Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that attempts to make a victim question his or her own memory, perception, and sanity. By lying, denying, contradicting, and misdirecting, the abuser makes the victim question reality. Together, let's consider the question, "What is gaslighting?" and uncover a couple coping strategies for the victims of this abuse.
The term gaslighting originates from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light, commonly known as known as Angel Street in the United States. This play tells the story of a husband who tries to convince his wife she is insane by changing small elements of their environment and making her doubt her memory when she points out the changes.
The title refers to the gas lights in the house that would dim whenever the husband was using the lights in the apartment above to search for the missing jewels of a woman he had secretly murdered. The wife notices that the lights are flickering, but her husband insists she is mistaken.
The term gaslighting has been used colloquially since the 1960s to describe behaviors in a number of different relationships.
In psychology, gaslighting is linked to a narcissistic personality. A narcissist is someone who pursues gratification by admiring his or her own attributes. The term comes from Greek mythology, referring to the handsome Narcissus, who spurned many lovers and fell in love with his own reflection.
Signs of a narcissistic personality include:
As you might expect, narcissism causes deep difficulty in building and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships. Narcissists are also more likely to engage in other self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, pathological gambling, or compulsive shopping.
There is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, but psychotherapy can help the narcissist develop a more realistic sense of self and improve relationships with others.
Gaslighting refers to a pattern of behavior that progresses over time, so it can be difficult to identify unless you're paying close attention to the dynamics of a relationship. Look for patterns in the actions of the abuser as well as the symptoms shown by the victim.
Someone who is engaging in gaslighting will regularly make comments that cast doubt on the victim's perception of a situation. For example:
Over time, gaslighting can cause a number of symptoms in victims. For example:
If you've been the victim of gaslighting, you may struggle with depression and low self-esteem as the result of the abuse you've suffered. Speaking with a qualified therapist can help you address your own mental health issues and move forward with your life. In addition to that, keeping a journal and confiding in a trusted friend can help you better see patterns in the abuser's behavior, thus making it easier to trust your own intuition and perception of the truth. When you're ready, feel free to read about the many Benefits of Emotional Journal Writing.