What is gaslighting?

By Alka Writes


Gaslighting is a form of manipulation which alters the target's perception of reality. Unfortunately the term has been used a little indiscriminately in pop culture and thus is often misunderstood.

When one or two small details about incidents or situations are altered in the subsequent description by a manipulator in order to control the ongoing narrative, that is gas lighting.

In any relationship, history and reality are shared experiences. Most adults accept that their point of view and memory may be completely different from what another person experienced, and empathy involves allowing the differences to be respected. Thus the 'past' is often some reasonable compromise of narratives negotiated by the partners. This is part of being in a mature loving relationship. However if one partner has a need to control the narrative, an easy way to do this is to be the one defining the reality. This is done either by changing facts or interpreting behaviors to introduce self doubt, and then guilt or shame in their target.

Gaslighting gets its name from the 1944 melodrama “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten. In that movie, Gregory continually dims and brightens the gaslights in the townhouse he shares with his new wife, Paula, only to deny having done so when she complains about the fluctuating light. She comes to believe she might be insane, and nearly dies as she reacts hysterically to the manipulation.

Gaslighting is usually minor enough initially that the target doesn't insist on a correction, but over time, it causes two long term negative effects.

1. It causes the target to doubt their own senses or perceptions.

2. It causes memory issues and confusion, causing the target to either become fuzzy in their account of things or feel angry and reactive because facts don't match what they think they know.

Techniques of gaslighting:

***Not allowing discussion

Withholding: denying the target a chance to question the narrative. "Don't try to confuse me" or "Stop whining on and on about everything."

Diverting: avoiding discussion by throwing accusations. "You deliberately start arguments when I need to go."

***Actively misrepresenting

Countering: when target questions facts, question their memory or challenge their assurance that they know everything.

Trivializing: "you will let something like this come between us?"

Forgetting: "what are you talking about?", "you are making this up".

Effects of gaslighting

*** Immediate


Self doubt, second guessing yourself

wondering about being too sensitive

*** Medium term

- Conviction something is wrong

- Always seem to be apologizing or making excuses

- Start withholding information to avoid questioning or put downs

- Start feeling you can't do anything right, hopeless

*** Long term

- Difficulty with making decisions

- Fundamentally questioning why, with so many apparently good things in life, nothing seems right

- Fuzzy memory.