Snuffing out gaslighters
There are a number of ways to counteract the devious ploys of those wanting to undermine you, writes Sacha van Niekerk
EXPERIENCING a constant barrage of negative comments followed by phrases like, “you’re too sensitive” or “I’m only joking” could have detrimental effects on your self-esteem. 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.
In what ways does gaslighting show itself in relationships?
“One of the common manifestations of gaslighting in a relationship is putting the other person down or defeating their selfesteem through repeated negative comments,” said Beekrum. For instance, being told: “You are a bad mother” or “can’t you cook something nicer?”.
Gaslighters often lie or deny facts, even in the face of evidence. Beekrum said, “This includes insisting they are not cheating despite having evidence to prove it. Early on in a relationship, gaslighting may be more subtle
(for example, one person denying they ever said something) but as a relationship progresses it gets more serious and involves fabrication and the gaslighter even taking on a victim role.”
Gaslighting in the workplace Gaslighting isn’t limited to intimate relationships. “It occurs more frequently in the workplace than we realise,” said Beekrum. It often involves someone striving for power in an unfair and dishonest manner by manipulating those they perceive as a threat. “Examples include having one’s work sabotaged, someone else taking credit for your work, being set up for failure with unrealistic deadlines, unfair and unwarranted criticism, having one’s abilities undermined, being excluded from conversations, emails or events or having malicious rumours spread about someone,” said Beekrum.
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 “They become withdrawn and will be less likely to seek help because they start believing what the perpetrator says.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 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.” Note whether you seem to doubt yourself more often. “You will 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.”
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,” 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.”
If you are being gaslighted in the workplace, Usha Maharaj, success strategist, coach, mentor and facilitator, shared the best procedure to follow.
Unfortunately, in the case of gaslighting, there is no real structured approach to resolution, Maharaj said. “The steps taken will depend largely on your ability to handle conflict and on the extent of gaslighting you are being exposed to.”