Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Gaslighting is a term for a manipulation technique used by an abusive partner that makes you question your own ideas, motives, reality and even your sanity. The term comes from the play and movie Gaslight about a young woman who believes she is going insane due to the manipulations of her abusive husband. He constantly tries to trick her into believing that she is going mad by hiding her personal items (which then turn up exactly where she left them), insisting that she is seeing things when the gas lights dim without being adjusted, and telling her that she’s not remembering events or conversations as they actually happened.
While the film itself is melodramatic in its depiction gaslighting is an unfortunate reality in an abusive relationship. Like many forms of abuse gaslighting begins gradually, so gradually that you may dismiss it as just a “quirk” or single incident. Unfortunately, as the relationship progresses an abuser may use this technique to gain more control over your life and actions. For our purposes we’d like to highlight the warning signs of this type of abuse and what you may be feeling if you are being ”gaslighted”.
Signs that your partner may be using the gaslighting technique include:
Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.” or “That’s not what really happened.”
Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.
According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., you may be a victim of gaslighting if:
You constantly second-guess yourself.
You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
You often feel confused and even crazy.
You’re always apologizing to your partner.
You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists. You have trouble making simple decisions. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
You feel hopeless and joyless.
You feel as though you can’t do anything right. You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.
Sources for this article include:
Gaslight. Dir. George Cukor. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944. Based on the play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, 1938.
Healthy Place: Gaslighting Definition, Techniques and Being Gaslighted by Natasha Tracy https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/gaslighting-definition-techniques-and-being-gaslighted
Love Is Respect : What is Gaslighting? May 2014 https://www.loveisrespect.org/content/what-gaslighting/
Psychology Today: 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting by Stephanie A. Sarkis, PhD.
Psychology Today: Are You Being Gaslighted? By Robin Stern, PhD.