Every now and then, relationships become strained in ways more than one. In psychology, a particular form of emotional manipulation exists that is called ‘gaslighting’. It has been seen in relationships among couples and, at times, in problem employee-employer relationships as well. This is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser (more often than not, the perpetrators are males) manipulates the victim (again, women are more prone to being victims) with intentions of sowing seeds of doubt and confusion. Below are some of the signs of gaslighting and what should one do if they witness it in the relationships around them.
The basic signs of gaslighting include bouts of intense criticism or hostility from the abuser, speaking sarcastically and belittling. They would also purposefully twist things out of context, contradicting themselves soon afterwards, so that their actions cannot be traced to them.
What goes on in a person’s mind when they realise that there is something wrong with the relationship? Most often, for the victim of gaslighting, an incredible confusion takes hold – not being able to decide whether to call out the abuser or mere acquiesce and accept. If one comes to realise that there is emotional or mental abuse going on with the other person, they should first and foremost strengthen their mental fortitude. The victim should think through the situation in a balanced yet emotive manner, without getting taken in by the abuser’s words. This doesn’t mean retaliating with violence. Emotions should be made sense of, but not be acted upon in an irrational manner that could lead to any kind of physical or verbal assault on anyone.
It is important to observe the situation objectively and look for external validation – yes, even if it comes from strangers. Many times a professional counsellor may be able to help understand the situation better and act as a go-between while communicating objectively with the other party. The goal should be to discuss feelings with the other person and come up with practical solutions without being too triggered by the abuser’s words.
Furthermore, the victim should educate themselves about the different types of manipulative tactics abusers use to take advantage of their victims. Other important steps can include staying away from the abuser unless necessary, staying surrounded by rational people, and setting boundaries in a non-confrontational manner.
If all else fails, taking a break is always a good idea. Simply stepping away from the situation and calming your nerves can help make a better decision about how you want to proceed. Not only that, but also focusing on activities that bring joy and life energy can be exceptionally helpful at this stage.
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