Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to doubt their own sanity, perception of reality, or recollections by making them question their own vision of reality or memories. People who have been subjected to gaslighting frequently report feeling confused, frightened, and unable to trust themselves.
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fueled lights and telling her she is hallucinating.
This article examines frequent examples, indicators, and causes of gaslighting as well as how to avoid being a victim of it. We also explore how to respond to gaslighting and when it is necessary to seek professional assistance.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting happens when someone seeks to acquire control over another person by manipulating their emotions. It is a behaviour that someone picks up via observing others. Unbelievably, an abusive person may believe that they have the right to control others, or that their thoughts or beliefs are the most important.
Personality problems, such as narcissistic personality disorder(NPD) , are also present in some abusive individuals. Many people use the term narcissist to describe someone who is too concerned with themselves or their appearance. However, while anyone can exhibit narcissistic characteristics, according to a 2020 article, persons suffering from NPD experience long-term symptoms such as:
- a constant need for admiration or attention
- a belief that they are special or better than everyone else
- a lack of empathy
It is common for gaslighting to develop gradually, making it difficult for someone to recognise. Techniques for gaslighting someone according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline include the following:
- Countering: This indicates a situation in which someone is doubting someone’s memories. “You never remember things correctly,” or “are you sure?,” they may say. “You have a horrible sense of humour.”
- Withholding; When someone withholds their participation in a discourse, they are refusing to participate. A person who employs this strategy may appear to be unable to comprehend someone in order to avoid having to answer to that person. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” they might remark, or “you’re simply trying to confuse me,” they might say.
- Trivializing: This occurs when a person dismisses or disregards the feelings of another individual. They may criticise them of being overly sensitive or of overreacting while they are expressing legitimate concerns and emotions.
- Denial: Denial is the act of a person pretending to forget about past events or the circumstances surrounding them. They may deny having said or done something, or they may accuse someone else of making things up to justify their actions.
- Diverting: With this strategy, a person shifts the focus of a discussion away from themselves and instead doubts the other person’s trustworthiness. “That is just another insane idea you heard from your friends,” they might say, as an example.
- Stereotyping: According to an article published in the American Sociological Review, a person who employs gaslighting techniques may purposefully utilise unfavourable preconceptions about a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, or age to manipulate that individual. For example, they may mislead a female that if she gets treatment for abuse, everyone will think she is irrational or insane.
While anyone can be subjected to gaslighting, it is most common in personal relationships and social situations where there is an imbalance of power between the two parties involved.
Persons experiencing abuse are those who are on the receiving end of this type of behaviour.
Relationships with intimate partners
An abusive partner may falsely accuse someone of being illogical or insane in order to isolate them, damage their confidence, and make them easier to manipulate and manipulate back. For example, they might tell someone again and over again that they are forgetful until the victim begins to believe them.
Gaslighting is a technique used by abusive caregivers to shame or control children. They may accuse them of being overly sensitive in order to minimise their feelings, or of misremembering incidents that occurred when they were younger, among other things.
CPTSD Foundation states that medical gaslighting happens when a doctor or other medical practitioner ignores or trivialises a patient’s medical concerns on the grounds that they are mentally ill. In some cases, they may inform the victim that their symptoms are “all in their head.”
According to a 2009 study, doctors were twice as likely as middle-aged men to ascribe coronary heart disease symptoms to mental health issues than they were to attribute coronary heart disease symptoms to mental health conditions.
Racial gaslighting is defined as the application of gaslighting techniques to an entire group of people based on their race or ethnicity, according to an essay published in Politics, Group, and Identities.
Example: Someone may assert that a specific group suffers prejudice despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or they may blame civil rights advocates for being overly emotional in order to undercut their message.
According to an essay in the upcoming edition of the Buffalo Law Review, political gaslighting happens when a political figure or group utilises lies, denials, or manipulation of information to dominate the public’s perception of them.
Examples include downplaying or concealing things that their administration has done incorrectly, dismissing political opponents on the basis of mental instability, or utilising controversy to shift attention away from crucial events in their administration.
The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing published a paper on institutional gaslighting, which describes how it can occur within a firm or organisation. It is possible for a company to withhold or conceal information, deceive to employees about their rights, or characterise whistle-blowers who expose problems within the organisation as incompetent or mentally ill.
Signs of gaslighting
Individuals who have been subjected to gaslighting frequently find it difficult to recognise that they are the victims of abuse. They may not challenge the abusive person’s behaviour because they are in a position of authority or because they believe they are depending on the abusive individual.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a person who is the victim of gaslighting may experience the following:
- feel confused and constantly second-guess themselves
- find it difficult to make simple decisions
- frequently question if they are too sensitive
- become withdrawn or unsociable
- constantly apologize to the abusive person
- defend the abusive person’s behavior
- lie to family and friends to avoid having to make excuses for them
- feel hopeless, joyless, worthless, or incompetent
What to do in response
Because gaslighting has a substantial influence on mental health, it is critical for persons who have been subjected to it to ensure that they are taking good care of themselves.
Obtaining evidence may serve to reassure a person that they are not deluding themselves. Additionally, this proof may prove to be beneficial in the future if a person decides to take legal action against the abusive individual.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides suggestions on how to acquire evidence of domestic violence. These are some examples:
- Keeping a secret diary: This allows a person to track events, including the date, time, and details of what happened.
- Talking to a trusted family member, friend, or counselor: This may help someone gain an outside perspective on the situation and to create an external, additional record of information.
- Taking pictures: This can also help someone “fact check” their memories and remind themselves that they are not imagining things.
- Keeping voice memos: Using a cell phone or device to describe events is a quick way for someone to record something that just happened in their own words. Always check state laws on recordings before using them in court.
A person who lives with an abusive individual must make certain that whatever evidence they obtain is kept private and that they delete their search history after looking up information on gaslighting or other forms of abusive behaviour. A person can do the following:
- store evidence in a hidden location
- buy a second phone or a cheap voice recorder
- keep devices locked away
- send records to a trusted individual so that a person can delete personal copies
Additionally, people can devise a safety plan, which includes strategies for protecting themselves from physical and emotional abuse before to entering, during, and after leaving a relationship or circumstance. In accordance with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a safety plan may include the following components:
- safe places and escape points
- the contact details of people someone can call upon for help
- self-care activities that help someone to cope
- a plan for safely leaving the abusive situation
When to look for help
According to a set of recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), acts of emotional abuse, such as gaslighting, are more likely to occur in domestic relationships than other types of violence.
Gaslighting can progress to the point of physical violence over time. Anyone who suspects they are being abused by a spouse or a family member should seek professional help immediately.
A person might seek advice and assistance from domestic abuse organisations in order to put together a safety plan. When it comes to the mental health consequences of gaslighting, it may be beneficial to speak privately with a therapist who has expertise working with people who are in abusive relationships.
Gaslighting is a type of abuse in which someone is made to question their sanity or perceptions by another person. It typically occurs in relationships and social interactions in where there is a power imbalance between the parties.
When a person is subjected to gaslighting, they may feel confused, withdrawn, worried, or defensive in response to the abusive person’s actions. It is possible that they are unaware that their behaviour is abusive.
People who have been subjected to gaslighting can find safe ways to capture evidence of the abuse and develop a safety plan to keep themselves and others safe from further harm. A domestic violence organisation or a mental health professional may be able to assist someone who is experiencing abuse to leave or recover.