2017. With a bachelor’s degree in communications, Nick specializes in finding interesting topics, gathering details, checking facts, and making complex subjects easy to understand. In addition to writing articles, Nick loves traveling, pets and happily married to Lucy.