By Harry Petsanis and Donna McCance
By Harry Petsanis and Donna McCance
The term "gaslighting" came from the play Gaslight (1938), which resulted in feature films in 1940 and 1944. It is a story about an anxious wife whose overbearing, deceitful husband tried to make her think she was going insane. He would do things to torment her, one of which was to manipulate the dimness of the gas lights in the house, and when she questioned it, he tried to convince her she was imagining it.
Gaslighting is a term used to describe the manipulative behavior that people use to get others to question themselves and their reality because they are perceived as a threat to their ego. People who gaslight are especially intolerant of criticism and discord. They undermine others to deflect responsibility and accountability. They intentionally try to create confusion so that the people they target will question their own actions and mental stability.
In order for gaslighting to occur, the targeted person allows the one doing the gaslighting to take power and control over them, giving up their autonomy. They no longer trust their instincts and lose their sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and question their sanity. When someone uses gaslighting to harm another person's emotional wellness, it’s emotional abuse.
The Two Way Street
Gaslighting is a two way street. We allow others to gaslight us, and we also gaslight others. Gaslighting, in most cases, comes from a person who is unaccountable, lacks confidence, and is unable to hear anything that’s truthful or contrary to what they want to believe. When people gaslight, they’re trying to discredit the person who is giving them information. They’re trying to protect the world as they see it.
There are times when we try to convince others to doubt their perceptions because we are focused on imposing our own. There are times when others try to convince us to doubt our perceptions, because they are focused on imposing their own.
Gaslighting occurs every day in almost every single scenario. People who lack self-awareness lack the understanding that they’re gaslighting as much as it is occurring to them. People may have awareness, but they lack self-awareness. They’re consumed with what’s happening to them, but oblivious to what they’re doing to others.
There are different ways of gaslighting. One thing people do is make up negative stories about you, like “People don’t like you. They said ‘this’ about you. They said ‘that’ about you.” They will also define you in negative terms as well, such as “You’re this, you’re that.” The problem arises when you start believing them. You are giving them power over you, doubting yourself and questioning the motives of others. You begin to isolate yourself from people, which is the intent of the gaslighter.
Another way of gaslighting is when people twist what you say and when you try to defend your words, they twist them even more. They’ll turn and twist until you give them what they want. People don’t gaslight just to gaslight. They gaslight with the intent of getting what they want from you and will not stop until they get it. Even then, it may not stop because once someone uses gaslighting to get what they want from you, they will continue to gaslight you at any opportunity to continue getting what they want.
We live in a world where people do wrong and get angry at anyone who points it out and demands that they do right. This is usually followed by defensiveness, personal attacks, and people creating a diversion to deflect from their own incompetencies.
Gaslighting is an attempt to cause self-doubt and damage your self-confidence, while the gaslighter puts themselves on a pedestal, free of fault and criticism. When you allow others to gaslight you, you already have a problem with self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness.
Extinguish the Gaslight
With a New, Healthy Mindset
In order for gaslighting to occur, you must “allow” it to occur.
No one can gaslight you without your permission or consent.
Gaslighting is a learned behavior. This behavior traces back to our learning experiences and conditioning from our early years with fears (fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of disapproval, etc.), inability to work through conflict, not wanting to disappoint others, not feeling “good enough,” poor self-regulation, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, etc. We also learn how to gaslight through our observations of people doing it to others and experiences of people doing it to us. (Read our blog "Mindset Reality Check on Fear," October 11, 2021).
The key to having a healthy mindset is to know that we cannot change the behavior of others, but we can change ours. We can stop the gaslighting by not allowing it to be done to us. It is also important to reflect on our behavior and recognize the times when we use gaslighting, so we can stop doing it to others.
A healthy mindset starts with self-awareness, defining your goals, and then having your actions meet them. In order to become self-aware, you must acknowledge your faults, shortcomings, and insecurities. When you refuse to acknowledge, you refuse to learn, and it becomes easier to blame or gaslight people.
You can develop a strong, healthy mindset by developing your mental fortitude. Mental fortitude is the mental toughness that supports your self-confidence and self-empowerment. It is what you tap into from your inner self that helps you to persevere, resist, and persist. It helps you to be determined, resilient, mentally strong, and focused on success. You set your goals and you stay focused on the process of achieving them. Nothing stops you, and failures or mistakes are seen as growth toward success. You are incredibly self-aware, and no one makes you question your perceptions. You absolutely refuse to allow others to gaslight you.
Two critical elements of developing mental fortitude are resistance and persistence. Developing mental fortitude doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t a “quick, one time fix.” It’s a continual process of internal training to resist the urge to be lazy, give up, and/or slip back into bad habits. It’s a continual process of persisting in your efforts to change and succeed. It’s a continual process of resisting others' efforts to stop your journey toward being your true authentic self (Read our blog “Mindset Reality Check on Authenticity," October 25, 2021).
Many people have the inner strength to develop their mental fortitude. They can tap into the courage within themselves to stop the gaslighting and change themselves.
In order to change your mindset, you must break down your defensiveness. When someone is assessing you with the goal of helping you grow and improve, becoming defensive to hide your insecurities and accuse them of gaslighting you is another form of gaslighting. You need to determine what’s more important, growth or your ego. Are you interested in improving, or are you focused on defending? If growth is truly what you aspire to gain, then you will be receptive to hearing and seeing anything that aligns with growth.
Self-assessment is key to self-awareness. Many people have the inner strength to develop their mental fortitude. They can tap into the courage and mental fortitude that exists within themselves to stop the gaslighting and change themselves.
An important thing to remember when someone is trying to gaslight you is to shut it down immediately. Anything past a shutdown is manipulation, and if you don’t shut it down immediately, you will be allowing the manipulation to continue. Be efficient. Shut it down immediately so you don’t have to keep shutting it down! The way you shut it down is by not questioning yourself and not believing the lies and deceit. Never argue with an emotionally abusive gaslighter. You could be putting yourself in a potentially volatile situation, and you'll be opening yourself up for more gaslighting. Walk away with your sanity in tact.
If you find you are in an unhealthy, emotionally abusive, codependent situation, there are many support groups and professional organizations that can help you. (If you need to talk or find someplace to go, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233.)
Trust your instincts. Your instincts guide your mindset. “If you don’t take ownership of your life, then your whole life will be looked at as ‘what someone else has done to you.’ You will be living a life of perpetual victimhood.” -Harry Petsanis
About the Authors
Harry Petsanis is a mindset and accountability coach, philosopher of human nature, consultant, and lifelong fitness and nutrition expert. He is a writer and author, with two published books: “The Truth is A Lie” and “The Logical Path To Life.” His book “The Truth is A Lie” was nominated by the 2019 Author Academy Awards in the "best self help" book category. Harry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He has an intense passion for psychology and the human condition.
Click here to order Harry Petsanis’s books.
Donna McCance, M.Ed. is a business administrator, licensed teacher and principal/vice principal with over 20 years experience teaching in elementary education and educational leadership. She has a Masters in Education, Masters in Human Services Management, Bachelors in Business Administration and Associates in Business Administration.