If there is one thing about the internet that I am thankful for, it’s the accessibility to information it provides. Of course, this can be a double-edged sword because information can easily be faked (as we’ve come to know), diluted or manipulated. Once something is released on the world wide web (do kids still call it that?), it’s good as true even if there are information pieces that are missing or not entirely accurate. This is what came to mind when I approached an old acquaintance, Mind You Philippines’ Senior Psychologist, Rea Celine Villa MAP, LPT, RPsy to ask her about the topic of gaslighting.
As stated on her LinkedIn page, Rea is the Senior Psychologist of Mind You. She is responsible for designing and creating Mental Health programs, internal processes and policies for the company and its clients. She is also responsible for managing the overall operations strategies and processes to carry out the company’s mission statement. Rea also manages and advises Mind You’s pool of Psychologists. She is the co-author of the first-ever Filipino Youth Depression Scale which serves as an initial self-assessment tool that measures individual depression tendencies. Rea also serves as the chief psychologist at Pasig City General Hospital where she handles the most sensitive cases related to trauma, abuse, anxiety and depression.
With such an impressive background, I figured Rea would be the perfect resource to help me dive deeper into gaslighting beyond what I see on the internet.
When asked about gaslighting, Rea first reflects on its most technical explanation, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and manipulation. This happens when an abuser or the perpetrator causes someone to question their own beliefs, memories, and perception of reality.”
She proceeds to explain further, ” People would know that they are being gaslighted when they start experiencing several of the following potential signs: Feeling anxious, confused, and uncertain of their perceptions, frequently questioning if they are remembering things correctly, feeling disconnected from your sense of self, as if you’re losing your identity, believing they are too sensitive, irrational, or “crazy”, feeling incompetent, hopelessness, or worthless, feeling unconfident and insecure; having low self-esteem, feeling the need to constantly apologize to the abusive person, defending the abusive person’s behavior to others, and withdrawal or isolation from others.”
Rea, who is also able to connect technical terms with pop culture also references to a popular film.
“As for the background of the concept, the term ‘gaslighting’ originally came from the 1938 play by Partrick Hamilton titled ‘Angel Street’ which was later on developed into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, entitled ”as Light.’ In the film, the manipulative husband tries to make his wife think that she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment. He moves around the objects in their home slightly, hides certain objects, particularly by slowly and steadily dimming the flame of their gaslamp. When questioned by his wife he replies that either she lost them or moved them around herself. The film became an accurate portrayal of the controlling and toxic actions that manipulative people use, so much so that they began to refer to the abusive behavior as gaslighting.”
I then asked what could be the reasons for people to gaslight others on which she answers, “According to experts, there are two main reasons why people gaslight others. The first is that they want to gain control and power over another person, and the second is that they learned these controlling and manipulative behaviours from caregivers or parents, and now use these behaviours as survival mechanisms.”
“Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse that thrives on uncertainty. They make their victim doubt themselves and then pry on that until the victim mistrusts everything they hear, think, and feel. This distrustfulness and insecurity therefore makes the victim more dependent on the gaslighter. One of the root causes of gaslighting behavior is due to a mental health condition like personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorders, and the associated manipulative behaviors can lead to unstable, unhealthy relationships.”
“However, mental illness is not necessarily the cause of gaslighting, and one doesn’t need to have a personality disorder to be able to gaslight someone else. Anyone can have the capacity to act in this way. Sometimes those in positions of authority and power use it to undermine the credibility of a person or group, in order to reduce their influence.”
She was also quick to share lessons to anyone who has experienced gaslighting or still experiencing it today.
“When gaslighting happens, there is almost always a power struggle at the heart of it, with the perpetrator having the upper hand. The manipulator has enough control that the victim of gaslighting is afraid to end the relationship or leave the gaslighting dynamic because the possibility of doing so poses a serious threat, physically or psychologically. In this case, it is important that a victim is able to establish a strong sense of self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence.”
“The ability to establish these helps the victim take over the power dynamic as being truly aware of who one really is as a person can help them regain control, regardless of what the manipulator really says. If you suspect that you are being gaslighted, you must remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. The toxic person is the only person responsible for their actions. Always choose yourself when you are under this situation. Ending a relationship can be difficult because of the feeling you have invested, but no feelings are worth giving up your sense of self, your identity, and your power.”
She then concludes the conversation by sharing ways on how to overcome relationships and experiences rooted in gaslighting.
There are several ways to protect yourself and taking back control from this form of abuse, according to therapists.
Gather and save evidence. Focus on keeping a record of your encounters since gaslighting might drive you to doubt your own judgment. Keep a diary, preserve text messages, or save emails so you may review them later and be reminded not to second-guess yourself and prove that you are not imagining or forgetting things.
Set clear boundaries. In a relationship, boundaries indicate what you are willing to accept from others. Make it abundantly clear that you will not permit the other person to act in a manner that would trivialize or deny what you have to say.
Talking to someone trustworthy. Trustworthy friends and family members who are not directly involved in the relationship can provide you with their perspective, assist you in gaining clarity, and offer emotional support.
Focus on self-care. Good self-care can make a difference by improving your state of mind. A gaslighter may try to make you feel unworthy of self-care, or they may characterize your actions as indulgent or sluggish. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to continue your self-care routines. Setting aside time for leisure and wellness activities (positive self-talk, meditation, daily affirmations, etc.) might help you feel stronger and better prepared to handle obstacles in your everyday life.
Seeking help. Over time, gaslighting can have an impact on your sense of self-worth and make it difficult for you to make judgments and might contribute to the experience of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. You may notice the gaslighting and start working through it with the assistance of a mental health professional.
To know more about Rea and to gain access to more resources, you can visit mindyou.com.ph.