Many people will have an instance or a long-standing campaign in which they manipulate another to gain something in return. This may occur in our childhood years when we feel upset, as well as throughout adulthood, such as during separation and divorce. While most people may feel bad when they manipulate others for their own personal gain, there are some who experience pleasure and control from such acts. It may be that many of these individuals lack empathy, feel and believe they deserve the prize over others, and when confronted by their victims engage in blame shifting whereby they become the innocent knight in shining armor.
Partners of the manipulated person can often begin to feel victimized and question their sanity. They can feel trapped within their home or relationship, develop anxiety and depressive symptoms, and feel physically sick. Individuals who have been gaslighted, even in short intervals, often develop symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms can include developing a hypervigilant stance against threats, anticipating worse case scenarios, experiencing shame and anger over past gaslighting events, and difficulty problem solving and decision making without enlisting the help of the gaslighter.
Some specific things you can look for in your situation include:
- You believe that everything is your fault. You feel as though you are walking on eggshells and must “keep the peace” in most situations involving your partner.
- Your emotions and feelings have been discredited. During a disagreement, you may be called “crazy” or “dramatic” and told that what you feel is wrong. You may also be told that you did not see something that you knew you saw.
- When you become angry and threatened, they smother you with attention or affection or “love-bomb”. They may speak empty promises, give you gifts, and seem as though they are listening. They may also blame their behaviors on outside resources.
Individuals who gaslight thrive on keeping the environment chaotic. They are inconsistent and need to keep everyone guessing. This causes the victim to lose clarity and question their overall reality. But there is one question that you can ask yourself immediately to help with clarity. Has your environment always been like this or has it only occurred since you met this individual?
There are some specific things you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
- Document! People who manipulate work hard to avoid paper trails because it keeps them in control. Record their actions in a journal, as well as keep every text, voicemail, or messages through social media. If you have the option, try to correspond with this person via an electronic means so that you can keep records. Make sure you are not telling others that you are documenting. If you are in a situation that could have court implications, it is important to speak directly with your counsel and follow their advice.
- If you are living in an environment with fear of escaping due to retaliation or no place to go, then you need to reach out to family and friends. This will be difficult because chances are you have been isolated from those who are important to you, but this can be your grounding source of reality and stability.
- Consider seeking out therapy. Therapists provide supportive approaches that can help you navigate this situation in a way that works best for you and the safety of those around you.
Remember, the goal of the gaslighter is to keep you unbalanced so that you question your reality. When you reach out to others, you are breaking the hold this individual has on you. You are breaking the silence.