What is the Gaslighting tango? It takes two to play, and one person is always the loser. Gaslighting is manipulating in such a way to make someone question his sanity. It’s a form of control that may begin innocently enough. Say a boss, coworker, friend, family member or anyone who interacts with you, does something that seems strange. When he or she explains it away, you let it go. It may be something that makes you feel all is not well with the other person, but you rationalize it so that you can keep or repair the relationship. You’re in the gaslighting tango.
The Gaslighting Tango Begins
Say you have a great time on a first date, and the date leaves abruptly. You’re thrown off balance by this behavior. A little while later the date calls and wants to know why you left in such a hurry. A good question might be: why would you pick up the phone for someone who appears to have ditched you? But you do pick up the call because the dinner was fun and you want to see the date again. You don’t realize you’ve been gaslighted. You just suddenly wonder what really happened. Did you do something to chase the date off? Are you really at fault? You feel weird and unsure of yourself, but agree to go out with the date again. You’re now set up for the gaslight tango. It will happen again and again. This is something that happens with both men and women. There is no gender that has an exclusive on gaslighting. Anyone who wants to gain control over another will try to manipulate the facts to get the upper hand.
Another example might be a family member who is always setting up little traps for you to fall into and when you question what happened or why she or he did it, the gaslighter says you’re too sensitive but doesn’t answer the question. You are put on the defensive and find yourself arguing or trying harder to get your gaslighter to see your point of view, which never happens. It is possible over time to get beaten down and become certain that you are at fault.
Gaslighting Changes Your World View
If you are gaslighted by someone, the world seems cockeyed and you’re driven crazy by hearing one thing and thinking something else happened. You run the tapes in your head over and over to figure out if you’re right or wrong. You try to defend yourself and work harder to prove yourself to the other person.
The Expert Explains
Robin Stern, PhD, Author of The Gaslight Effect, says there are three stages of gaslighting. The first is disbelief it is happening. The second is defending yourself against the manipulation and trying hard to find ways to make it stop by getting the other person see you’re not what they think. The third stage is depression. This is when you experience a personality change. You are unhappy and unlike yourself. People express concern about you and treat you as if you really do have a problem. Gaslighting really happens in many kinds of relationships and can seriously damage people’s self esteem. Read Robin’s warning signs below to see if you have experienced them.
Where Does Gaslighting Come From
The term comes from the 1944 film called Gas Light with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, & Joseph Cotton. The insidious husband does it to his wife to drive her crazy. It’s a great movie, and, even though a little histrionic in the acting, not out of date at all.
14 Warning Signs of The Gaslighting Tango
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
- You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend, boss.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start trying to do things to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.