Why Do People Gaslight?
Before I dive into answering the question ‘why do people gaslight,’ I think it’s important to answer some basic gaslighting questions:
- What is gaslighting? It is when a person undermines another person’s thoughts, feelings, or reality by denying facts or their feelings.
- But what if someone’s feelings aren’t an indicator of reality? Feelings are always valid. In other words, it’s okay to feel what we feel. However, acting on our feelings isn’t always okay. For example, you may feel sad that your friend lied to you. You may feel like punching your friend in the face. Acting on the feeling to punch your friend in the face is not okay.
- Who gaslights? Everyone does. Yes, we all do it from time to time. Gaslighting another person is part and parcel of being human. Therefore, when someone gaslights you, you may want to consider if it is appropriate to give the person some grace. Most gaslighting isn’t done maliciously or consciously. That stated when a person makes a habit of gaslighting you that is a BIG problem.
so... Why do people gaslight?
Gaslighters are made, not born.
In other words, babies don’t pop out of the womb as gaslighters.
It’s not a fixed characteristic. Rather, gaslighting is a skill that is learned.
In fact, it might surprise you to know that gaslighting can develop as a healthy coping mechanism in early childhood. Yes, you heard that right! Gaslighting could have been useful to a child.
For example, let’s say a child has parents that are actively addicted to substances. The child gets taken away from their parents when they were honest about their parent’s drug use.
The next time a caseworker asks them about their parent’s drug use, they may choose to say that everything is okay at home when really it isn’t.
Or parents that are addicted to substances could fear their children will be taken away.
The addicted parents may manipulate their child to not believe what they are seeing with their own eyes.
Here’s another example:
A child’s parents are divorcing. One of the parents is so angry that they use their child to punish the other parent.
They gaslight their child and share terrible stories about the other parent with their child.
The parent constantly describes the other parent as a ‘deadbeat loser’ who only cares about themselves.
Children are easily manipulated. They have a tough time understanding that people can do bad things but aren’t necessarily bad people.
A manipulative parent is going to prey on this and do whatever they can to make the other parent into the enemy.
After years of watching parents do this, a child sees that it is highly effective. They learned that gaslighting is a tool to make their way through life and get them exactly what they want.
While (in some circumstances) it may have kept a child feeling safe in their childhood, it no longer serves anyone in adulthood.
In reading this, you may be thinking that children of gaslighters grow up to be gaslighters themselves.
Fear not, gentle reader, this is not the case. Most children grow up and choose to do things differently than what was done to them.
They have experienced the discomfort and chaos that comes with being so close to a gaslighter and they are more purposeful in their adult lives.
Why do people gaslight?
To gain a sense of power & control
Everyone likes to feel in control of their life. If you are human, you want at least some structure and control in your life. The problem isn’t the desire to have control.
The problem is that gaslighters need control in a way that is harmful to other people around them.
Perhaps as a child, the gaslighter’s life was extremely chaotic. It became comforting to the child to gain some control of their environment. Perhaps it was by:
- gaining attention
- feeling righteous
- creating order by splitting life into neat categories of good/bad, right/wrong.
Regardless, their need for predictability and clarity made sense. That stated, the controlling aspects of the behavior no longer are helpful to the gaslighter or those the gaslighter surrounds themselves with.
Why do people gaslight?
To control their narriative
If a gaslighter needs control, they must be skillful at controlling the narrative.
Let’s say your friend that is a gaslighter hates to be wrong… to the point that they have never admitted that they are wrong.
When you confront the gaslighter with cold, hard evidence that they are lying, what happens???
They better be quick on their feet and spin a story in zero seconds flat.
Or, they have you so under their thumb, you don’t dare to speak up… it’s just plain easier on you that their narratives go unaddressed.
A gaslighter may be extremely entitled.
This sense of entitlement may cause them to try to bend reality to fit their wishes and desires.
For example, they may be desperate to explain away why they didn’t get an award for something.
If you were to gently give suggestions as to why this could be the case, watch out (and let the gaslighting begin)!
Somehow you will be labeled as crazy or the cause of their missed opportunity.
Some of these characteristics go hand-in-hand with various personality disorders.
For example, someone that meets the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder will likely feel entitled to have admiration and attention and that they are extremely special and deserve more than others.
Because of this, you can bet some of the tactics they will use include gaslighting!
If this is happening to you, here’s what you NEED to know: Gaslighting is incredibly disorienting! Reach out to those who have earned the right to hear your concerns! It is important for others to affirm your feelings that something is off and help you navigate to the other side!