Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person is made to doubt their own reality or judgment. It’s a very common way that narcissists, psychopaths, and other abusers manipulate their victims.
The term comes from the 1942 movie of the same name, in which the heroine is victimized by her abusive husband into believing she is going insane, when she notices the gaslights in their home going on and off seemingly by themselves, when it is actually he who is doing it to torment her.
Here are a few examples of gaslighting:
Your partner calls you hurtful names, and when you object, tells you you are being “too sensitive,” “acting crazy,” “playing the victim,” etc. (blaming the victim is very common in abusive personalities).
Your parent, who was physically abusive to you as a child, says it never happened and you are just imagining things.
Your partner steals money from you while you’re asleep, and then when you bring it up the next day, says you must have misplaced it or didn’t count it right.
Gaslighting occurs on the societal level too and is a favorite tactic of sociopathic leaders to maintain control of their narrative and keep their opponents off balance and fearful, but that is beyond the scope of this short post. I have covered that topic elsewhere in this blog.
Gaslighting is death by a thousand cuts. While an individual incident of gaslighting might seem minor and nothing to get that upset about (and all of us, at one time or another, have probably gaslighted someone else), these incidents tend to add up over time and cause a person to doubt their own reality to the point of developing symptoms of trauma or even PTSD.
A person who is the victim of gaslighting becomes fearful, unsure of themselves, feels as if they’re “walking on eggshells” all the time, afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. If you feel uncomfortable, ill at ease, or fearful around a particular person, or clam up when you are usually more outgoing, chances are you are being gaslighted.
Here’s a handy table that will help you know when to tell.