Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can leave the victim extremely vulnerable. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might realise.
58% of people report having been gaslit at work. It was also reported that 84% of women felt their concerns weren’t listened to or taken seriously, and they felt gaslit by a GP.
The thing is, gaslighting dynamics develop at home too, and these can be the most abusive because of how deep these relationships are. This becomes even more complex when addiction is added to the situation.
Understanding more about gaslighting, how to look after yourself, and how to overcome it is essential for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is psychological abuse from one person to another. It’s an extreme form of manipulation.
It causes the victim to feel confused, and to doubt themselves and their reality. It makes them question their perceptions and memory. The majority of the time, the gaslighting victim will start to feel as though they’re insane.
The victim loses their ability to trust their own judgements and memory and they’ll trust the abuser instead. It’s a form of manipulation which causes the person to rely on the manipulator.
Oftentimes, the person who is gaslit will reach the point where they feel lucky that the abuser is with them considering “how mad” they are.
The gaslighting relationship happens over time. Because of how subtle it begins and how slowly it unravels, it can happen to anyone, even those who consider themselves to be very “emotionally stable” and unsusceptible to controlling behaviours and manipulation by others.
Many people can end up experiencing “betrayal trauma” from being gaslit. This is especially more difficult when the victim realises that the perpetrator intentionally gaslit them.
It can happen in romantic relationships, relationships where there are addictive behaviours, and also in other social and professional relationships.
Here, we mainly look at the relationship between that a person with an addiction and the family member who loves them.
Where did the term “gaslighting” come from?
Originally, Gaslight was a stage play, but it was soon adapted to film in the 1940s and, simply put, was coined because of the actual gaslights featured in the story.
The newly-married main character moves in with her husband and is convinced that the gaslights are dimming and that she can hear footsteps in the attic. The husband tells his wife that she’s imagining it and eventually that she’s mentally unstable.
What transpires is that although the wife was made to feel as though she were going crazy, she was right. Her husband had been creeping about in the attic looking to steal money that she’d stored up there and he’d been dimming the gaslights.
How does gaslighting make the victim feel?
There are common signs that victims of gaslighting experience. It’s a space where you become smaller and smaller and where frustration with yourself can feel overwhelming.
The person who gaslights redirects attention from their own behaviour onto yours, but they spin a story to make you question your own behaviour.
One of the main feelings you’ll experience is confusion about what’s happened. Frustration is common as you begin to doubt your intuition, perception, and memory.
You could find yourself apologising a lot and as a reaction to comments such as, “It’s not a big deal, you’re just too emotional”, you’ll also likely start to suffer from low self-esteem.
The person abusing might act as though certain things that you’re sure happened, didn’t and this can make you feel insane. Many victims also feel isolated from their families and friends.
This could be because the person gaslighting has made that happen by preventing easy contact, or through emotionally manipulating others to believe that you’re the one with problems.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse that is emotional and “invisible” and often it’s not obvious that it’s happened until time has passed.
Why does gaslighting make you crazy?
It’s important to bear in mind that gaslighting doesn’t actually “make you crazy”. The person who is gaslighting you, though, is making you feel as if you are going crazy because of how they’re treating you and by making you doubt yourself.
The gaslighting person might say things like, “You need help” and when you’re reduced to the small size gaslighting makes you, you can start to believe this because you begin to trust the “gaslighter” more than yourself.
Being gaslit for a length of time can, however, lead to mental health issues if not addressed. It’s important to think about your definition of “crazy”.
In the context of being gaslit, there is the “craziness” one feels around what the person is doing to them and then there are the long-term damaging effects.
What does constant gaslighting do to a person?
When you experience constant or ongoing gaslighting, it can have serious implications for your mental health. It can lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, low mood, depression, low motivation, anxiety disorders, and substance use.
Can you get PTSD from gaslighting?
Many people report experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after being gaslit. PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that develops as a result of having experienced incredibly stressful or frightening events.
It’s important to keep in mind that frightening and distressing events aren’t just those things that are obvious (i.e. experiencing a natural disaster), it’s anything that might cause emotional, mental, or physical harm to safety.
Gaslighting is an attack on emotional and mental safety and when this is sustained over a length of time, it can of course lead to PTSD.
Signs of gaslighting
It’s useful to know what the gaslighting person might act like and what the most common signs of gaslighting include.
This can help you be aware and develop boundaries and self-trust going forward:
- You might catch the gaslighting person telling lies
- They’ll likely have mood swings, one minute being really friendly and loving and the next being hostile and aggressive
- They might say things like, “If you loved me, you would…”, “Your memory is awful, though”, “That’s not what happened…”
- They might say that you’re forgetful, lazy, emotional, or crazy
- The gaslighting person might be intimidating and threatening
- The person is manipulative and deceitful or spins their own version of events that makes you question your own
- The gaslighting person may make declarations of love, or start “love-bombing” and then later be abusive and filled with insults (this is very much linked to narcissistic personality disorder)
- The person is likely to concentrate on small details and pick fault in things you say or do
- Finally, the gaslighting person is likely to act as the victim. They might say things like, “You drive me to alcohol”, “After all I go through…”
Gaslighting and addiction
When a person has a substance abuse issue, it changes their behaviour. This happens at a neurological level.
An addicted person knows that their behaviours upset other people and they recognise how negatively affecting it is throughout all areas of life. To avoid coming up against the disapproval of their loved ones, it becomes normal for the person to lie, steal and manipulate.
A person with an alcohol addiction, behavioural or drug addiction might tell you that they’re not using money to buy the substance or go gambling, for instance, when you know they have.
These negative behaviours enable them to keep on using or participating in the activity. The lies “protect” the image they think they have.
This type of behaviour can unravel without the addicted person necessarily realising. They might hide substance use at the start knowing it’s unhealthy and the family might disapprove.
What’s useful to keep in mind is that the denial stage of addiction is huge. Actually, some of these negative behaviours develop not only to hide issues from you but also because they don’t want to face the reality of their own problem.
The person might tell others there isn’t a substance issue because they might still be genuinely convincing themselves that they don’t have one.
The thing is, however, in some relationships, the addicted person will see that these negative behaviours help them to keep using the substance or gambling, or whatever the behaviour is, and so they might start lying and manipulating you more. This can be how gaslighting begins.
Can gaslighting be subconscious?
It’s useful to think about “intentionality”. Does the person who is gaslighting intend to gaslight you? Are they consciously being manipulative?
That space of denial (where the person also isn’t ready to admit their addiction themselves) can be extremely powerful.
Not only that, it’s natural for the people who love the person with the addiction to want to believe that there isn’t a substance problem at the start, so a part of you might collude with their lies until it reaches a point where there is no denying that the addiction exists.
What’s incredibly important to highlight is that whether subconscious or not, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation that negatively impacts your own mental health and can make you unwell in the long run.
It’s therefore important that whether the person intentionally gaslights you or not, you need to find a position where you can protect yourself (guidance on this coming up).
Can gaslighting cause addiction?
There’s a lot of focus on people with addictions being the person who gaslights the other, but actually, a person who gaslights might not have a substance abuse problem at all.
In fact, the gaslighting victim whom they abuse might develop substance use and even addiction because of how they’re trying to manage the experience of being gaslit.
Being gaslit can lead to mental illness as well as substance use. While a person has to take responsibility for their substance use, there are factors that make addiction more likely. Through “gaslighting” into the equation and risks are increased.
The factors that increase the likelihood of addiction include:
- A genetic predisposition
- Family history of addiction
- Personality (i.e. low self-worth)
- Mental health issues
- Your environment (i.e. stressful events)
How sex addiction can lead to gaslighting
The impact of sex addiction can lead to infidelity. When the person who is being cheated on raises worries (i.e. what made you late from work?) the unfaithful partner can start to gaslight.
They might make the faithful partner doubt their intuitive sense that something is wrong.
The gaslighting partner might blame their partner’s “paranoia” as being the “real issue”.
How addiction changes brain functioning
It’s important if you love someone who has an addiction who happens to be gaslighting you to keep some things in mind. It can help because the truth is when a person with an addiction lies, steals, and manipulates you it can feel extremely personal and is very upsetting.
Keep in mind that addiction changes brain functioning, the brain’s neural pathways, and its structure, and it alters the person’s decision-making.
They will literally do anything to get the substance or partake in the behaviour (i.e. gambling or sex). It’s not personal. The addiction compels.
That being said, some people with addictions might also be the sort to exhibit gaslighting traits even if they weren’t addicted.
Your main goal is to know how to look after yourself.
Gaslighting and Codependency
When gaslighting and codependency coexist it can be especially damaging to both parties.
An abuser might come to believe their own lies, especially if they’re in denial of their addiction. Alternatively, the addicted person might outright lie purely to maintain the addiction.
The gaslighting victim might believe those lies as a result of no longer trusting themselves enabling the addicted person.
As you can see, the relationship can be very deep, unhealthy and destructive.
How to set boundaries with an addicted person
There are some basic ways to look after yourself if you love someone who has an addiction. It’s useful to do this when you’re calm and not feeling emotional.
Make it clear that your boundaries are non-negotiable. This is especially important to do if your loved one is gaslighting you.
As an example, you could try setting the following boundaries:
- Refuse to lend money (i.e. provide food instead)
- Don’t allow the person in the house around children if intoxicated
- Only answer the phone between certain times
You can say to the person that you want to help them and support them but that you’re no longer going to enable addictive behaviours.
To show you’re serious you might show them leaflets or a website about rehab services that you’ve found in the local area.
It’s likely that you’re loved one might “throw their toys out pram”, get nasty, or accuse you of not being supportive, but stand your ground. It’s important to protect your own needs and mental health.
Is it possible to save a relationship where the addicted person has gaslit you?
If you’re in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has an addiction, there might be a chance that you can make things work. The thing is, you have to be sure that your loved one is fully committed to long-term change and/or sobriety.
This would be demonstrated through quitting the addiction and accessing treatment such as couples therapy in order to heal relationship dynamics.
Abusive relationships continue if these things don’t happen. A relationship will only change and get better if the people involved in the relationship are willing to work on and change themselves.
Can you recover from gaslighting?
Victims of gaslighting might develop mental health issues and addiction. When things have got so bad that you’re unwell, then it’s really important to seek professional help.
As well as this, you’ll learn how to become aware of these types of behaviours in the future and how to manage coping mechanisms and responses in order to look after yourself.
How to get help for addiction
If you or someone you love is caught in the cycle of addiction, then the best way to heal is through a recovery programme.
To find out more, contact OK Rehab. A member of our team will be happy to tell you about the rehab options in your area.
The negative effects of being gaslit can be extremely serious leading to severe mental health conditions. People with substance use might be more inclined to gaslight others in order to continue with addictive behaviours.
On the other hand, people might turn to substances as a result of being gaslit.
It’s really important to seek professional help if, as a gaslighting victim, your mental health has been affected. Accessing therapy can support people in relationships where there is addiction, codependency, and gaslighting dynamics.