• Sonia Neale

The Art of Gaslighting and Subtle Bullying

One of the most insidious forms of bullying is so subtle that when it happens people around you have no idea what’s happening. It’s called gaslighting, after a movie of the same name, where the male protagonist turns down the gaslights in the evening, and when his wife mentions the lights are dimmer, he denies this, and she then questions her own reality. This works because the gaslighter counts on you to not have enough self-esteem or confidence to question it. Here are some examples of subtle bullying.

Here are some examples of gaslighting and subtle bullying.


1. Undermining someone’s confidence:

“You write funny stories, why aren’t you funny in real life?”


2. Unwanted, unsolicited advice:

“I have a really good pencil that will shape your eye brows properly,” and “You’re my little bit of ‘rough’.”


3. Fat shaming:

A relative takes a photo of you from behind and says (honestly this did happen – twice), “I took this photo because I think you are unaware of how fat you are.”


4. Workplace bullying:

“Are you sure this is the right job for you?” and “I’m sure you’d be happier working somewhere else?”


5. Smashing someone’s self-esteem:

When you get the courage to change your hair colour, and someone says they preferred your original colour.


Even an astute observer would have trouble seeing the soul-destruction in these seemingly innocuous comments. These are comments made by sociopaths or narcissists in your life who enjoy seeing you cringe with shame. It makes them feel bigger and better. If you mention this, some might say, “They are trying to help you,” or “It’s your imagination,” and (my favourite). “You’re too sensitive.” My immediate retort would be, no, I am not sensitive, they are being insensitive. Most of the time, you can think of a really good comeback two days later.


This is gaslighting, subtle bullying, to make you feel as though you are going crazy, losing your mind, doubting your own reality – which, of course, is the intended effect. To destabilise you. Or just for shits and giggles.


You sit there wondering what was this person actually saying to you? It is easy to stew on this and your self-worth goes down, because you have bought into their particular brand of gaslighting. Are the lights being dimmed or are they the same? Who has the correct reality?

For people who are just highly sensitive, these words hurt badly. Years later you are still suffering endlessly because you have not been able to make sense of this. You can only see yourself through the lens of this last comment. Recognise subtle bullying for what it is. Comments people make about you are really a reflection of themselves.


Picture credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslight_(1944_film)

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