What is Gaslighting?

[Updated as information is found; last update 13, May 2011]

Gaslighting is an extremely emotionally abusive set of tactics. In my experience, the descriptions in the articles linked below are incredibly accurate and thorough:

1. Gaslighting: The Extremes of Emotional Abuse

2. Emotional Abuse or Gaslighting

Please take the time to read about this, to protect yourself from the nightmare existence of living with an abuser who practices gaslighting.

3. One 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.”Abuser’s name removed. By their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:16

4. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or brainwashing where one individual attempts to get another individual to believe she is “crazy”. This is most often done through the denial of facts, events, or what one did or did not say. The gaslighter might also directly or indirectly imply that the individual is defective, crazy, or suffers from a mental illness. When this technique is used on someone, she may initially become frustrated that she is being told her memory or perceptions do not match reality. However, after a while, the individual begins to believe the gaslighter. She may start to believe that she is imagining things, has some kind of mental illness, or has a faulty memory (one should also note that extreme anxiety and/or major depression are natural responses to chronic abuse, and that memory difficulties are a common side-effect of both conditions). When the victim doubts her perceptions of reality, the gaslighter is able to control his partner: she becomes completely dependent on the gaslighter for the “truth”, which he will always withhold or deny.

5. Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so– and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person. Gaslighting takes two: one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self, and the other, who is willing to acquiesce due to strong need for her partner’s approval, and fear of losing the relationship/being abandoned.

6. The victim of gaslighting is forced to ask herself if she should even try anything as a next step: though her questions were logical, understandable, and completely answerable, the gaslighter responds simply with, “I don’t know”, “I can’t be expected to remember”, or “That simply didn’t happen.” The victim is also left to deal with wondering what else could possibly be unknown to her if he knowingly denies events, interactions and conversations. Overall, the victim starts to realize she needs to be careful when relying on her own perceptions of life.

7. Triangulation gaslighting involves emotionally manipulating the victim, as well as causing her sanity or competence to be called into question, with the involvement of an unwitting third party. This form of gaslighting has been used to great effect as a plot device in horror novels and films, often in a situation where a woman or child is held captive and tortured by an evil man, then escapes and tries to tell the police or other third parties, but isn’t believed or is thought of as “crazy”. In these cases, the victim is manipulated into a lose-lose position where either (a) they say nothing and continue suffering abuse, or (b) they try to tell a third party but the only result is that they cause their own sanity to be called into question because they sound “crazy”, effectively shifting suspicion and blame away from the abuser.

There is also a book called The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life by Dr Robin Stern. On amazon, on goodreads, or check your local library.

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