Gaslighting is a form of intimidation or psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and perception.

The classic example of gaslighting is to change things in a person’s environment without their knowledge, and to explain that they “must be imagining things” when they challenge these changes.

Gaslighting Explained

The term derives from the 1938 stage play Gaslight, in which a wife’s concerns about the dimming of her house’s gas lights are dismissed by her husband as the work of her imagination, when he is actually fully aware of the reason for their dimming. This is part of a wider pattern of deception in which the husband manipulates small elements of his wife’s environment, and insists that she is mistaken or misremembering, when she challenges them.

One psychological definition of gaslighting is “an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim – having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.”

Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that is difficult to recognize and even harder to break free from.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or brainwashing where one individual attempts to get another individual to believe he/she is “crazy”. This is most often done through the denial of facts, events, or what one did or did not say. The gaslighter might also directly or indirectly imply that the individual is defective, crazy, or suffers from a mental illness. When this technique is used on someone, he or she may initially become frustrated that one is being told his or her memory or perceptions do not match reality. However, after a while, the individual beings to believe the gaslighter. He or she may start to believe that he or she is imagining things, has some kind of mental illness, or has a faulty memory. When one doubts his or her perceptions of reality, the gaslighter is able to control that person; he or she becomes completely dependent on the gaslighter for the “truth”.

Gaslighting abuser will also use plain old “denial.” The victim is forced to ask herself if she should even try anything as a next step because he listened to her logical, understandable, completely answerable question and simply said “Nope. Not me. Didn’t do it.” The Gaslighting victim is also left to deal with the fact he knowingly denied this, and what else could possibly be unknown to her.

Overall, the victim starts to realize she needs to be careful when relying on her own perceptions of life.

Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person. Gaslighting takes two – one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self, and the other, who needs the relationship to maintain her sense of self and is willing to acquiesce.

The Gaslight Effect happens when you find yourself second guessing your own reality, confused and uncertain of what you think, because you have allowed another to define reality and tell you what you think — and who you are. Gaslighting can be maddening in the early stages and soul destroying when it fully takes hold.

Gaslighting Examples

An example of gaslighting someone with the intent to frighten or intimidate them would be to break into their home while they’re away, and re-arrange their furniture or make some other sort of change in the environment, but to leave no trace of the break-in (i.e. no broken window or jimmied door lock) – thus making it clear to the person being gaslighted that they’re not secure in their own home, and that the perpetrator is anonymous and can come and go unannounced (thus adding additional dimensions of fear)…but as no evidence is left, the person might come across as “crazy” or “over-reacting” if they tried to tell someone else (i.e. a friend, or a law enforement officer).

As an example of gaslighting someone with the intent to make them question their own sanity for the purposes of causing them severe emotional distress, and also possibly with the intent to make others question the person’s sanity as well, gaslighting is perpetrated by a person known to the gaslightee. For example: an abusive and controlling husband who wants to manipulate his wife into questioning her own sanity and experience the severe emotional distress that results, changes things in the home environment — he moves her keys from where she knows (or thinks she knows) she left them, after she changes a light bulb he puts the burned-out one back in the socket, etc.; and when his wife says “gee, that’s odd, I could swear I remember doing XYZ”, he acts genuinely surprised and perhaps even insists that he saw her doing the opposite, etc.; it may sound harmless, but with properly-chosen actions executed over a period of time, a person can be worn down.

This could also be played out by the gaslighter in such a way so as to make the gaslightee appear to others as though they’re “losing their mind”, for reasons such as getting a court to declare the gaslightee mentally incompetent and grant custody of his/her estate and finances to the gaslighter, for obvious sinister reasons.

Another form of gaslighting – called triangulation gaslighting – involves emotionally manipulating the gaslightee, as well as causing his/her sanity or competence to be called into question, with the involvement of an unwitting third party.     This form of gaslighting has been used to great effect as a plot device in horror novels and films, often in a situation where a woman or child is held captive and tortured by an evil man, then escapes and tries to tell law enforcement officers or other third parties, but isn’t believed or is thought of as “crazy”. In these cases, the gaslightee is manipulated into a lose-lose position where either (a) they say nothing and continue suffering abuse, or (b) they try to tell a third party but the only result is that they cause their own sanity to be called into question because they sound “crazy”, effectively shifting suspicion and blame away from the gaslighter.

Gaslighting can also play out in a “quote me and I’ll deny it” form, whereby (for example) the gaslighter exposes him/herself to the gaslightee as having done something evil – then, when the gaslightee repeats it in front of the gaslighter and third parties in an attempt to expose the gaslighter, the gaslighter acts genuinely surprised and confused and denies everything, thus making the gaslightee appear to be paranoid or malicious or “crying wolf”. This is especially effective if there is no evidence of the gaslighter’s evil deed, thus making it his/her word against the gaslightee’s – which isn’t worth much in the eyes of the third parties, since the gaslightee just appeared to discredit him/herself.

2 thoughts on “GASLIGHTING: Explained

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