Gaslighting in Contexts Other Than Relationships

I was absolutely overwhelmed with the response to my “what is” post last week about gaslighting. I never know when a post will resonate with my readers, and I could tell that my post resonated with quite a few of you. It’s unfortunate that so many related to the post because of their experiences as victims of gaslighting, but I’m also hopeful that some people will come to a better understanding of their experiences through reading that post.

However, I think it is worth doing a follow-up post because of things I’ve learned even since last Monday, and things people should learn as well, about gaslighting in contexts other than one-on-one relationships with other people.

In saying this, it is worth remembering that 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:

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.”

These challenges to one’s reality, memory, and perceptions happen a lot in relationships, as I said in my post last Monday, but they can also happen in other contexts.

One other context in which gaslighting can happen is politics—something that a couple of the comments in response to my post pointed out last Monday. When a politician makes a person, or a whole group of people, question their own reality, that is political gaslighting. In fact, as controversial as it may be for me to say this, I think that the American people are a victim of President Donald Trump’s gaslighting regarding the election results—he is trying to get the entire country to doubt the basic reality that he lost, so that he could be president for four more years (or for life). Thankfully, no amount of gaslighting can result in giving Trump an election that he undoubtedly lost, but in the meantime the American people have to deal with the fact that he has successfully convinced a group of people of a reality that simply does not exist. And, when you have someone with a large platform who engages in an act of political gaslighting, the result is that a group of people gets convinced of a reality that does not exist (as is the case here with the election and President Trump).

Yet another context that gaslighting can exist is in the experiences of people with disabilities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups that face discrimination. Reading a post from Jackie at Disability & Determination helped me recognize that gaslighting absolutely exists in this context. Jackie’s post talked about gaslighting in the context of the disability community—it is painfully common in the disability community for someone to question or doubt the reality that there are certain things you aren’t able to do, or at least not do in the same way, as an able-bodied individual (or dismiss the reality of the disability in general). It can exist in the context of LGBTQ+ individuals through people who counter their perceptions of their sexual or gender identity, in the context of Black people through people who try to divert attention to how difficult they also have things in life, in the context of poor people by countering any notion that they are working hard yet struggling to still get by (saying that they simply need to work harder), and much more. Groups of people face discrimination and are gaslit about their own experiences of discrimination—a double whammy.

There may be other major manifestations of gaslighting that I did not cover either in last week’s post or this post; if so, please let me know in the comments section below. However, it is clear to me now that in addition to gaslighting rearing its ugly head in relationships, it can also rear its ugly head in other forms, such as in politics and the experiences of people in groups that face discrimination.

[1] My definition comes from here:

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: