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Gaslighting        
 

Woman covering face with hands, looking downGaslighting is a colloquial term that describes 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. The term gaslighting is also sometimes used to apply to the use of inflammatory behavior or language that provokes someone to behave in an uncharacteristic way.

What Is Gaslighting?

The term originates with a 1938 play called “Gas Light.” In the play, a woman’s husband tries to convince her that she is mentally unstable by making small changes in her environment—for example, by insisting that the gas lights he dimmed do not look dim to him and by hiding her belongings.

 

Gaslighting is often used an abusive tactic by those with narcissistic and psychopathic personalities, and it can happen without actual environmental manipulation. The aim of the abuse is to make the victim doubt his/her perception of reality, and gaslighting tactics can be entirely verbal or emotional.

 

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Often, victims of this abuse may start out by challenging the perpetrator, who then turns the situation around by gaslighting them. In doing so, he or she causes the victim to question themselves and in doing so, draws attention away from the abuse. For example, someone might claim that his or her partner engaged in name-calling, yelling, or breaking of that person’s possessions. The partner might avoid taking the blame with gaslighting techniques such as denying that the events ever took place, or pointing out that other person’s transgressions were at fault.

 

An individual may gaslight another by:

  • Refusing to listen to any concerns or pretending not to understand them.
  • Questioning his or her memory, denying that events occurred in the way the victim (accurately) remembers.
  • Changing the subject to divert the victim’s attention from a topic, trivializing their concerns.
  • Pretending to forget things that have happened to further discredit the victim.
  • Denying events have taken place, claiming that the victim is making them up

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. The process is often gradual and can seem harmless at first, but eventually, victims may begin to believe they are the cause of the perpetrator’s aggression. They may also question their own perceptions, stop seeking help, withdraw from friends and family, and become more dependent on an abuser, both because he or she now defines the victim’s reality, but also because the victim may come to fear that others will believe in the abuser’s version of reality and consider the victim to be mentally unstable.

 

Because this form of abuse often leads to increased dependence on the perpetrator, those who are being abused may blame themselves and experiencing difficulty in leaving their abuser. People who are victims of gaslighting may behave in ways that cause them to appear unstable because they have learned that they cannot trust their perceptions and cannot count on the validation of their thoughts or feelings.

Recognizing Gaslighting

Often, once an individual recognizes that someone is using gaslighting techniques, he or she may be able to regain faith in their own reality and perceptions. A person who has been a victim of gaslighting may benefit from reforming any relationships he or she pulled back from as a result of being abused. Having the trust and support of others can help reinforce trust in oneself and may also help provide the courage needed to break unhealthy bonds. Those who have experienced gaslighting may also wish to seek therapy in order to reinforce their sense of reality.

 

References:

  1. Firth, S. (n.d.). What is gaslighting? The Week. Retrieved from http://theweek.com/article/index/239659/what-is-gaslighting.
  2. Gaslighting. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/Gaslighting.html.
  3. Tracy, N. (n.d.). Gaslighting definition, techniques and being gaslighted. Healthy Place. Retrieved from http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/gaslighting-definition-techniques-and-being-gaslighted.
  4. What Is Gaslighting? (2014, May 29). Retrieved from http://www.thehotline.org/2014/05/what-is-gaslighting.

Last updated: 04-21-2015

 
Comments
  • mary August 13th, 2014 at 9:19 AM #1

    a great article

  • Ellen April 2nd, 2015 at 12:20 PM #2

    I would like to know if “gas lighting” is intentional or such an integrated part of this mental condition that is just how a narcissist behaves. Do they have malice of forethought?

  • Thomas D April 4th, 2015 at 4:27 PM #3

    Yes. People who Gas Light others are doing it intentionally. They do it in order to control the individual or disrupt the person’s mental state to the point where they are no longer regarded as being of sound mind.

  • Thomas D April 4th, 2015 at 4:29 PM #4

    Watch this movie…

    imdb.com/title/tt0036855/

  • JULIE S April 9th, 2015 at 3:39 AM #5

    Errie to read this when you have been a target.

  • Nicole April 14th, 2015 at 9:21 PM #6

    I broke free from my sons father a huge overt narcissist who was using all of these techniques. As soon as I got away from him, another narcissist found me when I was at my weakest and now I’ve been caught up in his secrets, lies and manipulations, false realities, false truths(even worse than before). The second time around has been worse, back to back abusers have taken a toll on me, but I am taking my power back. The second “Narc” is a covert, sneaky one and full of secrets and lies…much worse than the grandiose, overt one I encountered prior (my son’s father). These people will ruin your life and take your soul. Only option is to run very far away. I am so glad I have started to educate myself. Articles like these help lots.

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