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Gaslighting is a term that comes up in conversations and articles related to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The manipulation practice occurs in different settings but is commonly seen in interpersonal relationships, such as work, family, and romantic relationships.
I felt utterly betrayed and a plethora of other negative emotions after discovering someone I cared for manipulated me in this manner. How about you? Whatever your feelings, they are valid and expected in the circumstances.
In fact, getting gaslighted does more than make you upset with the person playing mind games with you. Research on the long term effects of gaslighting reveals how mentally and emotionally harmful it is to those on the receiving end.
This is because psychological manipulation causes mental trauma. Gaslighting effects are usually more severe in intimate relationships, depending on the frequency and intensity.
What Is Gaslighting?
The term ‘gaslight’ refers to a subtle form of coercive control by consistently using a pattern of action that causes you to question your reality.
Gaslighters use special phrases or statements to manipulate your perception and five senses. They often attempt to invalidate what you hear, see, think, feel, or experience.
It’s a strategic effort to make you mistrust your intuition, judgment, and decisions and rely on theirs. By taking control of your mind and causing you to doubt yourself, they’re able to get you to do what they want.
The use of the term ‘gaslight’ dates back to the 1938 film, Gaslight. With the goal of getting his wife committed to a psychiatric clinic, the husband convinces her she’s mentally unwell. He does so by dimming the gas lamp in the home. When she asks why the light keeps dimming, he tells her she’s imagining things.
Interestingly, many people aren’t aware that gaslighting is also a form of psychological/emotional abuse. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boss, parent, partner, friend, or spiritual leader who is using the manipulation tactic on you.
Usually, it is the subtlety that causes the manipulation to go unnoticed. For example, the gaslighter may pick small details you didn’t remember.
They’ll use the loss of memory on one or two occasions to discredit your overall memory of events and experiences. Before you know it, you’re relying on them to validate your memory and emotions.
What Causes Someone to Gaslight Others?
Psychologists found the tendency to manipulate people to gain control is a learned childhood behavior. According to VeryWellMind, the trait is rooted in personality disorders such as narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline personality disorders, as well as psychopathy,
The gaslighter typically adopts the practice after getting gaslighted by persons in authority, such as caregivers or teachers. They then use the tactic in adulthood, usually to shift the power dynamics and take control when they feel vulnerable. They seek to gain more control as they get ‘addicted’ to manipulating others.
Common Gaslighting Tactics
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’m a survivor of gaslighting that lasted several years. I was caught off-guard by the gaslighter who also displayed strong narcissistic traits. The entire experience felt surreal. Not to mention, I ended up feeling inadequate and vulnerable.
Below are common strategies that were used to manipulate my perception of reality. I wish I had prior knowledge. Fortunately, knowing the signs of gaslighting can help us avoid the harmful mental effects.
The manipulative and emotional controller will also use gaslighting statements or phrases to try and mentally destabilize you. Example statements are as follows:
9 Long-Term Effects of Gaslighting on Your Mental Health
Intentional gaslighting is done to gradually wear down your mental health and sense of self. Since it’s often done using subtle tactics, it could be months or years before you realize what has been happening.
You may also experience the long term effects of gaslighting even if the individual was unaware of their behavior.
The effects usually make it harder to leave an abusive situation, particularly if the manipulator is providing you with an essential need, such as housing or money.
I’ll now walk you through the following NINE ways a person suffers from being gaslighted. The effects may occur during and long after the relationship no longer exists.
If you identify with any of them, I want you to remember, it’s not your fault. Be sure to read the final thoughts section on how to cope with the experience.
#1. Chronic Self-Doubt
Self-doubt develops since the gaslighting abuser frequently substitutes their narratives of what happened to prove you wrong. This is according to the Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc.
Not only are they countering your memory of events, but also invalidate your opinions and experience. Countering and invalidation force you to defend your truth or cause you to apologize for the abuser’s behavior.
Once you begin questioning your thoughts, feelings, and memories, you may start relying on them to verify facts and validate your existence. Unfortunately, trusting their views empowers them more and causes them to manipulate you further.
In addition to feeling ashamed, the targets of gaslighting tend to take the blame for what happened. You may resort to self-blaming because the abuser keeps shifting the blame to you to avoid accountability for their wrongdoings.
Taking the fall also happens as your self-esteem starts declining. It’s hard not to self-blame after the abuser keeps telling you everything you think, say, or do is wrong.
By now, you may have concluded that you are unlovable, stupid, or crazy and, therefore, deserve the abuse. You’re essentially now gaslighting yourself after the abuser distorted your self-image, according to Psychology Today.
#3. Lowered Self-Esteem
Gaslighting erodes your self-esteem. Dr. Amelia Kelley, trauma-informed therapist and the co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship, told Yahoo that gaslighting also “negatively impacts an individual’s sense of self.”
Your personality traits and your core beliefs all contribute to how you identify yourself (self-image). Naturally, you’ll lose self-confidence if you begin doubting yourself. Many survivors start believing something is wrong with them and are left feeling insecure, vulnerable, and worthless.
Just as your self-esteem has been gradually chipped away, rebuilding it will be a gradual process.
#4. Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)
Trauma is any emotionally distressing experience your brain suppresses if it is unable to make sense of it. Post-traumatic stress is an adaptive response by the brain to protect you, but the stress effects will show up, according to Brainline.
Symptoms of PTS include feeling on edge and nervousness in situations that trigger memories of the gaslighting experience. You don’t need to be aware you’re experiencing gaslighting for it to create this form of psychological trauma and symptoms.
Luckily, PTS usually subsides a few days after the distressing event, unlike post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a mental disorder.
#5. Anxiety and Depression
Those who engage in gaslighting realize that it is a “powerful way to destabilize their partner.” This is what Dr. Robin Stern, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Associate Director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence told Psycom. Stern explained that the cunning tactic leads to “anxiety, and ultimately depression.”
These mental conditions develop from the gaslightee’s uncertainties about their reality. Another cause is believing something is wrong with them as they’ve frequently been told by the gaslighter.
Stern is the author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life.
#6. Isolation and Loneliness
Those who use gaslighting to assert control often say things to encourage you to pull away from loved ones and social activities. In other words, they isolate you.
Isolation “prevents victims from hearing a counter narrative to what’s happening in the relationship.” That’s according to Paige L. Sweet, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan and author of The Politics of Surviving.
Isolating someone to control them is psychological abuse and prevents victims from seeking help.
Like other survivors, you may remain isolated after the relationship ends. Feeling ashamed, mentally unstable, insecure, helpless, and unlovable are a few reasons for self-isolation. However, staying away from loved ones could further impact your mental health. The risk of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts also increases.
An imbalance of power is created as gaslighting progresses and becomes more severe. As you lose your sense of self, you may find yourself emotionally enmeshed with your gaslighting partner.
Enmeshment is a core sign of codependency, or “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” (Oxford Dictionary). What this means is you rely on your partner to meet most of your emotional and physical needs. You no longer trust yourself to meet your own needs.
Codependency becomes increasingly possible once you’re isolated or cut off from loved ones. A co-dependent relationship is toxic and may intensify the long term effects of gaslighting.
#8. Trouble Making Decisions for Yourself
If you constantly doubt your decisions, someone may have effectively gaslighted out. Gaslighting targets your perception of reality and weakens your ability to judge and make decisions on your own, according to Metal Health America (MHA). Have you been second-guessing your decisions a lot lately?
If the gaslighter is out of your life, you may feel helpless and powerless not having them around to guide your decision-making. Helplessness and loneliness may cause you to reconnect to the abuser to avoid these uncomfortable emotions.
Don’t forget this is the same person who destroyed your self-worth. In fact, experts warn that reaching out to the abuser for help or attention will likely cause them to gaslight you again.
#9. Loss of Trust
Distrusting yourself is a natural consequence of long-term gaslighting. You decide that you can no longer rely on your five senses or sense of reasoning to guide you. However, the trust issues don’t stop there.
Once you discover your friend, partner, or boss has been gaslighting you, you may feel betrayed and angry. Losing trust in the person is a normal response to betrayal. Statistics on post-betrayal syndrome show that 80% are hesitant to trust again.
Your newfound distrust may spill into other relationships. It can show up as being constantly on the lookout for signs of gaslighting and other forms of betrayal. Incidentally, those are signs of hypervigilance (increased alertness) and paranoia.
Gaslighting can take place for months, years, or decades before the target realizes it. Usually, they begin questioning the gaslighter’s conduct after researching “Why do I feel confused and helpless?”
That’s how I found out I was a victim of narcissistic abuse and gaslighting. It took about two years to rebuild my self-esteem and feel like my usual confident self again.
Final Thoughts on the Long-term Effects of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is an abusive tactic that causes a person to distrust themselves or doubt their sanity.
Anyone can be a target. You’re not responsible for the gaslighter’s behavior even though they will make you feel responsible. Never apologize for their destructive behavior as it feeds their fragile ego.
Also important is distancing yourself from the gaslighter and reconnecting with your support system. You may also benefit from trauma or behavioral therapy.
Therapy sessions provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for you to express your emotions and rebuild your self-esteem. Some therapists are licensed to prescribe medication for post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.
Before you go, please check out 7 Self-Esteem Apps to Give Your Confidence a Daily Boost as you work on rebuilding your self-worth.
And if you're looking for more resources on gaslighting, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 5 Types of Gaslighting You Might Encounter (with Examples)
- Gaslighting in a Relationship: 7 Signs, Examples, and How to Stop It
- 15 Ways to Turn the Tables on a Gaslighter in Your Life