What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. The term derives its name from a 1938 play, Gas Light, and a film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman.

Victims of gaslighting may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.

Gaslighting can occur in personal or professional relationships, and the victims are targeted at the core of their being: their sense of identity and self-worth. Manipulative people who engage in gaslighting do so to attain power over their victims, either because they simply derive warped enjoyment from the act or because they wish to emotionally, physically or financially control their victim. Those who employ this tactic often have a personality disorder; narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy chief among them. Manipulators have a tendency to present one face to their prey and another to the rest of the world, leading victims to assume that if they ask for help or speak out, no one will believe that they have been manipulated and emotionally abused.

How to Recognize Gaslighting

It can be difficult to recognize when the act of gaslighting begins if there are not other pathological behaviors on display. A gaslighter will initially lie about simple things: "No, I told you the visit was scheduled for Saturday, not Sunday." The prevarication and misinformation then grows: a gaslighter may next accuse the victim of lying, or introduce entirely new, fabricated stories, rather than just reacting to statements and questions: "Why did you schedule a visit for Saturday when you know I'm always tired then?" when no such visit was ever scheduled.

individuals who are targeted will eventually experience increased confusion and self-doubt around a gaslighter. The gaslighter will try to convince the target that what he or she remembers, thinks, and feels is wrong. As the relationship continues, the manipulative individual will introduce lies or negative statements in more sensitive arenas, aiming to disrupt and distort foundational aspects of a person's being: "Your children won't visit this weekend; they clearly prefer spending time with your ex. You'd be so much better off now if you'd never married and had children."

Typically, if the victim disagrees, manipulators will react poorly and twist the truth to make it seem as if they themselves are being victimized by their targets. Deeper into the process, those being gaslighted may doubt not just their self-worth, but the evidence of their own senses as well.


Cluster B, Narcissism, Psychopathy

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