ADHD and Gaslighting

What Do We Mean by Gaslighting?

The phrase to gaslight dates backto the 1944 film Gaslight starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Angela Lansbury Charles Boyer’s character manipulates his new wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, to make her doubt her sanity – e.g., seeing things that aren’t there or not seeing things that are there. He is doing it because he wants control of her money. In one scene, she sees the flickering of a gas light on the wall.  When she asks him, he doubts her and hints that she is imagining things. In fact, he was in the attic and using the lights which resulted in the flickering drain on the lights downstairs.

Today, the term gaslighting refers to a type of psychological or emotional abuse where a series of manipulative techniques is used to gain control of another person. By blatantly and repeatedly lying or challenging reality, the gaslighter keeps their victim off-kilter and make them question themselves.

Why People with ADHD Can Be Vulnerable to Gaslighting

Research shows that by the age of 12, a child with ADHD has heard 20,000 more corrective or critical messages than their neurotypical counterparts. Likely one of the reasons people with ADHD suffer from low self-esteem, this is also one of the factors that makes them vulnerable to gaslighters. Many times, a person’s diagnosis of ADHD is used against them by the gaslighter.
A common aspect of ADHD is executive dysfunction, an inability to priorities, plan and organize, which also includes problems with memory. Having ADHD means the individual is often already at capacity: They are being pulled in so many different directions it’s hard to see that a relationship is moving toward abuse. Having an unreliable memory due to ADHD can make someone more likely to question their recollection and judgment.

How to Recognize Gaslighting

Here are some of the signs that a partner may be gaslighting you:

  • They tell you that you didn’t see or hear something
  • He or she cheats frequently, but obsessively accusing you of cheating
  • They say that others think you are crazy
  • He or she pits you against people
  • They idealize you, then devalue you, and finally discarding the relationship with you altogether

Gaslighting can also happen at work. A boss or colleague, knowing you have ADHD, may, without justification, accuse you of being forgetful or not caring about your work.

What to Do About It

A key element to protecting yourself from gaslighting if you have ADHD is education. Understanding how ADHD affects you and knowing about the dangers of gaslighting are essential.

If you are being gaslighted in a relationship, it will generally mean terminating that relationship and cutting off all contact. This can be difficult and can be done with the help of a therapist who can also help you establish more healthy relationships.

In the workplace, it can mean being careful to get instructions and assignments from colleagues or bosses documented in email so there can be little doubt about whether a task was completed.

Learning self-compassion and building self-esteem are also important for strengthening yourself against gaslighters.



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