Ever felt low and less confident after meeting someone?
Ever felt worried that you are losing your memory and your sanity because someone you trust keeps telling you that you are?
Ever been told…
‘Calm down! You have gone totally mad! Give your imagination some rest woman!’
Or ‘Hey, come on! Don’t be so sensitive! Stop all this crazy talk! You know I care for you so much.’
Chances are you are being gaslighted. 

Ever received a backhanded compliment? ‘You don’t look like a Malayalee at all!’
Ever received a compliment followed by a critique? ‘That dress is amazing but you should lose a little more weight to look amazing in it.’
Were you ever compared to someone you didn’t know? ‘You remind me so much of my best friend’s girl-friend!’ Did it make you want to do everything you could to become better than this person you have never met?
These are cases of Negging.

I didn’t know what gaslighting or negging was until recently. But when I did, I realized that owing to my own naivety I’ve been a victim of these extremely dangerous forms of emotional abuse many times over.

Physical abuse is abhorrent. However, because of it’s nature, the society to a great extent looks down upon it. The victims do find support. However,  because the scars of emotional/ psychological abuse are invisible to most, it is way more difficult to get support and heal from it.

Let us now get to know more about these dangerous forms of emotional abuse and learn how to protect ourselves from them. 

What is Gaslighting? How did it come about?

‘Gaslighting’ means to ‘manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own memory, perceptions and sanity.’

The term ‘gaslighting’ owes its origin to a 1938 play ‘Gas Light’. The play was adapted into an American movie of the same name in 1944 where the lady who was gaslit was played by the popular yesteryear female actor – Ingrid Bergman. The central narrative focussed on a couple and showed how the husband successfully manipulated his wife by convincing her into thinking that she was slowly becoming insane through a series of seemingly unexplained incidents which were deliberately planned. It began with him dimming the ‘gaslights’ (a type of lamp in which an incandescent mantle is heated by a jet of burning gas) in the house while searching for some jewels.  When the wife noticed it and brought it up, he called it a figment of her imagination. He also isolated his wife from friends and family and convinced her that she is a kleptomaniac. Psychology authors began using of the title of the movie as a verb colloquially.  But it wasn’t until mid- 2010’s that the term Gaslighting began being used to mean ‘the subjective experience of having reality repeatedly questioned by another.’

What is the modus operandi of Gaslighting?

Those who resort to gaslighting will first charm you and win your trust. All is well till the time the target falls in line with the gaslighter’s wishes. Then when they are caught lying or the target doubts his/ her intentions, they resort to gaslighting.

Here begins the journey of breaking your confidence by discrediting your memories and feelings. And when you bring it up, they will make you seem silly and immature for doing so. They will dismiss you as well as the situation and convince you to nip it in the bud. In case you persist, they will either change the topic or pretend to have been hurt by your actions making themselves appear as the victim. Now the latter is a very cunning move…because you will end up feeling miserable and will apologize for the wrong being done to you. They will never apologize to you. This is a big tell-tale sign.

Gaslighters are usually very intelligent people and craft their arguments very well. They have a strong need to be right always and hence you will feel never win arguments with them. They will alternate between being nice and mean. All this is a part of their agenda and it will upset you, confuse you and make you feel less confident.

Read more about the tactics of gaslighting in this book. Here is another great article on gaslighting.

What is negging? 

According to Urban Dictionary this flirting technique is defined as “low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances.” As unbelievable as it may sound, the men who resort to negging wish to make the woman fall for him! Of course he is so insecure that he feels he has a chance only if she is made to feel less confident. One needs to be confident and secure about oneself to realize that a politely worded insult is an insult at the end of the day. Do go through these negging scenarios to protect yourself.

What is the aim of Gaslighting, Negging and other forms of emotional abuse/ manipulation? 
  • To undermine your confidence
  • To make you always feel confused, frustrated and overwhelmed
  • To brainwash you so that you forget your true identity
  • To make you vulnerable and ultimately accepting of the manipulator’s wishes
Why do you need to protect yourself against emotional abuse / manipulation? 

It is important to not let someone else control your emotions and ultimately your actions. A victim of emotional abuse often goes through different stages in the relationship: disbelief, aggression and finally depression. Feeling under-confident and confused all the time can make you feel that you are mentally unstable. It could happen that the victim turns to the manipulator himself for help and this leads to a very vicious circle.

Who are the potential targets?

Manipulators usually reach out to targets that come across as under-confident.  Those who tend to self-doubt easily – again owing to the years of conditioning and the pressure of being considered perfect, become easy targets for these manipulators. They also usually give the benefit of doubt to the manipulators, elongating the period of manipulation. They also tend to target introverts who usually don’t have many friends or a great support system. This makes you defenseless and they know it!

But even confident assertive people need to keep their defenses up. The manipulators will appeal to your kindness, compassion and empathy. They may come across as vulnerable initially just to win you over and then proceed to play with your head.

Who are the people who usually turn into manipulators?

Narcissists i.e. those who buried their true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self usually end up manipulating others. Narcissists are unable to regulate his/ her self-esteem and are unable to make deep and intimate lasting ties with another human being.  According to Dr. Ramani, psychologist of repute and an expert on narcissim (also a narcissistic abuse survivor herself), there are four pillars to narcissism:

1. Display of lack of empathy
2. Grandiosity or a sense of superiority and the need to be imposing
3. A chronic sense of entitlement and self-importance
4. A chronic need for admiration as well as validation from other people.

Here are some characteristics of these manipulators: 

a) They are charmers.
b) They love bragging and often lie.
c) They will never admit to their faults and get angry when someone points them out.
d) They love doing things that are not considered ‘normal’ .
e) They get a huge high from being in control. 
Narcissists are so insecure that emotionally abusing others is what gives them a sense of superiority.

How to put an end to an abusive relationship 

1) Back off 
Don’t think that you need to step away only when physical abuse is involved. Emotional abuse can also have damaging repercussions. No matter what the situation, trust your instinct. If you don’t feel good – it’s time to back off.
Also, there appears to be no positive outcome from confronting your abuser and telling him you know he emotionally abused you. He may get angry or try and charm you in order to continue his tactics.

2) Reach out to friends and family 
This is especially important since manipulators will try to keep you away from your support system.

3) Get professional help
Talking to a professional will help you to sort your insecurities and build your confidence.

Here are some final lessons that I have learnt the hard way: 

1) Those who truly love you will NEVER humiliate you or make you feel horrible about yourself. Sure people make mistakes. But if you realize that someone refuses to ever apologise for having hurt your feelings, please have the courage to end the septic relationship.

2) Never let the confidence in yourself waver because of what someone says. Always give yourself time to assess things objectively. But don’t ever second-guess yourself. Learn to become assertive. You are unique. Don’t try to change for anyone.

3) Never let anyone tell you how to feel or what to feel. If you are ‘too sensitive’ it is ok…embrace it. Spend time with yourself to find out more about yourself and figure out what works and doesn’t work for you.

People resort to manipulation every day- with their partners, at work or with friends. It could be serious or unfortunately even flippant. In rare cases, the manipulators are not exactly aware of what they are doing.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the above forms of manipulation, please please reach out for help. I really wish I knew what gaslighting was much earlier in my life so that I could protect myself. But knowing how I can and have been manipulated, I feel empowered. I know I can prevent it from happening in the future. And I want all my fellow readers to also protect themselves.

Please do share this post with your loved ones. You could also read up more on the subject through books or via several online resources and speak about emotional abuse to your teenage children.

Important Note: Women can also manipulate and subject men to psychological/ emotional abuse. Any form of abuse is inexcusable, irrespective of the gender resorting to it. Men can also refer to this post to protect themselves.  

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