You’ve heard of gaslighting. But what is “ambient” gaslighting?
You’ve probably heard of the term “gaslighting” before. But what about “ambient gaslighting”?
Most people now know that gaslighting, simply put, is when someone tries to get someone else to question their reality. “Ambient gaslighting” refers to the subtle undercurrents of abuse or disrespect that we experience in small doses and may not realize that we are dealing with a form of gaslighting.
It could be as simple as a passive-aggressive communication style that you encounter frequently from someone in your life, or it could look like a boss employing a leadership style that scares your team to speak up. It could even refer to unbalanced messages or misleading advertisements that we come across when scrolling our phones.
The doctor and psychiatrist Dr. Grant Brenner attempts to coin the term; Think of it as background noise.
“There’s just this feeling in the background that maybe I’m being tricked somehow,” says Brenner. “And so I think people just have a general sense of unease. And then what do you do with it? Are you aware of that? Are you somehow ignoring it? If you ignore it, you might be afraid that you’re going to be vulnerable.”
Examples of ambient gas lighting
Ambient gaslighting is just that: it’s all around you, seeping into the air. Here are some other examples of where you might feel its subtle presence:
- In targeted marketing. “People might be confused as to whether the ad is something they really wanted or whether that desire was planted in there,” says Brenner.
- In political news. Polarized politics has led to seemingly alternate realities that have only accelerated during the pandemic. Compelling opinion-like news programs or unverified viral social media posts can make you question your beliefs.
- At work. Leaders may advocate transparency, but employees may experience opposing behavior.
Depending on where you get your information from—TikTok, partisan cable news programs, news websites—your version of “truth” may be skewed in some way. It’s difficult to navigate and sometimes easier to agree with the version of truth you want to hear.
“We’re just constantly in an informational environment that’s ambiguous at best,” adds Brenner. “Truth is difficult to define. And then, in the worst case, we don’t know when we are being deceived and when we are not. Learning how to navigate this environment is a relatively new skill.”
What to do with Ambient Gaslighting?
When you feel like you’re experiencing ambient gaslighting, take a swipe and look within. “People need a solid relationship with themselves,” says Brenner. “And really, it’s through self-awareness and self-understanding that we can best deal with ambiguity from other people and in the environment.”
This means that, as a consumer, you need to educate yourself to come to the right conclusion on a given topic – for example, by reading different versions of a news article or asking for more time with executives at work to ask clarifying questions.
If what you’re experiencing is more pervasive and less subtle, it could be simple gaslighting, which is often more intentional.
Will you be gassed?
According to USA TODAY columnist Sara Kuburic, there are signs you’re getting gasped:
- You are often confused.
- You have trouble trusting your memories or feelings.
- You keep apologizing
- You feel like you can’t do anything right.
- They are often nervous, worried, or anxious.
- you don’t feel safe
- You struggle to trust yourself.
- You constantly blame yourself when things go wrong (even if it’s not your fault).
If you want it to stop, Kuburic suggests:
- gather evidence.
- Get support.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Get professional help.
“Gaslighting is a difficult thing,” writes Kuburic. “An external and trained perspective can enable you to explore your reality, set boundaries, and rebuild a sense of confidence and worth.”
More about gas lighting
Good tips:How to know if your partner might be lighting you up. Sentences and words to pay attention to
Key Explainer:What is gas lighting? Here’s what it is and how to respond to the behavior.
Narcissist, Gaslighting, Love Bombing:A guide to all the buzzwords surrounding narcissism
And more about the workplace:Does your boss insult you? know the signs