During one semester at my alma mater, I was involved in a student movement on my campus that called for more inclusive policies from the administration in relation to LGBTQ+ identities. For those few months, I had an incredibly difficult time balancing school, the movement, household chores, and everything else I needed to do to survive. There was so much that went into that movement during that time in my life that I still carry around with me on a daily basis – including the fact that others in the movement consistently spent time manipulating the ways I remembered (and felt about) things.
I share this now in part knowing that those out there who weren’t particularly great to me then would probably not be that great to me now. But also because I really want to write about gaslighting – a way to manipulate someone into questioning their own perceptions. Wikipedia describes it as:
…a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Kris Nelson wrote about some ways to recognize gaslighting in your own life, including knowing the warning signs of the abuse tactic. Robin Stern, Ph.D wrote about the stages and signs of gaslighting – including that you constantly second guess yourself or feel like you can’t do anything right. During that period in my life, I remember constantly second guessing everything in relation to the student movement (and slowly doubting other parts of my life as well!) and feeling like I was being too sensitive about issues that I realized later impacted more than just me.
Shea Emma Fett also wrote for Medium about some of the things she wishes she knew about gaslighting and goes in depth about different aspects of the tactic. Fett also helped to further my own understanding of gaslighting by describing it further:
Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting. Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality. The rest just happens organically when a person who holds that belief feels threatened.
As for the people who did this to me several years ago, I don’t think they purposefully set out to do it and didn’t have an evil plan to out right abuse myself and others. And I know that if I were to talk to some of them about it, they wouldn’t see some of their actions and words as emotional abuse either. As Lisa Marie Basile points out in her article about gaslighting in the workplace – it’s something that happens all the time, whether or not the abuser (or even the victim) is consciously aware of it.