Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that causes someone to question their sanity and perceptions. The term comes from the 1938 play and subsequent movie Gas Light, in which an abusive husband tricks his wife into thinking that she is imagining things.
People use gaslighting to gain control over someone else. They are able to do this by:
- causing someone to distrust themselves
- making someone feel scared and vulnerable
- neutralizing someone’s ability to criticize their abusive behavior
Gaslighting is different from other forms of abuse because it relies on the abused person agreeing with the other person and truly believing that they are irrational or unstable. This belief makes them dependent on the abusive person.
SIGNS OF GASLIGHTING
A person who is gaslighting someone may frequently:
- accuse someone of lying or making things up
- refuse to listen to someone’s concerns
- accuse someone of being confusing or not making sense
- claim that someone’s memories are incorrect or imagined
- deny having said or done things
- pretend that someone’s concerns are trivial or that they are overreacting
A person might be a victim of gaslighting if they:
- constantly second-guess themselves
- often feel confused or “crazy”
- have difficulty making simple decisions
- blame themselves for being too sensitive
- feel as though they cannot do anything right
- frequently make excuses for the abusive person’s behavior
- withhold information or lie to friends and family to protect the abusive person
HOW TO DEAL WITH GASLIGHTING?
A person can deal with gaslighting by maintaining a sense of reality. They can do this by recording evidence to show that they are not imagining things. People can use the following methods:
- Keeping a journal: A person can use journaling to record gaslighting incidents. They should take care to store the journal in a safe place where the abusive person cannot find it.
- Recording voice memos: A person can quickly record what just happened somewhere private for future reference.
- Taking photographs: If it is safe to do so, a person can use a cell phone to take photographs that prove that their memories are accurate. If the abusive person has access to their phone, a hidden disposable camera may be a better option.
- Email: Rather than keeping the proof on a device at home or on a shared computer, a person can email it to a trusted friend or family member.
These tips may help a person accept that their perceptions are real, which can help their mental health. Later on, this proof may also help someone pursue legal action against an abusive partner, family member, or employer.
A person may also benefit from:
- Support groups: Gaslighting can affect a person’s mental health. Talking to people who have experienced the same things can reduce feelings of isolation. A person can find online support groups or groups that meet in person.
- Therapy: If possible, it may help to speak to a therapist with training in the type of abuse that a person is experiencing. A therapist can provide someone with a safe space to talk honestly about how they feel.
- Trusting their instincts: Once a person knows that they can trust themselves, they can practice listening to their instincts and judgments again. With time, this can help a person regain their sense of self.
- Resisting the urge to argue: A person who has evidence of gaslighting might feel tempted to use it to prove that they are not “crazy.” However, this is unlikely to change the abusive person’s behavior. Additionally, if someone reveals that they have gathered evidence, the abusive person may retaliate or try to erase it.
If someone shares devices with an abusive person, it is important to remember to delete the search and browser history after reading about gaslighting.
GASLIGHTING IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Gaslighting is a common behavior in people who psychologically abuse their partner.
In a 2014 survey of more than 2,500 people who had experienced domestic violence, 85.7% of the participants reported that their partner or ex-partner had accused them of being “crazy.” Another 73.8% said that their partner or ex-partner had deliberately engaged in behaviors to make them feel as though they were losing their mind.
Gaslighting can be part of coercive control. Coercive control describes a pattern of abusive behavior that gives an abusive person power over someone else. Other aspects of coercive control include:
- insisting on monitoring someone’s cell phone, email, and activities
- telling someone where they can go and who they can see
- dictating when someone can go to school or work
- the use of insults, threats, and intimidating behavior
- taking control of a person’s finances
In the United Kingdom, coercive control is illegal. Although it is not technically a crime in the United States, physical or sexual abuse is illegal. As coercive control often escalates to physical violence, it is important for people who have experienced gaslighting to be wary of other signs of abuse.
A person may wish to take precautions in case they need to leave the relationship in the future. These precautions may include:
- maintaining relationships with trusted family and friends
- having easy access to their own money
- creating a safety plan, which can help them stay safe both during and after a relationship
Ending a relationship with an abusive person can be dangerous, so a safety plan might include ways in which a person can leave the home, find alternative accommodation, and ensure that children or pets are safe.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
If a person thinks that someone close to them is gaslighting them, this could be a sign of abuse. People in relationships can seek help from domestic abuse helplines to get advice and understand what they are going through.
People experiencing gaslighting in other contexts may benefit from speaking to a therapist. A therapist can provide an outside perspective on the situation, help a person deal with the mental health effects of gaslighting, and allow them to regain trust in themselves.
Author: Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA, Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Litner, LMFT, CST
Title: 8 ways to deal with gaslighting