It’s a given that people don’t always say what they mean. Saying something contrary to control a response in conversation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be prudent, polite even, to do so especially with people you’re not that close to. However, it’s a whole other ball park to create a narrative that manipulates entire situations in someone’s favor—an act that is commonly referred to as gaslighting. Try to spot whether people (or even you) are making a genuine comment or fishing for a controlled response.
The situation: You made a mistake
The comment: “Yeah, you messed up”
Someone acknowledging or even drawing attention to the fact that you made a mistake isn’t necessarily gaslighting. It can actually be pretty constructive. But if someone uses that moment of weakness to plant even more doubt in your head with words like, “Well, you weren’t very good to begin with” or “What you’re doing isn’t for you” after a few words of obligatory comfort, then it’s best to check if that person would benefit from you bowing out. If they do, then those comments are most likely manipulating you into quitting. Because egging someone to give up, especially if it puts you in a favorable position, is in pretty bad taste even if your comments are true.
Because egging someone to give up, especially if it puts you in a favorable position, is in pretty bad taste even if your comments are true.
The situation: You’re meeting new people
The comment: “I can’t believe you don’t know them”
This comment is a bit easier to see through if the people that you haven’t met aren’t particularly famous or notable for you to know in the first place. But the biggest tell is if the gaslighter in question says that while you’re in front of the people you’re meeting for the first time. It’s meant to throw you off at a moment where you’re putting your best foot forward. Once you see it coming from someone with a pattern of crab mentality though, it can be pretty easy to bounce back.
The situation: You achieved something big
The comment: “That’s cool, I guess”
That sudden too-cool-to-care attitude only seems to emanate when you’ve succeeded at something important to you. It’s pretty easy to see who is genuinely happy for you and who is slightly annoyed you managed to cross out a big goal off your list. The key is to not be thrown off by someone trying to dampen your enthusiasm, and still celebrate your hard work paying off with people who actually care.
It’s pretty easy to see who is genuinely happy for you and who is slightly annoyed you managed to cross out a big goal off your list.
The situation: You’re looking forward to something
The comment: “Try to have fun, it’s probably going to be lowkey boring”
They’ve “been there, done that” and they want you to think going there is probably not going to be as big of a deal as you think it is. It’s pretty easy to tell if the comment is genuine or not, especially if they have a story to back it up. Otherwise, a vague “it ain’t that big” especially if they have patterns of just, you know, not being happy for you smells pretty gaslight-y.
The situation: They gave you an opportunity/invite
The comment: “You’re lucky I got you here”
Getting you in beneficial situations can be construed as a power move if they never make you feel like you deserve to be in that environment. This is okay so as long as you don’t get psyched out with their mind games. If you’re in that space, go do what you came to do and maximize the opportunity.
These are all situational things, and a lot of the judgement here will be on your end given the specific context of what’s happening. Just remember to choose your battles by weeding out the comments that matter and also to catch yourself if you ever feel tempted to let out unnecessarily manipulative words. It’s 2020 and not being a jerk is free real estate everyone needs to get on.
Art by Cathy Dizon