Domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person makes someone question their perception of reality, memories or sanity. The term comes from from the 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas lights and telling her she is hallucinating.
Gaslighting is about control and people who gaslight often have low self-worth/ esteem and want to feel a sense of control in their own lives by making others depend on them. The only way they can feel better is when they have that feeling of power over another person.
"In interpersonal relationships, the victimiser "needs to be right" in order to "preserve (their) own sense of self", and "(their) sense of having power in the world"; and the victim allows the victimizer to "define (their) sense of reality" inasmuch as the victim "idealized (them)" and "seeks (their) approval". It is a form of emotional abuse with an undertone of maintaining control." 1
People who gaslight sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. Other tactics include attempts to unbalance the victim and undermine their beliefs using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation. Additionally, the staging of elaborate or bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The goal of gaslighting is to gradually undermine the victim's confidence in their own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from delusion, thereby rendering the individual or group pathologically dependent on the gaslighter for their thinking and feelings.
People who experience gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. It may bring about changes in them, such as conflicting beliefs, values, attitudes, or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Gaslighting may also cause people to distrust themselves and feel scared and vulnerable.
Examples of gaslighting: 2
This describes a person questioning someone’s memories. They may say things such as, “you never remember things accurately,” or “are you sure? You have a bad memory.”
When someone withholds, they refuse to engage in a conversation. A person using this technique may pretend not to understand someone so that they do not have to respond to them. For example, they might say, “I do not know what you are talking about,” or “you are just trying to confuse me.”
This occurs when a person belittles or disregards the other person’s feelings. They may accuse them of being too sensitive or of overreacting when they have valid concerns and feelings.
Denial involves a person pretending to forget events or how they occurred. They may deny having said or done something or accuse someone of making things up.
With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion and questions the other person’s credibility instead. For example, they might say, “that is just another crazy idea you got from your friends.”
An article in the American Sociological Review states that a person using gaslighting techniques may intentionally use negative stereotypes of a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to manipulate them. For example, they may tell a female that people will think she is irrational or crazy if she seeks help for abuse.
4 Types of Gaslighting in a Family | Psychology Today | 6 Sep 2022
Trans people have bigger fish to fry, so stop giving gaslighting transphobes your headlines | Gay Times | 18 Sep 2020
What is ‘racial gaslighting’ – and why is it so damaging for people of colour? | Metro | 18 Jun 2020
10 Signs of Internalized Homophobia and Gaslighting | Psychology Today | 31 May 2020
Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter | BBC | 11 Jan 2018
Gaslighting: The 'perfect' romance that became a nightmare | BBC | 29 Nov 2017
10 Gaslighting Signs in an Abusive Relationship | Psych2Go | 8 Jan 2017 | 5m 14s↑ Back to top