Gaslighting is a word that I often hear these days, both inside and outside of the counselling room. It has become quite a buzzword. The term gaslighting comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, in which a husband tries to drive his wife insane by making small changes to their home and then denying that they have happened.
Gaslighting is a pop psychology term that describes what is actually quite a complex dynamic. And while I see the value of simplicity when it helps us to understand, I also think that using terms like this can minimise the seriousness of a situation unless we are aware of what the consequences of it really are. So how else can gaslighting be understood and how would you recognise it if it was happening to you or to someone else?
What it gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse in which a person or group manipulates someone else by forcing them to question their own reality. The VAW Learning Network describes gaslighting as “a coercive control tactic that shifts the focus away from the perpetrator’s abusive behaviour and on to the supposed emotional and psychological instability of the survivor” (see useful resources for link). It is a type of manipulation that can be very damaging to the victim's mental health.
Gaslighting/coercive control can be present in any type of relationship, but it is most commonly seen in romantic relationships, families, and workplaces. It can also be used by people in positions of power, such as teachers, doctors, and bosses.
How to recognise gaslighting
There are many different signs that point to gaslighting. Some of the most common signs include:
Your partner or abuser denies things that you know to be true. They may deny things that happened, or they may try to make you believe that you are misremembering things.
Trivializing your feelings. The gaslighter may make your feelings seem invalid or unimportant.
They make you feel like you are crazy or imagining things so you doubt your own reality and, over time, believe there is something ‘wrong with you’
They put you down or make you feel bad about yourself, using name-calling and insults to undermine your self-esteem
They isolate you from your friends and family, gradually reducing your support network so you become more dependant on them for everything
They control your finances or access to increase dependency on them and make it difficult for you to leave the relationship/situation
They threaten and intimidate you to make you feel unsafe, and unable to speak up or leave the relationship
They project their own faults and behaviours onto you by accusing you of the very things that they are doing themselves
They control your access to information or communication, for example stealing your mail, screening your phone calls or going through your phone and devices.
Gaslighting can have a devastating impact on the victim's mental health. It can cause them to doubt their own judgment, their memories, and their sanity. It can also lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation.
How to deal with gaslighting
If you are being gaslighted, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Gaslighting is a form of abuse and if you are experiencing this it’s not your fault. There are people who can help. You can talk to a trusted friend or family member, or you can seek professional help from a counsellor, therapist or one of the many charities and organisations that exist to support people who have experienced abuse (see useful resources for some examples).
Caveat: If you feel in physical danger from an abuser, please act with care. The tips given here may not be safe for you if you are in a violent relationship. In this instance do what you can to stay safe in the moment and seek the help of abuse organisations and the police if necessary.
There are also things that you can do to protect yourself from gaslighting. Here are a few strategies that might be helpful:
Trust your gut
If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. Don't let your abuser make you feel like you are crazy or imagining things. Trust in what you know to be true.
Document the abuse
If you can, keep a record of the gaslighting behavior. This could include writing down what happened, when it happened, and who was involved. If you have a trusted person in your life, ask if they will keep a copy of these records for you too.
Talk to someone you trust
Talk to a friend, family member, therapist, or other trusted person about what is happening. They can offer support and help you develop a plan to deal with the abuse.
If the gaslighting is severe, you may need to seek help from a professional. A counsellor or therapist can help you understand what is happening and develop coping mechanisms. You may also want to consider getting a restraining order against your abuser.
I hope you find these blogs interesting and helpful. If you’d like to read more of my musings you can subscribe to my blog at https://www.tranquillocounselling.com/blog and follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tranquillocounselling.
Here are details of some helpful organisations
VAW Learning Network, Canada - visit for their useful blog post
Contact me at email@example.com to discuss how counselling might be helpful for you. I work face to face from my therapy room in Falkirk, and online.