Smitten with Him

grown-up stuff happens here sometimes

Word of the Day: Gaslighting

on June 9, 2014


Do you know what it is?

Wikipedia says:

Gaslighting or gas-lighting[1] is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt her or his own memory, perception, and sanity.[2] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The term owes its origin to the play Gas Light and its film adaptations, after which it was coined popularly. Now the term even is used in clinical and research literature.

The Urban Dictionary says:

A more psychological definition of gaslighting is “an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim – having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.”

Your spouse begins telling you things that never really happened. For instance, he says that last week he told you he was going to go to the bar with his buddies this Monday night, but you never remember him telling you that.

Or maybe your boss gets angry because you didn’t prepare the report he asked you to. When you remind him that he usually prepares that particular report, he snaps that he told you to take care of it a few days ago because he was too busy. However, you know he never asked you to do so.

Both of these could be considered gaslighting.

by Your Reality Check, May 31, 2009

Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Toxic Relationships – Abuse and its Aftermath says:

Ambient abuse is the stealth, subtle, underground currents of maltreatment that sometimes go unnoticed even by the victims themselves, until it is too late. Ambient abuse penetrates and permeates everything – but is difficult to pinpoint and identify. It is ambiguous, atmospheric, diffuse. Hence its insidious and pernicious effects. It is by far the most dangerous kind of abuse there is.

It is the outcome of fear – fear of violence, fear of the unknown, fear of the unpredictable, the capricious, and the arbitrary. It is perpetrated by dropping subtle hints, by disorienting, by constant – and unnecessary – lying, by persistent doubting and demeaning, and by inspiring an air of unmitigated gloom and doom (“gaslighting”).

Ambient abuse, therefore, is the fostering, propagation, and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen.

In the long term, such an environment erodes the victim’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victim adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus renders himself or herself exposed even more to criticism and judgment. The roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered mentally deranged and the abuser – the suffering soul.

Dr. Robin Stern of Psychology Today says (really you should click on the link and read the entire article, it was very good):

How do you know if you are being gaslighted? If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may be dancing the Gaslight Tango. Take care of yourself by taking another look at your relationship, talking to a trusted friend; and, begin to think about changing the dynamic of your relationship . Here are the signs:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself
  2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
  3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
  5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
  13. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  14. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
  15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

Remember, there is good news about identifying the Gaslight Effect. The good news is that knowledge is power. Once you can name this all too insidious dynamic, you can work towards changing the dynamic, or getting out — take back your reality, and, get more enjoyment from your life and your relationship!

 My father and husband have been doing this to me all my life. My father would tell me that ‘being emotional’ was a weakness and that having cry-baby feelings like mine would get me nowhere in life.

I used to think that I was crazy, that I was hallucinating things. On numerous occasions, I have said to Doom-n-Gloom, “I must be going crazy, because nothing ever is how I remember it with you.”

We would have arguments, and when I would ‘call him out’ on a mistake he would tell me that isn’t how it happened and relate some strange story that didn’t happen in the real world.

In fact, I frequently gaslight myself: telling myself that I am overreacting, that it really can’t be how it seems. I doubt myself and my feelings. I tell myself that my feelings don’t matter, that they are too intense and irrational.

Do you have a ‘gaslighter’ in your life?


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10 responses to “Word of the Day: Gaslighting

  1. says:

    quite bad life experience; my life isn’t a happy one, but didn’t have such problems!

  2. Wow! What an amazing post! I was raised the same way: always being told I was too emotional, that my recollection of events was incorrect, too dramatic. Like my father never beating with a belt never happened. Then my husband, same thing: I read into things too much, must mistakenly remember what he does/doesn’t say and when. This feeling sucks. I never knew there was a name or description for it. Loved reading through all this.

    • I’m glad you liked it. In this instance, I don’t know if knowledge has helped me. If you’re being gaslighted by someone, it’s not like you can tell them or stop them or anything. How can I empower myself with this?

      At least I know that I’m not crazy. All those times I thought I was crazy, I was really right about what had happened/not-happened.

  3. This was an interesting post to read…thank you. One of my step-brothers commited suicide several years ago. He was in constant pain and no doctor could find the cause. At one time, he was told it was all in his head – there was no physical justification. You know what? It didn’t matter. He felt the pain.

    Your pain and feelings are real to you, no matter what. We spend far too much time trying to convince people they aren’t valid, instead of dealing with the root cause of why you have them in the first place.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I am so sorry about your step-brother, suicide is tough for everyone to recover from. Hopefully he is at peace now ❤

      I wish more people out there would acknowledge that, even though some feelings are very uncomfortable to deal with, they are still very important and very real and need to be dealt with.

  4. Exit 4A says:

    Excellent post and well-researched. I’d never heard the term before and now I am an educated woman! Thanks – Exit 4A blog

  5. Mess says:

    So now it has a name! My husband does this to me constantly! I used to assume he was just mistaken, but in the last couple of years I’ve realized he does it on purpose. Just another way for him to control me.

    • It’s good to hear from you! ❤
      I used to assume that I was going crazy because it wasn't just my husband doing it, my parents do it, too, and one of my bosses at the time. I really, seriously thought I was insane and that my mind was altering my reality. Eventually, I realized that I couldn't be THAT crazy! 😉

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