What is gaslighting?

Vera Arsic/pexels.com Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the abuser attempts to sow confusion and self-doubt in their victim’s mind.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the abuser attempts to sow confusion and self-doubt in their victim’s mind. The term gaslighting comes from the Alfred Hitchcock film Gaslight. In this film a man tries to convince his wife she is going insane so he can steal from her. When he turns on the lights in the attic to look for her jewelry, the gas lights dim downstairs. He tells her she is just imagining the dimming lights. Eventually she begins to question her own perceptions and memories.

Gaslighting is a covert form of emotional abuse on which the abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgements or reality.

Gaslighting can happen in romantic relationships, but also with friends, family members or in the workplace. It is a manipulative tactic causing the survivor to question their own reality.

This occurs by the abuser questioning facts, denying memories the survivor has, undermining their judgement and bullying them into believing the abuser’s version of reality.

This can lead to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, depression, anxiety, isolation, loss of hope and dependence on the abuser, known as trauma bonding.

Gaslighting behaviors include lying about or denying something and refusing to admit to lying even when you show them proof, insisting an event or behavior you witnessed never happened, or that you are remembering it wrong, changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behavior, telling you that you are overreacting when you call them out, saying if you acted differently they wouldn’t treat you like this so it’s your fault (blame shifting), trying to smooth things over with loving words that do not match their actions, twisting a story to minimize their abusive behavior, minimizing hurtful behavior by saying “You’re just too sensitive” or “It was just a joke.”

Signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include having trouble making even simple decisions, constantly second -guessing yourself, trying to convince yourself that it isn’t that bad, walking on eggshells around the other person, feeling lonely and trapped, doubting your own memory and sanity, staying silent rather than saying what you think or believe, being on edge and feeling threatened all the time, and thinking you can’t do anything right.

If you feel you are a victim of gaslighting it helps to talk to a friend or therapist. It also helps to keep a journal or record of things that happened so you can go back to assure yourself that something in fact did happen. Collect evidence that will dispute your doubt later such as screen shots of text messages, and dates and times of arguments, along with what was said.

The bottom-line question, of course, is do you want to continue in a situation where gaslighting is happening? You see, you cannot argue with a gaslighter. They will not respond to logic or admit their true motivation. If your conversations with a partner, family member or colleague turns into an opportunity to insult you or question your sanity or ability, step away from the discussion and the relationship if possible. 

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.