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Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse in which the abuser denies the victim’s reality, causing him/her to question him/herself, his/her memory, or his/her perceptions. Gaslighting is also sometimes used more broadly to refer to provoking someone into inappropriate behavior.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a way for abusers to cause victims to question themselves, thus drawing attention away from the abuse. For example, a person might insist that their partner called them names, yelled at them, or broke their possessions. The partner could gaslight them by denying that these things ever happened, stating that he or she did the same thing or emphasizing that he or she did these things because of some serious transgression on his/her part. The term is also sometimes used to apply to the use of inflammatory behavior or language to provoke someone to behave in an uncharacteristic way.
The term originates with a 1938 play called “Gas Light.” In the play, a woman’s husband tries to convince her she is crazy by making small changes in her environment–for example, by insisting that dimming gas lights do not look dim to him.
Effects of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can have catastrophic effects for a victim’s psychological health, particularly when gaslighting occurs over a long period in a close relationship. Victims may begin to believe they are the cause of an abuser’s aggression. They may also question their own perceptions, stop seeking help, become withdrawn, and increase their dependence on an abuser. Gaslighting can play a role in the inability of abuse victims to leave their abusers and the tendency of victims to blame themselves. Victims of gaslighting may behave in ways that appear “crazy” because they have learned that they cannot trust their perceptions and cannot count on getting their thoughts and feelings validated.
Last updated: 04-29-2013