Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that involves making someone doubt their own memories or perception of reality. This can be done by denying facts that the other person knows to be true, accusing them of being confused or sensitive, or insulting them. Gaslighting can be hard to recognize and even harder to deal with, but it is becoming more widely known due to recent events in the news.
The US News and World Report explains that the term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play “Gas Light”, which was then turned into a movie with Ingrid Bergman in 1944. The movie, a mystery thriller, features a husband who manipulates his wife into believing that she’s losing her mind, while he searches for her murdered aunt’s gems. The gaslights would dim everytime the husband turned on the attic light, a fact that he denies and assures her that she’s just going crazy.
While the story is fiction, gaslighting can happen in any relationship. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the abuser intentionally tries to undermine their victim’s confidence and judgment. This can be done by lying, deflecting responsibility, or making the victim feel guilty and ashamed. Gaslighting is extremely dangerous because it can lead to the victim questioning their own sanity. Gaslighting is often a trait of narcissistic personality disorder.
If you think you may be the victim of gaslighting, it is important to take steps to protect yourself. In the moment, try to avoid engaging in arguments with the person gaslighting you. Instead, simply state that you have different memories or perspectives. If the person becomes insulting, set boundaries by telling them that such behavior is not acceptable. In relationships where gaslighting is common, it can be difficult to resist the urge to argue and try to convince the other person that they are wrong. However, this is often not effective and can result in power struggles. It may be helpful to have conversation stoppers ready to use in order to end the discussion or take a break from it. Additionally, keep in mind that it can be very difficult to change the behavior of a gaslighter, and that your partner may not be willing or even able to do so.
Elnaz Mayeh is director of clinical operations for Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health talks about leaving. It“can be extremely hard as the gaslighter’s psychological manipulations will slowly but surely chip away at your self-esteem, which is essential for leaving any relationship. If you’re unsure what to do, who to turn to, and whether to stay or leave, you’re not alone, although your partner may have tricked you into thinking you are.”