What is gaslighting?

Everything you want to know about gaslighting

Gaslighting Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com thegrio.cm
Gaslighting. Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Have you ever felt like someone was trying to make you doubt your own sanity? If so, then you may have been a victim of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that is used to control and confuse victims.

It can be very difficult to spot gaslighting, but there are some signs that can help you identify it. If you think you may be experiencing gaslighting, it is important to know what to look for so that you can get the help you need. Read on as we discuss what gaslighting is and how to spot it. We will also provide tips for dealing with a gaslighter.

What does “gaslighting” mean?

The phrase “gaslighting” is a reference to the 1938 play and 1944 movie of the same name, “Gaslight.” In this play, a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is mentally ill, specifically by dimming the gaslights in their home.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that can take many forms. It involves an abuser trying to make their victim lose touch with reality and doubt their own sanity. Gaslighters try to convince victims of things that are untrue in order to get them to behave the way they want.

Gaslighting is often used by people who have a need to control and manipulate others. Such people may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism, or they might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Narcissists may use gaslighting as part of a pattern of controlling and manipulative behavior. Given their tendency to see things only from their own perspective, they may dismiss or deny anything that contradicts their views – even if it is true.

It can also be used as a form of emotional abuse in relationships, where one partner tries to make the other partner feel crazy and incapable of making rational decisions.

With people becoming more curious about the concept of gaslighting, it is no surprise that the term gaslighting is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.

Merriam Webster defines gaslighting as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, the uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com thegrio.com
Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

How does it work?

Gaslighting works by planting seeds of doubt in the victim’s mind. This can be done by making small, subtle changes to an environment or situation or by repeatedly denying things that have happened.

For abusers, gaslighting works best when it is repeated and prolonged over a period of time. The gaslighter may start by simply introducing a lie into the victim’s life and then denying it repeatedly. Over time, this can cause the victim to question what they know is true.

Some instances of ways that gaslighters may use this technique include:

  • Repeatedly claiming that a certain decision was made when it wasn’t or denying that something happened after it has.
  • Setting up situations where the victim appears to behave in a way that is out of character, so that the victim doubts their own behavior.
  • Using small or subtle changes to an environment or situation to make it seem different from how the victim remembers it.

Gaslighting Examples

The National Domestic Violence Hotline claims that there are numerous ways in which gaslighting can occur. Several instances include:

  • Countering: If a gaslighter wants to convince their victim of something, they may simply deny or ignore anything that contradicts this. They may constantly negate the victim’s points and opinions, reframing them as incorrect or irrational.
  • Withholding: Gaslighters may withhold information from their victims in order to make them feel confused and powerless. This might include intentionally pretending they do not understand the conversation, making the victim doubt themselves.
  • Trivializing: Gaslighters may make seemingly small comments that have a big impact on their victims. For example, they might dismiss the victim’s feelings by saying something like “it was just a misunderstanding” or “you’re overreacting.”
  • Denial: Gaslighters may deny that things happened or claim that events were misinterpreted. This can include denying an incidence of abuse outright or erasing a past relationship from the victim’s memory entirely.
  • Diverting: Gaslighters may make their victims doubt themselves by redirecting conversations, changing the subject when something uncomfortable is brought up, or diverting blame to the victim or the victim’s friends and family.
  • Trivializing: Gaslighters may make generalized statements about their victims in order to paint them as something they are not and to downplay things that are important to their victims. This can include making sweeping statements like “all women are crazy” or “you’re always so moody.”
Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash.com
Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash.com

How to spot gaslighting

While gaslighting can be difficult to detect, there are some common warning signs that can help you identify it. These include:

  • Questioning your memory or perception of events, conversations, or situations.
  • Having a persistent feeling that something is “not right” in a situation where the gaslighter is present.
  • Feeling confused, overwhelmed, or on edge around the person who seems to be gaslighting you.
  • Feeling like you cannot trust your own memory or perceptions or that you are “going crazy.”
  • Blaming yourself for the treatment you receive from others.
  • Trying to persuade yourself that their actions aren’t actually all that bad.
  • Refusing to voice your opinions or beliefs in favor of remaining silent.
  • Feeling constantly on edge and threatened.
  • Experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

Where can gaslighting occur?

Although it can happen in any kind of interaction, gaslighting is particularly prevalent in:

In relationships

If a relationship partner is gaslighting you, it may be difficult to see the abuse for what it is. This is because, on some level, most abusers will try to hide their abusive behavior. They may make excuses and insist that they are doing nothing wrong, even if it is clear to others that they are.

In the workplace

Gaslighting can also occur in the workplace, where a boss or colleague may engage in controlling and manipulative behavior in order to advance their own career. This might include denying a promotion or even belittling others in front of colleagues.

Parent-child parenting

Gaslighting can also occur during parenting. For example, a parent may dismiss their child’s feelings and emotions when something upsetting happens, making them doubt their own experiences and memories. Or they might try to make their children feel responsible for their own emotional issues, even if that is not the case. 

Photo by RODNAE Productions on pexels.com
Photo by RODNAE Productions on pexels.com

Political gaslighting

Gaslighting can take a political form, too. For example, former U.S. President Donald Trump has been accused of gaslighting the American people, particularly in his remarks about January 6th.

After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, a crowd of his supporters descended upon the US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. The riots that happened in DC quickly spread across social media and other news outlets. There were several injuries and deaths, but the former president claimed that what actually happened was a peaceful protest that saw people persecuted unfairly.

This is an example of political gaslighting, in which a leader or politician uses their power and influence to manipulate the public’s view of what is true.

Medical gaslighting

Medical gaslighting can occur when a doctor dismisses or denies a patient’s symptoms and instead suggests that they are imagining things. This is particularly common in cases of chronic pain, as many doctors downplay or dismiss the patient’s experiences and instead insist on more tests or procedures.

How to deal with a gaslighter

Some tips for dealing with a gaslighter include:

  • Remain calm: While it can be difficult to respond calmly in the face of gaslighting, try to maintain your composure and avoid engaging in a confrontation.
  • Document incidents: Keep a written record of any interactions with the gaslighter, including times, places and what was said or done. This can help you build evidence if the situation escalates.
  • Seek support: If you are experiencing abuse from a gaslighter, it can be helpful to talk about what is happening with a counselor, therapist, family member or friend.
  • Do not argue with them. Arguing with the gaslighter can be highly stressful and may result in a “tit-for-tat” situation where both parties become increasingly hostile. Instead, try to end the interaction as quickly as possible and distance yourself from them if necessary.
  • Prioritize your safety: Gaslighting can be a form of emotional abuse, so it is essential to prioritize your safety and well-being at all times. This may mean removing yourself from the situation or even calling the police if the abuse becomes physical.
  • Seeking professional help: Whether it’s from a counselor or a support group, it can be helpful to seek professional help if you are experiencing ongoing gaslighting. This can help you develop ways of coping with the situation and maintaining your mental health and well-being.

Effects of gaslighting

Gaslighting can have a range of negative effects on victims, including feelings of:

  • Confusion, self-doubt and mistrust: The gaslighter’s constant denial of truth can make the victim question their own perceptions, memories and even their sanity.
  • Anger, anxiety and depression: Having one’s reality consistently denied can be stressful, damaging to mental health and may lead to feelings of anger, anxiety and depression.
  • Isolation and self-blame: Gaslighting can lead to a feeling of isolation, as the victim may feel like they are the only one experiencing these types of manipulation. This can also lead to self-blame, as they may believe that it’s their own fault for “allowing” the gaslighter to treat them this way.

There are also some long-term effects, including:

  • Difficulty trusting others: Gaslighting can create a sense of distrust and suspicion, often making it difficult for victims to form new relationships or trust new people.
  • Difficulty asserting oneself: Gaslighting can also make it difficult for victims to stand up for themselves or their beliefs, as they may have been repeatedly told that their views are wrong or “unrealistic.”

If you think that you are a victim of gaslighting, it is important to seek professional help. Gaslighters can be very convincing, and they may even deny that their behavior is abusive. You should not feel like you need to deal with this issue on your own. There are mental health professionals who can offer support and help victims recover from the effects of this form of abuse.