Snuff­ing out gaslighters

There are a num­ber of ways to coun­ter­act the de­vi­ous ploys of those want­ing to un­der­mine you, writes Sacha van Niek­erk

Sunday Tribune - - RELATIONSHIPS -

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.”

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