Gaslighting - A Not So Merry Xmas Tale
“You’re too sensitive.”
“You’re overthinking it!”
“It’s not that big a deal!”
“Stop trying to make it something that it’s not.”
“Other people have it so much worse than you!”
“You’re being too emotional!”
“You sound crazy!”
“I was just kidding, learn how to take a joke!”
“You’re going to ruin everyone else’s mood.”
With the holiday season right around the corner, a lot of us have been spending a lot more time with friends and family. You may have noticed yourself coming back from a fun-filled day out with loved ones and asking yourself, “Why are you so unhappy after such a fun day?”. Instead of trying to give time to yourself, you might find yourself in a civil war with your mind trying to reason (oops, guilty).
If you’ve ever heard any of the phrases in the first paragraph after a heated argument with a loved one or if you’ve ever faced a situation similar to what I stated in the second one, it’s likely that you’ve been gaslighted.
So what is gaslighting? The Merriam-Webster definition of gaslight is to attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation). In psychology, the term refers to a specific type of manipulation wherein the manipulator tries to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory, or perceptions. The terminology was derived from a British play from 1938, titled “Gas Light”, wherein a man attempts to trick his wife into thinking that she is going insane. What a crazy thing to do, isn’t it (how ironic)?
Most victims of gaslighting are oblivious to this fact. If you suddenly feel more anxious, less confident, and as though you’re to blame for everything, you can most probably owe it to gaslighting. Here’s to everyone who has been gaslighted, knowing or unknowingly: it’s not your fault and you’re a great person who deserves the world!
More commonly, you find people using gaslighting as a form of manipulation to attain their ulterior motive (just like the man in the play referred to earlier, trying to con his wife). Feeling invalidated when you are putting forth great points is a tell-tale sign that you are being manipulated. The way out of this is to reach out to a trusted individual and confide in them. It is also essential for you to cut ties with the gaslighter, as hard as it may be.
A little less common, but still quite prevalent, is people gaslighting themselves. This can be done by repressing negative emotions by telling yourself that you’re fine and other people have it worse. Sound familiar?
I want you to know that you are enough and that all your problems are valid. Pointing out and acknowledging gaslighting, whether it’s happening to you or to someone around you, is crucial to kickstart the healing process. Know that you are allowed and entitled to feel the way that you do and that nobody is permitted to tell you otherwise. A few things to say to the gaslighter (who may even be you) can be: “I am entitled to feel this way, you may not agree with me but you cannot demean my emotions” or “I know what’s best for me better than you do”.
Realizing that you’ve been gaslighted may trigger trust issues. You must point it out in those cases and let the person know that their words are hurtful. It may be helpful to talk to a loved one about how their words or actions affect you. Talking to a mental health professional is also a great idea. It is completely valid for you to walk out of a friendship or a relationship where you felt unheard or were gaslighted repeatedly despite trying to explain how it was affecting you. It isn’t easy to confront all these emotions and more often than not, we may make excuses for the other person just to save the friendship (which is actually a form of gaslighting yourself). However, your well-being should always be your number one priority.
So even though it is the holiday season, and one may feel like they’re “ruining the vibe” if they talk about their emotions, just know that your near and dear love you and would much rather have a heart-felt conversation with you rather than sing “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. (Maybe you can both sing the song after the conversation!)
I think we can all unanimously conclude that we need to be careful of the words that come out of our mouths (and also what we say to our own mind) because we don’t know what anybody is going through. Let’s all be more understanding and accepting. You are significant, loved, capable, and, most importantly, you matter!