It’s undeniably difficult to watch someone you love struggle with the effects of an alcohol use disorder. Even when you can clearly see that they have a problem, your friend or family member may insist that everything is fine.
Gaslighting is a tactic used to deceive and manipulate others by making them doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. The term “gaslighting” originated from a 1938 play called “Gas Light” written by the British novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton. The play features a husband in 1880s London who is trying to drive his wife insane so he can steal from their wealthy upstairs neighbor.
The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to undermine the victim’s confidence and self-esteem to make them easier to control. It can occur in many different types of relationships, including personal relationships and professional settings with coworkers or managers.
People with alcohol use disorders may employ gaslighting to deflect attention from their drinking problem or to maintain the upper hand in their relationships. Knowing how to identify this behavior and what you can do to manage the situation can help you protect your own mental health while you continue to encourage your friend or family member to get the care they need.
How Alcohol Use Disorders Can Lead to Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can have severe psychological and emotional effects on the victim. Here are a few ways gaslighting may be used by individuals with alcohol use disorders:
- Denying or minimizing the extent of a drinking problem. People with alcohol use disorders may dismiss concerns raised by others by making statements like, “I don’t have a drinking problem; you’re exaggerating” or “I can stop anytime I want, but I choose not to.”
- Blaming others for their addiction-related behavior. Individuals with alcohol use disorders may blame their drinking on external factors or other people, making statements such as, “If you didn’t stress me out so much, I wouldn’t need to drink” or “I only drink because of you and your behavior.”
- Distorting events to make them seem less troublesome. Individuals with alcohol use disorders may say things like, “You’re remembering it wrong, I didn’t act that way” or “You must have misunderstood what happened.”
- Invalidating your feelings. People with alcohol use disorders may invalidate the concerns of those around them, making statements such as, “You’re being too sensitive—it’s not a big deal” or “You’re overreacting—everyone drinks.”
How to Put a Stop to Gaslighting and Encourage Your Loved to Seek Addiction Treatment
Gaslighting can exacerbate the emotional harm caused by an alcohol use disorder and further strain relationships. Here are some tips to help you protect your own mental health while still continuing to encourage your loved one to seek addiction treatment.
- Trust your instincts. Gaslighting often makes you doubt yourself and your reality. Trust your instincts and acknowledge your concern about your loved one’s drinking as valid.
- Use “I” statements when you speak about the addiction. Express your concerns using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, say, “I feel worried about your drinking and its effects on your health and relationships” instead of “You’re drinking too much and causing problems.”
- Focus on observable behaviors and consequences. Discuss specific instances or behaviors related to their drinking that you have personally witnessed or experienced. Point out the negative consequences that have resulted from their alcohol use, such as strained relationships, declining health, or work-related issues.
- Express empathy and support. Let your friend or family member know that you care about their well-being and want to help them get the care they need to manage their condition. Emphasize that you’re coming from a place of concern and offer your support in their journey towards recovery.
- Avoid arguments and defensiveness. Stay calm and avoid getting into arguments or engaging in circular conversations. Keep your focus on the need for treatment.
- Encourage them to evaluate their own behavior. Ask open-ended questions that encourage self-reflection, such as “How do you feel alcohol is affecting your life?” or “What are some changes you would like to see in your life?”
- Offer to assist in seeking treatment. Let them know that you are willing to help them find treatment options, accompany them to appointments, or provide support during their recovery journey. Assure them that they won’t be alone in the process.
- Set boundaries and expectations that protect your mental health. Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations. Reinforce that you will support their recovery but not enable their destructive behavior patterns.
- Seek support from others. Reach out to a trusted friend or a support group such as Al-Anon so you have a safe space to discuss how your loved one’s gaslighting is affecting your mental health.
If you’d like to learn more about the programs available at Waypoint Recovery Center, please reach out to our admissions representatives. We are happy to answer any questions you might have about how our South Carolina residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center can help your loved one begin their recovery journey.