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Watch out for gaslighters out to control your life

Abuse done to control and manipulate others

Stock photo.
Stock photo.
Image: 123RF

The term gaslighting refers to a form of psychological and emotional abuse that makes one question their reality and sanity.

It is a tactic often used by narcissists, psychopaths or people with behavioural disorders in order to control and manipulate others.

According to counselling psychologist Dr Kgomotso Masokoane, there are four primary forms of gaslighting.

“The first is a straight-up lie. It’s the least damaging but still very harmful. It’s used to hide secret behaviours and creates a deep sense of mistrust in relationships,” she says.

The second form is reality manipulation and can make the abused person feel as though they are losing their grip on reality.

An individual’s ability to perceive what is real and to trust their own memory and judgment is often attacked and undermined.

Third is the tactic of scapegoating where the abuser covertly shifts blame in an effort to justify their behaviour. An example of this would be a cheating partner exaggerating their partner’s shortcomings.

Dr Kgomotso Masokoane.
Dr Kgomotso Masokoane.
Image: Supplied

“There’s also coercion, where the behaviour ranges from charm offensive [the abuser is overly charming in order to manipulate], to pressure and manipulation and even bullying or violent behaviours,” says Masokoane.

While some other forms may take place in a rather subtle manner, gaslighting has various detrimental effects, both short-term and in the long run.

The short-term effects include irritability, feeling tense, a loss of focus and concentration, as well as frustration from constant arguments and even pushing back against friends or family members who show concern.

In the long run, victims of gaslighting may experience psychological trauma, depression, isolation and anxiety. Gaslighting can also affect one’s confidence and how they see themselves.

“This form of manipulation can wear down your self-esteem and self-confidence, thereby leaving you dependent on the person gaslighting you.”

According to relationship coach Lindelwa Notshweleka, gaslighting can also affect one’s efficiency and even lead an individual to gaslight themselves.

“You will gaslight yourself because if you’re constantly being told you take things too personally and you’re over-sensitive, then those thoughts will be constantly in your head.

"You lose your sanity. You get confused, which then leads to trauma, depression and you then give up, ultimately becoming suicidal,” she says.

Additionally, being a victim of gaslighting can lead to poor and extremely unhealthy boundaries.

“If you’ve been constantly told that people are reluctant to engage you due to your overly-sensitive nature, you’ll most likely relax your boundaries and people end up playing with you anyhow.

“You become this unhappy person. It’s even worse if your emotional abuser is your partner, your friend or even the people that you live with every day,” says Notshweleka.

Lindelwa Notshweleka.
Lindelwa Notshweleka.
Image: Supplied

Moreover, the long-term effects of gaslighting can take a toll on the emotional, physical and psychological health of an individual.

Some of the ways to identify gaslighting within your relationships are if you have the urge to apologise all the time, if you believe that you are incapable of doing anything right or if you have frequent feelings of nervousness, anxiety or worry.

While being in a relationship where gaslighting takes place may break a victim psychologically and emotionally, Notshweleka urges victims to realise and remember that it is not a reflection of their self-worth.

“Gaslighting is not about you at all. All gaslighters use their tactics to gain control or influence in order to be superior and conceal their own insecurities that they cannot deal with.”

Ultimately, there is hope for healing and recovery as far as the effects of gaslighting are concerned.

“The victim needs to remember that they aren’t responsible for the abusive behaviour. They also need to avoid arguing about what is true with the abusive person but rather practise listening to their thoughts, feelings and instincts again,” says Masokoane.  

“The abuser also needs to stop the harmful behaviour and take full responsibility for the emotional abuse they have subjected their loved one to.”

Notshweleka also recommends getting a safe space to quieten the mind in order to step aside from a gaslighting situation.

“Another one should be getting hold of how you feel about yourself. That way, your voice will take a higher place in terms of the next step. Pay attention to your feelings,” she says.

Resources such as therapy and support groups can also play a huge role in one’s healing.

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