Are you being gaslighted?

The word ‘gaslightin­g’ comes from the 1938 stage play (Gas Light) and subsequent 1944 film, Gaslight.


Cape Townbased psychologi­st and sexologist Dr Marelize Swart explains that gaslightin­g ‘is an attempt to manipulate someone’s reality’. ‘Victims gradually start to question their own perception­s, identity and self-worth.’

Psychother­apist and sexologist Dr Elmari Mulder Craig adds: ‘The abuser will use phrases like, “You’re just overreacti­ng”, “You’re paranoid,” “You’re acting crazy” and “No, I never said that”.’ For the gaslighter, their tools of choice are denial and outright lies and, as shown in Gaslight, they’ve been known to go as far as hiding or moving objects around.

‘Many victims of gaslightin­g start to feel insecure because of their loss of self-confidence and

rising anxiety levels,’ says Dr Swart. Gradually, they start to question or seriously doubt their own memory or perception of reality, she adds. It can even result in clinical depression. In the workplace, Dr Mulder Craig adds, gaslightin­g is used to discredit a person and make them doubt their ability to be there. ‘Sometimes the gaslighter will make it seem like they’re just being playful and that what they are saying is only a joke.’ That way, by reacting or being offended, ‘you are being too sensitive’ or you ‘can’t take a joke’.

Over time, this abuse leads to a sense of helplessne­ss and powerlessn­ess, so much so that

‘If you aren’t sure if it’s just you, talk to a friend or family member.’

you can no longer defend yourself – which is why the longer you stay in this type of relationsh­ip, the harder it is to get out.

So how do you tell if you’re being gaslighted when the whole point is to make you question your reality? ‘It’s important to trust your gut,’ says Dr Mulder Craig. ‘We all lie, but if something feels off about it and it seems to happen too frequently, then you need to take a deeper look at that person’s actions.’


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