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Gaslighting

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

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. They 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.

How Gaslighting Works

The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, and its film adaptation. Gaslighting can occur in personal or professional relationships, and 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.

How to Recognize a Gaslighter

Gaslighting can be more effective and successful than many people imagine. Almost anyone can be susceptible to gaslighting tactics, which have been deployed throughout history, and continue to be used today, by domestic abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. The most effective gaslighters are often the hardest to detect; they may be better recognized by their victims' actions and mental state.

Leaving a Gaslighter

A primary goal of gaslighters is to keep the victim hooked. If a victim disagrees with or questions their abuser, he or she may try to make themselves seem as if they themselves are being victimized by their targets. Alternately, they may try to lure a partner back with positive reinforcement. Many people eventually find a way to escape a gaslighter’s influence, leaving the manipulator to search for a new target; often, they already have another victim in mind.

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