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What is Gaslighting and How is it Abusive?

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.  It is an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality. Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting.  Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person's reality.


“You’re crazy – that never happened.”
“Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
“It’s all in your head.”


Do you repeatedly hear things like this?


Do you often start questioning your own perception of reality, even your own sanity, from your relationship partner, family or friends? If so, you may be the victim of what mental health professionals call “gaslighting.”


Gaslighting is a tactic frequently used by sociopaths.


Its effects occur gradually over time. Its insidious nature can mean many people who are being gaslighted find it impossible to accurately identify what has gone wrong.


The term comes from the 1938 stage play, Gas Light. 


The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the attic while searching for hidden treasure. The wife accurately notices the dimming lights and discusses the phenomenon, but the husband insists she is imagining a change in the level of illumination. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.


There are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive person may use on his victims:


Withholding: The abuser pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”


Countering: The abuser questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”


Blocking/Diverting: The abuser changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”


Trivializing: The abuser makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”


Forgetting/Denial: The abuser pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”


Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in abusive relationships.  


The abuser's actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.


In another type of gaslighting, the gaslighter is always transformed into the victim.


Whenever you bring up a problem, you find yourself apologizing by the end of the conversation.


How to overcome this type of abuse.


it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:


  • You constantly second-guess yourself.

  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.

  • You often feel confused and even crazy.

  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.

  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happy.

  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.

  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.

  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.

  • You have trouble making simple decisions.

  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.

  • You feel hopeless and joyless.

  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.

  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.


For more information on Gaslighting, click this link.  


To read a personal and informative account of survivor's story, Click here

What Is Gaslighting 

and how is it abusive?

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