Picture: Pixabay

Experiencing a constant barrage of negative comments followed by phrases like, “you’re too sensitive” or “I’m only joking” could have more serious effects on your psyche than you think.

This malevolent, yet subtle form of mental and emotional abuse thrives in sowing seeds of self-doubt and altering perceptions of reality. Like other forms of abuse, it is based on the desire for power and control.

“Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse employed by a person who leads another to doubt themselves or even question their sanity,” said Rakhi Beekrum, a Counselling Psychologist based in Durban.

From knowing the signs to seeking help, Beekrum delved into the world of a gaslighting victim.

What are the warning signs of being gaslighted?

Look out for someone who lies, even blatantly when you know the truth. “Look out for a pattern of lies that may start out subtly but begin to occur more frequently,” said Beekrum.

Pay attention to the feelings that linger after a conversation. “If you constantly feel negative and doubt yourself because of what they have said about you, you could be dealing with a gaslighter,” she said.

Gaslighters actions rarely match their word, Beekrum said, “They will often say something and not follow through, but when questioned will deny saying it in the first place.”

Notice whether you seem to doubt yourself more often: “You will find find yourself constantly apologising even if you aren’t sure that you were wrong, excusing the gaslighter’s behaviour, feeling like you’re worthless, not good enough for others and being unhappy most of the time.”

The effects gaslighting can have on a person?

A victim of gaslighting experiences severe stress. “They doubt their abilities and their worth due to repeated negative messages from the gaslighter,” she said.  

Victims become accustomed to having their feelings invalidated by the perpetrator. “They become withdrawn and will be less likely to seek help because they start believing what the perpetrator says. It damages one's confidence and self-esteem,” said Beekrum.

What should you do?

  • Recognise that you are a victim. “This is the most important step,” said Beekrum.
  • Speak to someone you trust and who you know is objective.
  • Seek professional help. “If you cannot identify a close friend or family member, consider speaking to a psychologist to help you identify whether your self-doubt is rational, can help you devise a plan to protect yourself from the gaslighter and escape the manipulation and can help you develop effective coping skills,” said Beekrum.
  • Distance yourself (even if just emotionally) from the gaslighter. Beekrum said, “Remind yourself that the gaslighter does what they do because they lack self-worth and can only feel powerful when they dominate or manipulate others.”