The process of gaslighting happens in stages. Although the stages are not always linear and do overlap at times, they reflect very different emotional and psychological states of mind.
The First Stage of Gaslighting Is Disbelief
When the first sign of gaslighting occurs. You think of the gaslighting interaction as a strange behaviour or an anomalous moment. During this first stage, things happen between you and your partner – or your boss, friend, family member – that seem odd to you.
The Second Stage of Gaslighting Is Disbelief
Where you are defending yourself against the gaslighter’s manipulation. Your husband crosses the line in his flirtations with another woman at a dinner party. When you confront him, he asks you to stop being insecure and controlling. After a long argument, you apologize for giving him a hard time.
Or you tell your boss, you are unhappy with the assignments you have been getting; you feel you are being wrongly passed over for the best assignments and you ask him why this is happening. Instead of addressing the issue, he tells you that you are way too sensitive and way too stressed. Maybe you are sensitive and stressed, but that doesn’t answer the question of why you are being passed over for these better assignments. Rather than leave it at that, or redirecting the conversation, you start defending yourself by telling your boss you are not that sensitive or stressed, or that the stress doesn’t interfere with your ability to work. However, during this stage you are driven crazy by the conversation, going over and over it like an looped tape in your mind.
Your mother belittles your clothes, your job, your friends, and your spouse. But instead of fighting back as your friends encourage you to do, you tell them that your mother is often right and that a mature person should be able to take a little criticism.
What’s worse, is that these kind of conversations begin to characterize your relationship more and more. You can’t stand that your boss sees the situation like that, and you work even harder on the assignments you find boring, even demeaning, just to prove that you are not overly sensitive and stressed out.
The Third Stage of Gaslighting Is Depression
By the time you get to this stage you are experiencing a noticeable lack of joy, and you hardly recognize yourself any more. Some of your behaviour feels truly alien. You feel more cut off from friends – in fact, you don’t talk to people about your relationship very much – none of them like your guy. People may express concern about how you are and how you are feeling – they treat you like you really do have a problem.