ELISA’S NOTE: I invented the term “reverse gaslighting” because there needs to be a term for this, however, I’ve not found any that exist. At first, I was hesitant to use it, because I think gaslighting frequently has far worse consequences, but “reverse gaslighting” was apt and there are so many similarities between the two. Please, do spread this term widely or suggest an alternative!
How to deal with reverse gaslighting: Spotting signs. (Click here for Part 2: Calling it out.)
A quick illustration of the two situations:
Exhibit A, Gaslighting:
You (making a totally reasonable, proactive request): “Hey, will you please text me when you arrive? I’ll leave my house after that.”
Gaslighter: “Why? Why can’t we just meet there at 7:30?”
You (answering the question in a reasonable, proactive way): “Uh…. because the last few times we planned to hang out, you were either late, or you just flaked out on me. So, I want to make sure that you’re at the bar before I drive all the way there.”
Gaslighter (twisting your reasonable request into a personal attack): “What issues have you faced in your life that cause you to be so rigid and inflexible? Maybe you just need to learn to be more flexible.”
In other words, gaslighting is a manipulation in which a person controls a relationship by leading you to believe that YOU are always the problem. Note in the above example, the Gaslighter has manipulated your reasonable request into a personal attack, intended for you to feel badly about yourself.
Exhibit A, Reverse Gaslighting:
You: (making a totally reasonable, proactive request) “Hey, will you please text me when you arrive? I’ll leave my house when you text me and meet you at the bar.”
Reverse Gaslighter: “What if we just meet there at 7:30?”
You: (answering the question in a reasonable, proactive way) “Well…. because the last few times, you were late or flaked out on me, so I want to make sure that you’re at the bar before I drive all the way over.”
Reverse Gaslighter: “You’re right. I’m so flaky. I am a horrible person. I suck.”
In short, what I will dub “reverse gaslighting” is a manipulation in which a person controls a relationship by evading responsibility for their actions….. because they are sooooo emotionally fragile, you just can’t bear to hold them responsible. Again, the Reverse Gaslighter has manipulated a reasonable request into a way to make you feel badly for even bringing this up.
Here’s Exhibit B, another illustration of the differences:
Exhibit B, Gaslighting: Once, I made a friendly wager with a Gaslighter, who learned he had lost the bet shortly after shaking hands with me. At this point, less than 30 seconds after the handshake, he instantly denied he’d even stated his original position. Luckily, there were witnesses to back me up and assert, “No, Gaslighter, you actually said that.”
It wasn’t the friendly five dollars at stake that caused the ensuing fight; it was the utter confusion and shock I felt. Less than 30 seconds had passed, so of course I remembered what he’d said! Yet he denied it so vehemently it seemed real.
When I expressed my confusion and shock — yes, you made that bet and this is what you founded it upon. stop trying to back out of it. — the Gaslighter twisted my expression of confusion and shock into — you guessed it! — a personal attack. I can’t deal with people like you who constantly like to point out when others are wrong.
Denial of reality, temper tantrums, personal attacks — all are hallmarks of the Gaslighter.
Exhibit B, Reverse Gaslighting:
Take the above situation. In Exhibit B, the Reverse Gaslighter will admit they have lost the bet, and look downtrodden. They will say something like, “I’m never right. You are so much smarter than me. I shouldn’t even have bothered, because I’m so stupid.”
In an extreme situation, the Reverse Gaslighter will throw in something like, “I’ve been thinking about killing myself lately. I’m so dumb I can hardly live with myself.”
The reason Reverse Gaslighting works is because empathetic, compassionate people who care about others (like you) will often respond by letting the conversation derail, and/or backpedaling: “Oh no, you aren’t stupid! It’s okay. I’M SO SORRY for bringing it up.”
What happens with the Reverse Gaslighter? You end up apologizing for asking for accountability in the first place — and, by the way, accountability is a reasonable request. This is how reverse gaslighting achieves the same consequence as gaslighting: over time, you sacrifice your needs to the “emotional fragility” of the Reverse Gaslighter.
My genius friend A. once said:
“Throwing yourself a pity party is not the easiest way to get out of your responsibility for doing something, but it is definitely a highly effective way.”
Gaslighters make YOUR “character flaws” the cause of all problems. Reverse Gaslighters make THEIR “character flaws” the cause of all problems. The outcome of dating either is similar in that: neither party will take responsibility for the problem in a proactive way that acknowledges or appreciates you.
Here’s the catch in the comparison: Gaslighting is a serious abuse issue, mostly executed by manipulative assholes who care about control, not you. Gaslighting will eventually eat away your mental health and cause you to think you’re crazy.
On the other hand, Reverse Gaslighters are often sincere self-haters whose negative self-talk is so overwhelming they simply can’t see past it, to notice you.
Am I saying that “well-intentioned people” reverse gaslight? Absolutely. Am I saying that nobody should ever feel such self-hate? Absolutely. But this is not your problem to solve, and as long as you cater to it, you enable this one-sided relationship that will render you invisible. It is the sole discretion of the Reverse Gaslighter to change their actions and focus. It is not up to you.
I repeat: A Reverse Gaslighter alone must act to reform their own behavior. Your apologies and capitulations to their “emotional fragility” will only enable them. If you feel this Reverse Gaslighter sincerely needs help, call a trained professional who can help them, and exit fast.**
In sum…… You deserve better than to bow to the dildo-shaped altar of the Reverse Gaslighter’s emotional state. You deserve to be seen, and recognized, and have your basic needs met. And when you have a sincere, genuine, heartfelt request, you deserve a meaningful and proactive response that acknowledges you.
Does any of this sound familiar? These are hard-earned lessons I impart to you. The road to enlightenment is paved with mistakes!
Take care of your hearts, dear ones.
** While you can’t change a Reverse Gaslighter’s actions, you CAN call it out. We’ll talk more about how to do this in Part 2: how to confront reverse gaslighting. **