Don’t let unhealthy relationships define your time in law school. Plus, you don’t want to deal with that- you’re in law school. When you’re in law school, it’s easy to become preoccupied, and not put your emotional health first. No one wants to talk about it, but so many law students are familiar with the following term: “Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. … Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.” If you have been gaslighted at any point in your personal relationships, you know that the aforementioned definition of gaslighting doesn’t quite cover the resulting effects in its entirety.
Obviously, the reason I am writing this article is based on my personal experience with a person I recently dated. Anyone who has heard about the time I spent with this person, such as friends (and my mom), advised me against continuing any sort of contact. Don’t get me wrong- when it was good, it was really good. Unfortunately, these times were few and far between. Very quickly, it became toxic, in turn affecting my self-esteem and sense of self. Gaslighting can present itself as making you feel invalidated for feeling a certain way and expressing it, namely when they say things that upset you. I found myself unhappy and emotionally drained, which affected my performance in school and my relationship with my friends. I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling- but everyone could tell I was holding something back. Gaslighting makes you feel like you are always at fault, and you begin to put yourself down.
As many of you know, it becomes difficult to leave relationships like this, once you become invested. When I looked back, I realized that everything that he made out to be my fault, wasn’t.
I hope that my personal experience and the following points could help someone realize if there are similar characteristics their significant other displays in a relationship. Also, I hope that as you read this, if you are in a similar relationship that may fall under the definition of gaslighting, you find the strength to remove yourself from that situation. There are more important things (like mock trials, and con law 2). Also, keep in mind that the definition of gaslighting includes other places where it may occur, such as the workplace. As many of us begin summer clerkships, we must take notice of how we are being treated, and put our emotional health first.
How can you tell you’re being gaslighted?
The following is an excerpt from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship, and provides insight as to how gaslighting can present itself.
- Lie and Exaggerate. The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), based on generalized false presumptions and accusations, rather than objective, independently verifiable facts, thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.
- Repetition. Like psychological warfare, the falsehoods are repeated constantly in order to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship.
- Escalate When Challenged. When called on their lies, the gaslighter escalates the dispute by doubling and tripling down on their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, blame, and more false claims (misdirection), sowing doubt and confusion.
- Wear Out the Victim. By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down their victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question her or his own perception, identity, and reality.
- Form Co-Dependent Relationships. The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter elicits constant insecurity and anxiety in the gaslightee, thereby pulling the gaslightee by the strings. The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away. A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability, and marginalization.
- Give False Hope. As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the gaslightee false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “Let’s give it a chance.”
- Dominate and Control. At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society. By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercions, the gaslighter keeps the gaslightees in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can then exploit their victims at will, for the augmentation of their power and personal gain.