Gaslighting refers to a specific form of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else to question their memory, perceptions and sanity. The term originates from the 1938 play, Gas Light, during which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into thinking she’s going insane by dimming the gas lights in his home, persuading his wife that she is imagining the change.
A few weeks ago, TSE contributor, Eve Brannon published a post about how we can identify toxic relationships and furthermore, take action to change them. It got me thinking about the different kinds of relationships within our lives and how they affect our mental health and at times, physical health. So often our mind first shifts to thinking of our romantic relationships when exploring these topics but unfortunately, friendships aren’t exempt to the same cruel behaviour.
Friendships can make or break us as we put our trust into others that we care about and hope they care in return. Terms like ‘ride or die’ or ‘girl squad’ cause us to naively and blindly trust that friends have our best interests at heart. But just like all other relationships in our lives, it’s those that are closest that can cause the most harm. There are those that do things that really get to you but you hang in anyway. You recognise their behaviour makes you feel uncomfortable in some way but you brush it aside. They might be the most fun member of the group, the one with all the best stories, who gets invited to the coolest parties. For the most part, they tend to be the centre of their own universe and we’re all guilty of slipping into their orbit.
Within a friendship group, gaslighting may take shape in pitting the rest of the group against one another. Suddenly being bought into their narcissistic circle, you crave their attention. When they confide in Friend A, Friend B suddenly questions, why they weren’t the ‘Chosen One’ and so the manipulation on your insecurities begin until you’re in a constant state of seeking their approval.
On a one-to-one basis, it may be as simple as confronting them about a comment that hurt your feelings to which they respond with claims that you’re being too sensitive. Obviously, misunderstandings happen within friendships but if these same kinds of scenarios continue to play out time and time again, it might be time to take a closer look at the issue.
So how do you identify that there is a bigger issue? These are some of the most common signs to help you spot gaslighting behaviour within your friendships.
Telling sweet little lies
One of the most frustrating aspects of gaslighting is their commitment to their lies. Even when you call them out, even when the lies don’t make sense, even when you have proof of their deception. When the lying gets to the point that you’re second guessing yourself, you know you’ve become a victim of gaslighting.
Denial of any wrongdoing is a big part of the manipulator’s tactics. Not only does it mean they avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices but it also leaves the victim feeling confused and without closure of the incident given that the pain caused to them is never acknowledged.
They revel in spreading gossip
Part of the toxic nature of gaslighters is the enjoyment they get from spreading or hearing gossip about others. Rightly or wrongly, we all enjoy a little bit of gossip now and then but in the eyes of a gaslighter, the satisfaction they get from gossiping is to do with learning about unfortunate aspects of another’s life and spreading it to others to feel powerful or to have control over these people. Be aware of how they speak about others when they’re not around. Do they thrive on the misfortune of others? If you notice this kind of behaviour among a friend in question, remain cautious in disclosing personal information and challenge them when gossiping about others. Say you’re unsure whether the person would like you to know that information, change the subject and walk away from the situation.
The gossiping may also flip on you to the point where you find them discrediting you to others through the veil of being worried about you. They may tell others of their worry surrounding your emotional instability and unfortunately, people may believe them without hearing the full story, particularly since they’ll have manipulated the basis of these claims around stories that suit them. To complicate the web of lies further, they’ll, in turn, tell you that others think you’re crazy, regardless of whether these claims are true or not.
Making you the issue
Regardless of the issue at hand, when confronting a gaslighter, they’ll do everything in their power to shift the blame back to you. When trying to make the conversation explicitly about how their behaviour has made you feel, they’ll deflect their problematic behaviour to be your fault. They’ll claim you’re the cause of the behaviour and if you would only behave differently, they would be able to treat you better.
Similarly, when discussing issues that happened in the past, they’ll twist the story to go in their favour. For example, they might explain a fall they caused by saying you stumbled and as they tried to help you, the fall occurred. This tactic of retelling stories in their favour is another way for them to cast doubt over your own memory and perception of the situation.
If you’re concerned that gaslighting is an issue within any of the relationships in your life, it’s important to speak to a professional who will be able to offer you additional guidance in dealing with the situation and protecting your mental health as best as possible. Any friends that leave you feeling drained or cause you to question your sanity aren’t worth having around.