Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, in which the abusive partner leads the victim to question their feelings, instincts and sanity. Through this process, the abusive partner breaks down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions. Consequently, the victim’s probability of staying in the abusive relationship increases.
The term Gaslighting comes from a 1938 play, Gaslight, in which the lead character tries to drive his wife crazy by making her question her sanity- this is accomplished by the husband dimming the (gas) lights at home, but denying that they have dimmed to his wife. The distinguishing feature of gaslighting is that the abuser not only controls the victim but also has them agree with the abusers point of view (Abramson, 2014).
Gaslighting is typically persistent and long term, and the abusers characteristically have trouble in identifying and expressing emotions, and also tend to have low self-worth.
Gaslighting is a gradual process, and may initially just seem like a misunderstanding of the perpetrators actions. However, these behaviours usually escalate over time, and the abusive behaviours cause the victim to feel anxious, depressed and isolated. Most alarmingly, over time as the victim becomes more distrustful of their perceptions, they start relying on the abusive partner to help define reality, making escape from the relationship more difficult. Gas lighting is especially common among victims of domestic abuse.
Gaslighters use a variety of techniques. These include:
- Withholding: In this technique, the abuser pretends not to understand or refuses to listen to the victim like– “You’re trying to confuse me”
- Countering: By employing this technique, the abuser tries to make the victim question their memory of events e.g. “You never remember things correctly”
- Trivialising: This strategy aims to undermine the victims needs or feelings e.g. “you’re too sensitive”
- Blocking/Diverting :The abuser changes the topic or questions the victims thoughts in this strategy e.g. “you’re imagining things”
- Forgetting/Denial: Through this technique, the abuser claims to forget or denies events or promises made to the victim e.g “you’re making stuff up”
Some of the signs of gaslighting are:
- Constantly second guessing yourself
- Constantly apologizing to your partner
- Feeling confused or crazy
- Asking yourself repeatedly if you're “too sensitive”
- Difficulty in making simple decisions
- Feeling as if you cannot do anything right
- Wondering if you are a good enough partner
It is extremely important for victims of gas lighting to learn about these signs, so that they can reach out and seek help and relearn how to trust themselves.
Abramson K (2014) Turning up the lights on gaslighting. Philos Perspect 28(1):1–30
Spear, A. (2018). Gaslighting, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11245-018-9611-z.pdf.
What is Gaslighting? - National Domestic Violence Hotline. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-gaslighting/.