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Did you know that there are actually five primary types of gaslighting? If you've ever been gaslighted, you probably agree with me about how confusing and painful it can be. You feel like a shell of yourself after you’ve been “torched”. It’s awful and nobody should have to put up with being treated this way.
In this article, I will teach you the different types of gaslighting and how to spot it. We will also review a few examples of what this gaslighting looks like in practice.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation that causes the victim to question their instincts, feelings, emotions, and even their sanity.
The term “gaslighting” derives from a stage play that took place in the 1930s. In the 1940s, the play was adapted into two movies of the same name. In the play and movie, a husband tries to convince his wife that she's losing her mind.
To do this, the husband creates noises in the attic that he claims he doesn't hear. He then dims and brightens the gas lights that are located throughout the house, and makes items move or disappear. Over time, the wife quickly starts to feel as if she's losing touch with reality.
Today, gaslighting refers to one individual treating another person the same way. Gaslighting can take place in romantic relationships and in families. In short, gaslighting causes people to question their own reality and truth.
The Effects of Gaslighting on Your Psyche
A person who is being gaslighted begins to experience damaging effects on their psyche. They begin to feel:
At some point, the victim may begin to withdraw from the abusive relationship and other relationships. Over time, victims of gaslighting will begin to experience a loss of confidence and poor self-esteem.
In addition to how gaslighting can make a victim feel, victims will also sometimes begin to question their memories, perception of reality, and even the validity of their thoughts.
Now that we've explained how gaslighting can affect your psyche, let's go over the different types of gaslighting and what each one means.
Type 1: Straight-Up Lying
Common myths portray gaslighters as subtle, manipulative mad geniuses. However, gaslighting isn't always subtle. Sometimes, a gaslighter will lie straight to your face. The fact is, straight-up lying can also be subtle.
If a lie is so outlandish that it's too crazy to make up (truth is stranger than fiction), you may begin to question yourself.
When a gaslighter is telling lies, they are usually attempting to cover up secret, negative behaviors. For example, people engaging in cheating on their partners will often simply lie. The traditional liar's maxim is “Deny, deny, deny!”
Another thing people frequently lie about is money, especially if habits such as gambling are going on. Money can create a lot of strife in relationships, and most negative habits require money.
Lying creates deep mistrust in relationships. For people who are awakening from being gaslit, the depth of lies they were told can be shocking to them. Moreover, many individuals are such practiced liars that they do it instinctively and with ease.
Once lies have been exposed, victims have the double whammy of feeling betrayed by their own intelligence. They may question how they could have been so foolish or “stupid.” However, in reality, they have been taken in by a smooth liar.
Type 2: Coercion
Coercion follows a wide range of gaslighting behaviors that range from something seemingly benign, such as a charm offensive, and something as damaging as violent behavior or bullying. Let's go over a few different ways coercion can happen.
Manipulation and Pressure
With pressure and manipulation, the gaslighter is pressuring their partner through a combination of emotional and/or verbal manipulation.
Here is an example of what this type of gaslighting looks like. Let's say your partner thinks your sex drive is too low because you don't give them enough sex. Your partner may buy you books, force you to watch pornography, or even visit a doctor to determine if something is wrong with you.
Usually, there is nothing actually wrong with the pressured spouse. Instead, the gaslighter is using pressure and manipulation to cover up their own problem, which may be a sex addiction problem.
Another example of manipulation and pressure in coercion is if a partner doesn't want you to spend time with other people, including your family. They may manipulate you by withdrawing their affection. Other things that can happen include being demeaning and even cruel. In some cases, they may provoke you into an argument, and then accuse you of creating the problem.
The Charm Offensive
Gaslighters can be incredibly charming. These manipulative people use humor, wit, and charm to get their way, and they're not above employing many of the other gaslighting behaviors to do so.
In this case, what the gaslighter is doing is trying to keep their unwitting partner from suspecting that they're engaging in nefarious behaviors. The charm offensive can look like playful fun, flirtation, solicitous caretaking, and even tearful attempts to get pity from you.
When a gaslighter uses the charm offensive, they will shower you with affection, gifts, and in some cases, sex. How is this gaslighting, you may ask? The gaslighter is using these ploys to make you question whether or not their negative behavior is really that bad.
If the cheating or lying has not been exposed, gaslighters will use the charm offensive to alleviate your suspicions. They want you to ask yourself, “Can they really be doing something wrong when they're doing all of these wonderful things?”
Violent Behaviors and Bullying
Many gaslighters will take things to extreme measures if milder efforts fail. When it gets to this stage, that's a danger zone for victims. Violent behaviors and bullying can include any of these situations.
Type 3: Reality Manipulation
Perhaps the most damaging form of gaslighting, reality manipulation is what most people imagine when they think of gaslighting. In the film “Gas Light,” the husband uses reality manipulation to try to convince his wife that she is losing her mind.
Here is a classic example (with a humorous twist, in my case). When I was researching for this article, I asked my husband, “Did you know there are five basic types of gaslighting?” He said, “You told me yesterday there are seven.” Confused, I denied ever telling him that. Then, he winked, and I was in on the joke. In other words, he was making a gaslighting joke.
While that example was something fun that happened between two people in a healthy relationship, it's no laughing matter when reality manipulation is done in earnest.
Here is another example. You and your husband go to a party with a group of friends. You see your husband flirting right in front of you with another woman. When you question him about it later, he denies that it was happening and asks you if you're becoming paranoid. He may even tell you that he's concerned that you're becoming so insecure.
In essence, reality manipulation is a severe form of psychological and emotional abuse. Making someone question their own sanity is one of the most damaging things one human being can do to another.
Type 4: Scapegoating
Scapegoating is defined as the practice or art of assigning failure or blame to someone else to deflect responsibility or attention away from yourself. One of the most common ways scapegoating occurs is when a person tries to covertly blame their partner as justification for their own infidelity.
We will use the flirting spouse example we used earlier to help us illustrate what scapegoating can look like. You and your wife have gone to the same party with a group of friends.
Your wife is blatantly flirting with another man at the party. When you confront your wife about it, she explodes and lashes out at you indignantly, saying, “Well, if you paid more attention to me, I might not feel compelled to flirt with other men.”
What is happening in this situation is that gaslighting spouses have actually convinced themselves that you really have driven them to flirt with other people.
In turn, they excuse their own behavior even as they exaggerate your perceived character flaws. In their mind, your defects have given them justification for their behavior.
When this type of gaslighting first occurs, you may realize that you're not in the wrong. However, when this gaslighting is repeated frequently, you may eventually begin to question whether or not you actually have a role in your spouse's behavior.
Keep in mind that nothing you do or don't do is a justification for your partner to betray you. While this can be confusing, knowing what's happening will help you to stay grounded.
Type 5: Trivializing
Gaslighters use trivializing to make you seem like your feelings, wants, and needs are unimportant. In short, they can accuse you of overreacting or being too demanding, even when you're asking for basic things.
One example is if you get angry or upset about something the gaslighter is doing. They may accuse you of overreacting and, in some cases, even laugh and make fun of you to other people.
The goal in this scenario is to make you feel unimportant and small. They want to convince you that you don't have anything to complain about.
Gaslighters use a manipulation technique called brightsiding, which means that they invalidate your experiences or feelings. For example, they may say, “Look on the bright side, things can always be worse.”
One example of brightsiding can be described as follows. Your partner gets drunk and drives, and they end up getting pulled over by police and arrested. Naturally, you have the right to be furious and concerned. However, a classic gaslighter will say, “Look on the bright side, at least I didn't kill someone in an accident.”
Another thing to be alert to with trivializing is the phrase, “Can't you take a joke?” Some gaslighters will push you to the limit. Then, when you get upset after you've had enough, they will accuse you of not having a sense of humor.
Trivializing is one of the most common gaslighting behaviors. It's very common for a gaslighting partner to “tease” their spouse relentlessly beyond what is funny or amusing. At some point, the victim will become annoyed because, after all, enough is enough. Then, the gaslighter will tell them they're overreacting about nothing and can't take a joke.
This type of gaslighting takes place in family relationships outside of the romantic relationship, too.
Final Thoughts on the Types of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is manipulation at its most damaging… and with so many different types of gaslighting, the more you know the better. With an increased understanding of what gaslighting looks like, you can help stop abusers in their tracks.
If you're experiencing gaslighting, read “11 Ways to Turn the Tables on a Gaslighter in Your Life” to learn how to take back your power once and for all! Don’t let their behavior define you.