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Alcohol and Mental Health

Gaslighting and Alcohol: A Dangerous Cocktail

Published:
July 5, 2023
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23 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 5, 2023
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23 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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23 min read

The film Gaslight is a 1944 psychological thriller directed by George Cukor. The plot revolves around the beautiful Paula, who marries the charming Gregory. After moving into her late aunt's house, Paula starts to question her sanity as Gregory manipulates her into believing she's losing her mind. He subtly dims and brightens the gaslights, insists she's imagining things, and fabricates all sorts of deceptions so that he can search for hidden jewels in the house. The term "gaslighting" arose from this film and has since been adopted into psychology and popular culture, and it was even named Merriam-Webster’s 2022 “term of the year.”

How can we deal with gaslighting statements, and what about alcoholic gaslighting in particular? If you’re wondering how to deal with  gaslighting and alcoholic manipulation, it’s time to look deeper.

What Is Gaslighting?

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At its core, gaslighting seeks to distort a person’s sense of reality. By making someone question their own memories, perceptions, or even sanity, the gaslighterassumes a dominant position in a relationship, often wielding power and control over the other person.

Imagine being told repeatedly that your memories are false, that events you clearly remember never happened, or that you are too emotional or irrational. Over time, the consistent denial and manipulation can cause us to doubt our own experiences, leading to confusion, anxiety, and a lost sense of self-worth. In essence, the gaslighter erases our reality and replaces it with a version that serves their own needs and agenda.

When we think of gaslighting vs. lying, they’re really very similar. Lying is saying something untrue with the intent to deceive. Gaslighting goes a step further: it’s lying, but it doesn’t stop with trying to make the other person believe something, it tries to make them doubt their own mental faculties and perception of the world too.

By understanding gaslighting through real-world scenarios, we can equip ourselves better to identify and counteract its effects. Let’s explore a few:

Gaslighting Statements in a Romantic Relationship

Maria and John have been dating for two years. One evening, Maria brings up a promise John had made about spending their anniversary together. John, however, tells her that he never made such a promise and that she must be misremembering. He goes on to say, “You've been so forgetful lately. Maybe you're too stressed or imagining things." As time progresses, John consistently denies promises or remarks he's made, making Maria doubt her memory and judgment. One night, after both had some drinks, Maria confronts John about a message she saw on his phone from another woman. John denies any wrongdoing and turns the table on Maria, claiming her perceptions are wrong because she had been drinking and is too paranoid.

Maria starts doubting herself over time, believing that maybe she's too emotional or forgetful. She becomes anxious about confronting John on any topic, fearing she might be "misremembering" again.

There’s also the common idea that people are more likely to cheat when they’ve been drinking, “drunk cheating.” Psychology suggests that alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes us more likely to do things we might not otherwise do while sober. This is absolutely true, and sometimes, the cheaters might try to gaslight their way out of responsibility for their actions.

Gaslighting Statements in a Friendship

Marissa and Allison have been best friends since college. Recently, whenever Marissa shares her achievements or good news, Allison downplays it or changes the subject. When Marissa finally musters up the courage to discuss this with Allison, Allison denies behaving this way and accuses Marissa of being "overly sensitive." She goes on to say, “Remember that party last week when you thought I was ignoring you? You were just overthinking because you had too much to drink.”

Marissa starts feeling isolated and thinks maybe she's expecting too much from her friend. The more she doubts her feelings, the more control Allison gains over their relationship.

Gaslighting at Work

Nathan works in a marketing firm and recently pitched an idea in a team meeting. A week later, his manager, Mr. Roberts, presents a strikingly similar idea as his own. When Nathan confronts him privately, Mr. Roberts denies it and suggests Nathan is being "too possessive" over ideas. He further implies that Nathan might be mistaken, saying, “I noticed you had a drink at lunch the other day. Maybe that’s clouding your memory. It’s just work, Nathan. Ideas come and go.”

Nathan starts second-guessing his contributions at work and becomes reluctant to share his ideas. He feels undermined and loses confidence in his abilities, while Mr. Roberts continues to exploit his subordinates without accountability. Gaslighting alcoholics became Mr. Roberts’s route to ill-gotten success.

What Is Alcoholic Gaslighting?

As in the above examples, when alcohol is involved, the gaslighter may use it as a tool to further their strategy. They may claim that the victim was too drunk to understand or remember what happened as it was happening, or they may accuse the victim of being too drunk to remember correctly in the current moment. The gaslighter may also use alcohol as a way to lower the victim's defenses and make them more susceptible to manipulation.

There are several ways alcohol plays into the dynamics of gaslighting:

  • Blurring reality: Alcohol, by its very nature, clouds our cognitive faculties. Memories of events might be hazy or entirely forgotten after a night of heavy drinking. A gaslighter can take advantage of these gaps, filling them with false narratives or denying events outright. The victim, already uncertain due to the effects of alcohol, becomes an easier target for manipulation.
  • An excuse for behavior: Often, gaslighters will use alcohol as a scapegoat for their actions. Comments like "I was too drunk to know what I was saying" or "You can't blame me, I was intoxicated" serve as deflective tactics. By attributing their abusive behavior to alcohol, gaslighters absolve themselves of responsibility.
  • Blaming the victim: In a twist of irony, the gaslighter might even blame the victim for their own drinking habits or actions taken while intoxicated. They might claim that the victim's behavior or emotions drove them to drink, shifting the blame and further destabilizing the victim's sense of reality.
  • Reinforcing dependence: Over time, victims might consume alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the emotional turmoil caused by gaslighting. This can lead to a vicious cycle with the victim's increased dependence on alcohol making them even more susceptible to manipulation.

Each of these scenarios showcases the gaslighter's attempt to replace the victim's reality with their twisted version, using doubt as their primary weapon.

While gaslighting is harmful on its own, when combined with alcohol, it becomes an even more volatile mix. Alcohol, known to impair judgment, memory, and perception, offers a fertile ground for gaslighting to thrive. It can provide a gaslighter with ample opportunities to intensify their manipulative tactics.

How To Deal With Gaslighting Through Self-Awareness

Here's an essential consideration: self-reflection. It's easy to discuss gaslighting as a tactic employed by a distant outsider. Yet, each of us should introspect about our actions, especially when alcohol is involved. Under its influence, some may unintentionally exhibit gaslighting behaviors, insisting that events happened differently, or minimizing another’s feelings, suggesting they're overreacting.

Understanding this dynamic is the first defense. If you find yourself questioning your own or another’s reality repeatedly, especially after drinking events, it might be time to seek external perspectives. Talk to trusted individuals or professionals, as seeking help is the first major step in making effective changes and adopting healthier behaviors.

Remember, while alcohol may provide transient solace, it might deepen the wounds in the long run. Awareness, validation, and self-care are the pathways to recovery.

The Takeaways

Breaking free from the shackles of gaslighting, especially when intertwined with alcohol, is challenging but not impossible. Recognizing the signs is the first step towards healing. Victims should trust their feelings and memories, and confiding in trusted friends or professionals can provide validation. For alcoholics, gaslighting is a very real threat. We can be vulnerable when we’re drinking, and some people may try to take advantage of that.

The perception that “alcoholics lie” runs counter to the classic expression, “in vino veritas” (Latin for “in wine, there is truth”). For some, drinking may devolve normally honest communication into gaslighting, or people may try to use gaslighting as a way to hide their alcohol use.

It's essential to understand the gravity of this toxic relationship between gaslighting and alcohol. While alcohol might offer temporary relief, in the long run, it compounds the problem. Seeking help, setting boundaries, or distancing ourselves from the gaslighter and the environment where alcohol is present might be necessary steps toward recovery.

an illustration of what gaslighting can sound like

How To Deal With Gaslighting: Helpful Strategies

The first significant step in dealing with gaslighting is recognizing its signs. Gaslighting can be subtle, and its effects are cumulative, which means that its impact builds over time, making it harder to spot in the early stages. Look for these signs:

  • Constant doubt: If you're finding that you are incessantly questioning your own memory or perceptions — wondering if events transpired as you remember them or doubting your emotional responses — you might be under the influence of gaslighting.
  • Feeling on edge: Another sign is the pervasive feeling of "walking on eggshells" around a particular individual. If you constantly feel the need to be cautious with what you say or do, afraid of their reactions or potential confrontations, this could be an indication.
  • Selective memory or "forgetting": Gaslighters often "forget" or deny certain events or conversations, especially if they were in the wrong or are trying to manipulate a situation. If someone consistently has selective amnesia about things that put them in a bad light or that contradict their narrative, it's a sign of gaslighting.
  • Trivializing feelings: Another tactic in the gaslighter's arsenal is making you feel that your emotions or reactions are overblown or irrational. If every time you express hurt, sadness, or frustration, it's met with, "You're too sensitive" or "You're overreacting," it's a subtle way of saying that your feelings don't matter or are wrong.
  • Twisting the truth: Gaslighters are adept at taking what you say and twisting it, often turning things around to make them about themselves or to make you look like the "bad guy." Over time, you may become fearful of speaking up because it always seems to backfire on you.
  • Reinforcing doubts with "evidence": Gaslighters might sometimes provide misleading "proof" to support their claims. For example, if they're trying to convince you that you're forgetful, they might intentionally misplace items and then blame you for it.

Gaslighting can be isolating. It can make you feel trapped in a maze where every turn leads to more confusion. In such circumstances, external validation and support become crucial.

Sharing your experiences with close friends or family can offer much-needed perspective. They can validate your feelings, provide alternate viewpoints, and even share if they've noticed the same behaviors from the gaslighter.

Sometimes, the emotional turmoil caused by gaslighting might necessitate professional intervention. Mental health professionals, with their training and expertise, can provide tools and strategies to cope. They can also help in reaffirming your perceptions, ensuring you realize that you're not alone in your experiences.

Some areas might have support groups for individuals who have experienced gaslighting. Engaging in such groups can be enlightening — you can hear others' stories, learn from their coping strategies, and gain strength from the shared experiences.

It's essential to remember that your experiences, memories, and feelings are valid. They form the core of who you are, and no one, no matter how crafty or manipulative, should be allowed to take that away from you.

Dealing With Gaslighting and Alcohol

Once the recognition of gaslighting sets in, it’s imperative not just to identify but also combat it. Here are other steps you can take when dealing with gaslighting:

  1. Trust in yourself: Doubting ourselves is precisely what the gaslighter wants us to do. Counteract this by reaffirming your trust in your memories, perceptions, and feelings. Your emotions and experiences are valid and deserve acknowledgment.
  2. Maintain a record: Keeping a journal or diary of instances that left you feeling baffled or uncomfortable can be immensely beneficial. Documenting these occurrences serves a dual purpose: It offers a clear pattern of the gaslighter's manipulative behavior and provides tangible evidence you can reference, especially during moments of doubt.
  3. Engage in reality-checking: When you're being gaslighted, your reality can seem distorted. One strategy to counteract this is to develop a system of reality checks. This might involve seeking feedback from a neutral third party about specific incidents. For instance, if someone has told you an event didn't occur as you remember it, discuss the event with someone else who was present to verify your memory. Over time, these reality checks can help bolster your confidence in your own perceptions.
  4. Develop self-care rituals: Gaslighting can take a significant emotional toll, draining your energy and impacting your mental well-being. Regular self-care rituals can help counteract these effects. This could be anything from meditative practices, regular exercise routines, engaging in hobbies, or even just taking time off to read or relax. By prioritizing your well-being, you create a protective buffer against the negative impacts of gaslighting.

If you're dealing with the toxic combination of alcohol and gaslighting, it's important to take steps to protect yourself. This may involve setting boundaries around alcohol use, seeking professional help for alcohol misuse, or even removing yourself from the situation entirely.

Also, if you're the one who has been drinking, consider seeking help for your alcohol use. Alcohol can cloud your judgment and make it harder to recognize and deal with gaslighting. There are many resources available, including therapy, support groups, and apps like Reframe, which can help you change your relationship with alcohol.

If the gaslighter is the one with the alcohol problem, encourage them to seek help. However, remember that you can't force someone to change if they're not ready. It's important to prioritize your own safety and well-being.

The Takeaways

Gaslighting and alcohol can create a toxic cocktail that can damage your mental and emotional health. Recognizing the signs of gaslighting, trusting your own perceptions, and seeking support are crucial steps in dealing with this form of manipulation. If alcohol is part of the situation, addressing this issue can also be incredibly beneficial. Remember, you're not alone, and there are resources available to help you navigate these challenges!

Summary FAQs

1. What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person tries to make someone else doubt their memory, perception, or sanity. This can lead the victim to constantly question their reality and is often used in abusive relationships to gain power and control.

2. How does alcohol play a role in gaslighting?

Alcohol can intensify the effects of gaslighting. It blurs the boundaries of reality, making it easier for the gaslighter to manipulate their target. The gaslighter might use alcohol as a reason for their actions or even fault the victim for their own drinking habits.

3. How can I recognize if I'm being gaslighted?

Symptoms of being gaslighted include regularly doubting your own memory or perceptions and feeling like you're always treading lightly around someone. If you observe these feelings, it's essential to trust your emotions and keep a record of events that make you feel uneasy.

4. How can I cope with gaslighting and alcohol in a relationship?

If alcohol is involved in gaslighting, it's crucial to establish boundaries regarding its use, get professional assistance for alcohol misuse, or even consider distancing yourself from the situation. If you've been consuming alcohol, consider seeking help, as it can impair your judgment, making gaslighting harder to identify and confront.

5. What should I do if the gaslighter has an alcohol problem?

If the person manipulating you has an alcohol issue, you can encourage them to get help. However, it's essential to understand that you cannot force someone to change. Always prioritize your safety and well-being.

Find Support With Reframe

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