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.

 

Find a Therapist

Advanced Search
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

Gaslighting may also be subtler or even unintentional. Dismissals such as “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” and “Come on, it was just a joke!” are less obvious forms of emotional manipulation that, when offered in response to a valid reaction, have the effect of conditioning others into believing their emotions, reactions, and feelings are not valid and are, in fact, excessive.

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.

 

DC1-02-gaslightingBecause 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. They are also less likely to continue to voice their emotions and feelings, knowing that they are likely to be invalidated.

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: 06-2-2015

  • 17 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • mary

    August 13th, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    a great article

  • Ellen

    April 2nd, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    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

    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

    Watch this movie…

    imdb.com/title/tt0036855/

  • JULIE S

    April 9th, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    Errie to read this when you have been a target.

  • Nicole

    April 14th, 2015 at 9:21 PM

    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.

  • Shary

    May 6th, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    Good article. When a person recognizes gaslighting, it becomes the harmless load of horse manure that it really is. This makes the task of getting rid of the gaslighter a lot easier. Such people are not and never will be candidates for a healthy relationship.

  • Ron

    May 19th, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    I have been gas lit. I woke up one day to realize that everything I believed in was false. I didn’t know the answers to anything. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I was lost. I walked around for a month in my grief trying to understand anything or everything. I had wasted my last 9 years of my life working and building something in a relationship that just didn’t exist. Wow am I crazy??? I had a thought about three weeks ago that confirms everything that I have read about gaslighting. It was what a man I was when I first traveled this road to her place. I wish I was that man again. I feel very uneasy when I go there now because that is where the abuse took place. I was gaslit by my wife, her three children, her sister, brother and father. I have only found this term of gaslighting 2 days ago but everything that I read answers questions that I felt but couldn’t ask

  • Gary

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:50 PM

    Well, well…..

    My wife lies to me, every day, and with almost everything she says. She has no idea of the damage this causes, or if she knows, doesn’t care.

    A couple of months ago, she shoved our dog away from leaping on our daughter, but when I said it was up to our daughter to look after herself, my wife told me flat out that she had NOT touched the dog. Nothing major – just an example of my total unreliability on reality.

    Because she is my wife, I believe what she says, and I seriously have been slowly going crazy. My reality is tempered by her lying, and she cannot stop. I try to reconcile her statements with what I see, and the two are incompatible.

    Issue is – I love her when she is not lying. It is periodic, and I suppose when she is feeling good about herself it stops. I do not want to lose her – naturally the courts will believe her bullshit and I then lose my kids as well.

    What do I do?

  • Ron

    June 23rd, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    It’s been a little over a month now since I wrote the article and realized what gas lighting is. I feel anger at myself for letting this happen. The knowledge of being gas light has helped tremendously. I found that it doesn’t do any good to try to communicate with the person that was gas lighting you – about gas lighting. They’ll try to gas light you about being gas light! Denial seems to be her defense. I also watch other defenses of being the perpetrator to depressed and down trodden to the victim. What a mess this is. Gas lighting isn’t working for her on me any longer

  • Ron

    June 23rd, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    Thanks

  • James

    June 25th, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    Thank you so much for this article. I just discovered this term today. I ended a relationship with an emotional terrorist just three days ago. I am thinking so much clearer already. The pretending not to understand tactic was the one he used the most on me. Basically playing dumb and making me explain every detail of every decision I made. Then questioning me further. I was so tired of explaining the same things over and over. It made me feel like I was being mean because I would tell my friends what a dumb ass he was because he couldn’t keep up with my logic and reasoning. But now I see how that person was using gaslighting as a tactic to tire me out mentally and emotionally to the point that I would submit. I had told my mom two years ago I thought I was in emotionally abusive relationship and ended it then. But I went back for more. Then ended it again in February. So I went back twice to the gaslighter. Never again. Onward and upward!

  • Jennifer

    June 29th, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    Wow!! A friend recently told me about gaslighting. I looked it up on the internet. How scary! This happened to me years ago, and has happened to me for the last five years. I dated this guy who, when I looked at his dating history, dates newly separated women. Little did I know, but he was carrying on relationships with a few women at the same time he was engaged to me. The most horrifying thing was that these women all knew he was with me. I suppose they were all being galighted, as well. He would deny doing things or saying things that I actually witnesses. I would have temper tantrums, practically stomping my feet, saying the things DID occur. He would just sit there calmy, smiling, saying they didn’t. It took me a long time to get over him. I continued to date narcissists, even one who could not say “I love you”. Instead, he said that when he kissed me on the forehead, that meant that he was saying “I love you”. Hilarious, looking back. I just recently ended a five year relationship with yet another one. He just played dumb all the time. In the end, he would just say things that he knew were pushing my buttons. He would sit there with a smile on his face, knowing what he was doing. He seemed to say, with his smile, “Mission accomplished”. It’s frightening what people are capable of doing. Good luck, everybody. I have a long road of recovery… again.

  • Teresa

    June 30th, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    I was in a 22 year relationship with a np.The things he had done and was continuing to do to me were unfathomable. I lived with a man I never really knew. The truth was devastating. I’m still in a state of total disbelief. I have children with him so I can’t do the no contact rule.He is pure evil. People don’t believe you because it just seems impossible than anyone could be living the life they do.

  • jkm

    July 1st, 2015 at 9:42 PM

    well the thorn and resistance grows bigger doesn’t it? That’s what they don’t understand… It’s sick what some people do to others…. In the USA people are shallow it seems and treat other people as used furniture to use and when they are done throw away unless the person recognizes it and dumps them. People will drive you into debt and work evil and attempt to plunder you and profit and hurt you in every way and follow you where you go for no other reason or befriend you for no other reason…And there’s a lot of Gas lighters who can only think what’s in it for me? If there wasn’t anything to gain they’d bypass you and go to someone else to do it to. If you seem like someone who will put up with everything it makes you a target of abusive men.. If you resist and stand up for yourself and values and refuse to tolerate abuse it makes you less attractable to abuser men and sociopaths.. Have you read Dr. O’Hare sociopath next door… A lot of the abuser type charismatic abuser types are indeed dangerous sociopaths… If he’s abusive to you then apparently he is a danger to not only you but your kids too and shouldn’t be near them or you…

  • jkm

    July 1st, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    It’s love, care, consideration, manners, respect, dignity, ethics, good actions, deep meaningful relations not shallow users, good behavior and treatment not provocation not coerceration, not gas lighting not abusive treatment that shrinks the thorn people wear to protect themselves from being trampled and abused… Its people who are hurt that generate thorns to protect themselves and who hurt others even sometimes…. I cant believe how shallow and back stabbing two-faced liars, and users of people and gas lighters and ever abuse there is is practiced by people in the general population, spouses, even the so called professionals in the USA practice such actions to others…. Well I can make my own medicine and don’t need the lousy so called professional doctors for anything… The truth of the matter is people are better off without the trashy users, shallow abusers, gas lighters and every negative behaved abuser person there is , leave them for other abusers and people just like themselves…

  • Ron

    July 2nd, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    Question: do we try to fix our relationships or do we move on to create another? It seems so hard to end this relationship! Why? I know it’s not healthy for me. She can’t be honest with me. Just found that she’s carrying 2 personal phones and has been for months. She’s living a double life?? What happened to honesty? How can I have trust?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

2 Z k A

 

All fields are required.

Advanced Search
Sotry Image

Do you have a mental health story or experience that you wish to share? Whether your story is about therapy or psychiatry, self-help, personal healing, wellness, or a particular mental health condition or challenge, please consider contributing your written story to GoodTherapy.org!

Share Today

Recent Comments

  • GoodTherapy Admin: Thank you for your comment, A.F.. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more...
  • Fran: When I saw this I wasn’t thinking so much about it being a game where you make healthy choices and things like that. But I was thinking...
  • dolly k: Perhaps the better argument should be that kids thrive more in a two parent home. Now whether that is a home with same sex parents or...
  • Sara: I’m sorry, he told you that he would leave you if you could not support his hobby? Are you serious? I would not play 2nd fiddle to...
  • Carolee: The human body is indeed an amazing thing isn’t it?
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.