What Is…Gaslighting?

Content warning: Emotional abuse

Because of other things I felt I needed to cover on this blog, the “what is” blog series took a bit of a backseat for a couple of months. However, I feel that it’s important to continue with this series, as I still have some important terms to cover.

The term I’m covering today is gaslighting. As National Domestic Violence Awareness Month was in October, one of the months I was hoping to do a “what is” post but was unable to because of election-related topics, I felt that gaslighting—which can happen in abusive relationships, including ones with domestic violence—was worth covering next.

But what is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is “a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.”[1]

Phrases like the following can be commonplace in gaslighting:

Of course that didn’t happen. You’re being crazy.”

“Your mind must be playing games.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

Regardless of what sorts of phrases or sentences are used in gaslighting, there can be one or more techniques involved when someone is gaslighting someone else, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Withholding: The person doing the gaslighting does not listen to what the victim is saying or pretends not to understand.
  • Countering: What this means is that the gashlighter is countering the gaslighting victim’s understanding of events, as if the gaslighter is trying to make someone question or doubt the way things happened.
  • Blocking/Diverting: The person doing the gaslighting is trying to change to a different subject and/or question than what the victim is thinking.
  • Trivializing: The person doing the gaslighting tries to make it sound as if the actions of the abuser are no big deal.
  • Forgetting/Denial: The person doing the gaslighting either pretends to forget what was done to the victim and/or denies what the gaslighter is accused of doing.

The questioning of one’s reality that can happen with consistently being a victim of gaslighting can become extremely dangerous. Victims of gaslighting can find themselves second-guessing things, feeling confused, and struggling to make decisions that would usually be simple, among other things.[2]

Speaking from a personal point of view, I know people who have been victims of gaslighting, particularly gaslighting in the context of romantic relationships. Therefore, knowing about it is so incredibly important because knowing about gaslighting is a way of understanding the experiences of friends or family members who have been victims of/survivors of abusive relationships that involve it. That’s not to say that it can’t happen in contexts outside of romantic relationships, but most of the contexts I’ve heard gaslighting in have been in romantic relationships.

Additionally, I’ve been aware of situations where someone was being emotionally abused but did not quite have the words to describe how they were experiencing emotional abuse. Spreading awareness of what gaslighting is can also hopefully help more abused individuals realize what they are going through, so that they know what steps to take.

While talk of abusive romantic relationships often centers around physically abusive relationships, some relationships, both romantic ones and non-romantic ones, can also be emotionally abusive. One of the common forms of emotional abuse in relationships is gaslighting. Therefore, while gaslighting is a term that may not be understood by many, it is a term that should be understood by more people.

If any of the signs of gaslighting exist for you, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (United States) at 1-800-799-7233 or chat with them online 24/7/365. If you don’t live in the United States, please contact your country’s equivalent of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States.

[1] My definition comes from here: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-gaslighting-how-do-you-know-if-it-s-happening-ncna890866

[2] https://www.thehotline.org/2014/05/29/what-is-gaslighting/

24 Replies to “What Is…Gaslighting?”

  1. Thank you for this post. I didn’t know what the term was until just a few years ago. In hindsight, I was a victim of gaslighting by some subtle bullies whom I thought were friends. They would say I’m overanalyzing things, being too sensitive or deny bad things they’ve said or done to me. If I knew then what I know now, I would verbally destroy them and call them out for being abusive pieces of crap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. One of the awful things about gaslighting is that it can happen without your even being fully aware (or aware at all) of what’s going on–something that struck me while learning about this topic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. That is so true and I didn’t even think about the times I was gaslighted (gaslit?) when I was younger until really going in-depth of the ways it could happen to someone.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent and very informative post, Brendan. There is a 1944 movie titled Gaslight starring ingrid Bergman and I don’t remember who else that is an excellent study of this concept. And it is used in politics as well as in romantic relationships, with the one doing the gaslighting in either context typically having a narcissistic personality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jill. One of the things I’m noticing in a couple of the comments is the references to political gaslighting, which I am pretty convinced we’ve been through. And thanks for informing me about the movie–I wasn’t aware of the movie.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve written about this same subject and seen it first hand with many people. It’s frightening to think that someone can be so manipulative. That’s the key to gaslighting is the fact that the abuser accepts even less responsibility in that the victim thinks they’re going crazy. The issues of trust can be blown up for a very long time. Thanks Brendan for sharing this and making people more aware of it. Don’t hesitate to link over to mine too if you like.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Brendan. I appreciate the link i agree with you wholeheartedly! It’s so scary and a lot more prevalent than I think we realize! I’ll copy your link and put it in the comments as well. Thx Brendan. Keep writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for talking about gaslighting, the invisible abuse. The blows to self confidence for the abused person and the control of the abuser over them is a painful situation. I was lucky to escape a situation like that and rebuild. It also can happen in families.

    Liked by 1 person

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