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What is Gaslighting?

CW: Discussion of abuse

Writer: Erin

Gaslighting is defined as a type of manipulation and emotional abuse in which the survivor is systematically led to question their perception of reality, memory, and/or sanity. The term, originating from the play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton and later the adapted film by George Cukor under the same title, has grown to its popularity after making multiple appearances in both literature and political articles. Its subtle nature causes it to be easily overlooked and brushed off, leading the survivor to subconsciously surrender to the tactics of the abuser. When there’s the repetition of this abusive behavior, the survivor is left feeling or seeming ‘crazy’. Unfortunately, gaslighting can occur in romantic, familial, and professional relationships; all of which possess an unequal power dynamic to make gaslighting successful. Perpetrators of gaslighting will utilize this tactic to prevent the survivor from leaving the relationship and/or to attain power over the other that’s present in the relationship. It is important to note that although anyone, regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, and financial status can be subjected to this method of manipulation, gaslighting thrives when there’s the involvement of social inequalities such as gender-based stereotypes.

It is strenuous for both parties (the gaslighter and gaslighted) to withdraw from the relationship; it requires the gaslighter to be exceedingly self-aware of their behavior, and the survivor may struggle to determine the credibility of an event that has taken place to serve as evidence of gaslighting. If they have been gaslighted over an extended period of time, they risk blurring the boundaries of truth and fabrication, which is the ultimate goal of a gaslighter.

Unfortunately, as is the case for most abusive relationships, there are both long-term and short-term consequences as a result of the detrimental actions of the perpetrator. Listed below are examples of effects that survivors may suffer from gaslighting:

  • losing trust/confidence in their own judgment and perception of reality

  • blaming themselves for imposing too much trust in the perpetrator

  • abandoning the idea that people are generally ‘good’

  • lacking self-confidence and self-worth

  • socially isolating and/or withdrawing

  • being reluctant to construct/participate in new relationships

Learning about gaslighting techniques makes it easier to identify and spot signs earlier on in the relationship. The most frequently used methods of gaslighters are…

  • Withholding: They refuse to acknowledge and understand what the survivor is currently experiencing (ex. “I won’t be listening to all this nonsense that you’re spewing out”)

  • Countering: They convince that the survivor’s memory is wrong, even when they have remembered correctly what had happened (ex. “Remember when you claimed that I did this, and it turns out you were wrong”). Over time, the survivor starts spiraling into a tunnel of self-doubt,

  • Blocking/Diverting: They change the subject and focus on questioning the survivor’s state of mind/thoughts (ex. “That’s all in your head” or “Stop making things up, you’re just doing this to hurt me, aren’t you?”)

  • Trivializing: They try to persuade the survivor into thinking their opinion/feelings/thoughts are insignificant (ex. “You’re really going to let this affect our relationship?”)

  • Forgetting/Denial: They feign to forget situations that have actually taken place in the past, or deny things like promises that they have made to the survivor (ex. “What are you talking about?” or “Come on, that never happened.”)

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing events similar to the examples mentioned above, reach out by calling 1-800-799-7233 or texting “START” to 88788 to access the National Domestic Violence Hotline: both services are strictly confidential, accessible seven days a week, and at no cost. In addition, if you’re looking for information such as safety tips, crisis support resources/hotlines, and a list of safe places to stay awhile, visit ‘The Hub’ section in BOLT Safety’s platform.

Here are the resources that we’ve used for this article, feel free to check them out to learn more about gaslighting:

Disclaimer: Please note that our team is not claiming expertise in the topics discussed on our platforms, and we endeavor to verify any published information with reliable sources and community experts and organizations. Any content on our platforms should not replace advice given to you by professionals, and you are using our information, resources, and programs at your own risk. Please contact us if you see an error so that we can investigate the matter and make corrections where necessary.

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