What is Gaslighting? Phrases to Look Out for, from Relationship Experts

Filed in Articles by on October 4, 2022

A form of psychological abuse known as gaslighting occurs when a person or group makes another question their own sanity, recollections, or sense of reality.


Deliberate lying, passive hostility, defensiveness, sarcasm, and disparaging another person’s experiences are all examples of gaslighting. Although anyone can employ gaslighting, it’s a popular strategy used by abusers to gain control and authority in their relationships.

What is Gaslighting?

The phrase “gaslighting” is derived from the title of a play from 1938 and a movie from 1944 by the same name, Gaslight, in which a husband tricks his wife into believing she has a mental disorder.

This article examines gaslighting, discussing typical instances, warning signals, and causes. We also go over how to react to this behavior and how to ask for assistance. Gaslighting is a red flag worthy of note.

Examples of Gaslighting

Examples of gaslighting

The National Domestic Violence Hotline claims that there are numerous ways in which gaslighting can occur. Several instances include:

Belittling: This is the act of minimizing or disregarding another person’s feelings. They might say that they overreacted or were “too sensitive” in response to legitimate worries.

Leaving Out Important Information: Bosses who use gaslighting may believe that their staff can read minds. As a result, when issuing project directions, they could be purposefully ambiguous.

Employees are frequently put in losing circumstances by this technique. On the one hand, they don’t want to misinterpret the demands of their aggressive boss.

However, they frequently worry that requesting an explanation would come across as needy or inexperienced.

Denial: A person who refuses to accept responsibility for their actions is said to be in denial. They might accomplish this by acting as though they forgot what happened, denying responsibility, or assigning blame.

When they make a mistake at work, gaslighters refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. They instead take a defensive stance.

An employee trying to set boundaries over unacceptable behavior, for instance, will often receive a dismissive or irate response from the gaslighter.

Shifting Blame: Gaslighting parents may assign blame for their own errors to the youngster. They can insist that something happened for no reason or that the child caused it in some other way.

If they do apologize, it won’t be sincere; it will more likely be something like, “I’m sorry you were so upset.”

Countering: When a person’s recollection is questioned. They might ask questions like, “Are you sure about that? Maybe you don’t remember things well, or maybe you’re forgetting what actually happened.

Stereotyping: According to an article in the American Sociological Review, it is possible for someone to gaslight someone by purposefully using unfavorable stereotypes about their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, or age. For instance, they might assert that if a woman claims assault, no one would believe her.

Regular Criticism: This example relates to the use of disapproval as a means of behavior control, but it is a little more extreme.

When someone consistently disapproves of or openly criticizes another person, the victim may internalize the criticism, feel invalidated, and may start to put other people’s needs and goals before their own, so rejecting their own reality.

Regular Rumors: Friends who are gaslighted thrive on rumors because it gives them a sense of legitimacy, authority, and control.

As a result, they frequently approach others only to “dig up dirt” that they may later exploit to their advantage.

Disregarding Success: Partners that engage in gaslighting frequently experience jealousy and fear of their partner’s achievement. They consequently frequently undermine or contest others’ successes.

They might say things like, “That’s terrific you received a promotion, but it’s a bummer you’re still so underpaid in your role!” or other similar statements.

Withholding: To make someone doubt oneself, someone withholds information by pretending they do not understand what is being said or by refusing to listen. They might respond with something like, “Now you’re just confounding me,” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Diverting: By casting doubt on the other person’s trustworthiness, a person can shift the subject of a conversation. For instance, they can assert, “That is simply garbage you read online.” It’s not true.

Hypocrisy: When it comes to their staff, gaslighting managers may be too severe with specific policies while flouting them themselves.

For instance, even though they arrive late most mornings, they might discuss the value of arriving at work on time.

When confronted, they frequently protest their innocence and make an effort to place the blame elsewhere.

History of Gaslighting

The practice of gaslighting is not new. For many years, people have employed gaslighting and other forms of psychological abuse. However, the phrase “gaslighting” is a rather recent invention.

It takes its name from the 1938 play and 1944 movie Gaslight. In the tale, a husband deceives his wife into doubting his quest for her wife’s aunt’s stolen jewelry.

He assures her that the sounds she hears coming from their attic and the dimming gas lights outside their house are just in her head, making her a victim of gaslighting.

The manipulation that the characters in the movie portray has become known as “gaslighting.”


How Does Gaslighting Works?

Gaslighting is a technique for dominating another person. It accomplishes this by reducing a person’s confidence in oneself while increasing their reliance on the abusive individual.

Relationship gaslighting frequently starts very subtly. Sometimes there is an early “honeymoon period” during which there is no abusive conduct and during which the abusive individual wins the trust of the spouse. After that, the person starts implying that their partner is unreliable, forgetful, or mentally unstable.

This may eventually lead some people to wonder if their partner is indeed right. The more often this occurs, the more authority and sway the abuser has.

The person may begin to strongly rely on their partner to remember events or make judgments since they can’t trust themselves. They might think they are unable to depart.

Where Does Gaslighting Take Place?

Although it can happen in any kind of contact, gaslighting is particularly prevalent in:

Intimate Relationships

An abusive partner may employ gaslighting in relationships to alienate, demoralize, and make the victim more susceptible to control.

For instance, they might accuse someone of being illogical until the other person begins to believe it to be true.

Parent-Child Relationships

Gaslighting is a tactic used by abusive parents or caregivers to subvert children. To shame them and get them to stop crying, for instance, parents could claim that a youngster is “too sensitive” when they are crying.

Institutional Gaslighting

Within a business, organization, or institution, like a hospital, institutional gaslighting takes place.

For instance, they might misrepresent employees’ rights or characterize problem-reporting whistleblowers as unreasonable or incompetent.

Gaslighting in Medicine

Medical gaslighting, according to the CPTSD Foundation, occurs when a doctor dismisses a patient’s health worries as the result of their own imagination. They can call the person a hypochondriac or say that their ailments are “all in their head.”

Racism-Based Gaslighting

Racial gaslighting, according to an article in Politics, Groups, and Identities, is the use of gaslighting strategies against an entire racial or ethnic group in an effort to discredit them.

For instance, a person or organization might label a change-campaigning activist as “mad” or unreasonable.

Political Gaslighting

According to a piece in the Buffalo Law Review, political gaslighting happens when a political organization or individual lies or distorts the truth to deceive the public.

For instance, the person or political party could minimize the wrongdoings of their administration, disparage their rivals, insinuate that critics are mentally ill, or stir up controversy to draw attention away from their errors.

Signs of Gaslighting

It might be challenging for victims of gaslighting to recognize the signs. They can think they have a bad memory or that the abusive individual is trustworthy.

But gaslighting can be at play if a person frequently doubts their memory or needs assistance from another person to help them make straightforward decisions.

The following are some possible warning signals of gaslighting:

• Uncertainty about their perceptions

• Having frequent doubts about their memory, leading them to believe they are unreasonable or “crazy”

• Feeling unworthy, inadequate, or unassertive

• Apologizing to the abusive person on a regular basis

• Defense of the abusive person’s behavior in front of others

• Withdrawal or social isolation

If gaslighting is a part of a larger pattern of abuse, it is especially likely to contribute to anxiety, depression, and psychological trauma.

Reasons for Gaslighting Behavior

People pick up the habit of gaslighting by observing others. A person who employs this technique may have discovered it is a successful means of getting what they want or exerting control over others.

They can believe they are entitled to their way of doing things or that the needs and wants of others are unimportant.

Abuse is occasionally displayed by people who have personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

These set of people have:

• A persistent desire for adoration and attention

• A sense of superiority or importance

• Lack of empathy

Unhealthy relationships may result from this constellation of symptoms. However, mental illness is not necessarily the cause of gaslighting. Anyone has the ability to act in this way.

On a larger scale, gaslighting is a manifestation of structural oppression. Sometimes those in positions of authority use it to undermine the credibility of an individual or group, which delegitimizes them.

Terms that Gaslighters Frequently Use:

• “I didn’t say that”.

• “I did that because I care about you”.

• “Why are you making such a big deal out of this, I wonder”.

• “You’re being too sensitive,” I said.

• “You’re being very theatrical”.

• “You are the problem, not I am”.

•”You would adore me if you did”.

• “You are insane.”

• “You’re acting irrationally.”

• “You simply lack confidence.”

• “If you don’t do this for me, you are such a selfish person.”

• “You’re dreaming,” someone said.

• “You forced me to do that.”

• “You don’t truly feel that way, she said.”

• “That never took place.”

• “It’s not really a huge deal.”

• “You’re just being overly cautious,”

How to React When Being Gaslighted

People who suffer from gaslighting need to make sure they take care of their mental health because it has a huge negative impact on them. There are many strategies to defend oneself from this kind of harassment.

Gathering Proof

A person can convince themselves that they are not hallucinating or forgetting things by compiling documentation of the experiences. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests:

Having a Secret Diary: In a diary or notebook, a person can note the date, time, and specifics of what occurred right away and subsequently look back on it.

Confiding in a Friend, Family Member, or Counselor: This will assist someone to have a better understanding of their circumstances. The individual can witness occurrences as well.

Taking Pictures: A person’s recollections can be “fact-checked” with the aid of photographs.

Keeping Voice Memos: Using a recording device can be a quick and easy way for someone to quickly narrate events on their own terms.

If someone decides to take legal action against the abusive person or group, this kind of evidence may also be helpful. Before using audio or video recordings in court, though, check your state’s regulations.

Particularly if they live or work with the abuser, it is crucial to ensure that any evidence of the abusive behavior is kept confidential. One could try:

• Removing their search history on a regular basis

• Giving copies of records to a trusted friend, as this enables a person to delete their own copies

• Keeping gadgets locked away

• Buying a second phone or a cheap voice recorder, and hiding or locking evidence

Safety Preparation

People can utilize safety plans as instruments to defend themselves against harm. Depending on the circumstances, they could consist of:

• A strategy to safely leave the relationship, house, or circumstance

• Emergency contact information

• A list of safe locations to go, escape routes, and ideas for self-care to help a person cope

How to Respond to Someone who is Gaslighting You

• “My emotions and my realities are true.” You telling me that I am being overly sensitive is not something I like. “

• “Never tell me how I should feel. I feel as though this.”

• “I’m permitted to talk to you about these subjects and have these talks. Do not tell me that I am exaggerating.”

• I am aware of what I witnessed.

• If you keep downplaying how I’m feeling, “I won’t continue this talk.” (Finally, put the barrier in place.)

When to Get Assistance

Anyone who thinks they are a victim of abuse of any type should get assistance. Emotional abuse can progress to physical abuse over time.

Gaslighting and related tactics can seriously damage a person’s self-esteem and mental health, even if the abuse never gets physical.

For assistance in developing a safety plan and counsel, get in touch with a domestic abuse agency.

A person may find it beneficial to speak privately with a therapist who has experience assisting people in abusive relationships in order to address the psychological effects of gaslighting.

Call 911 or other emergency services if you ever feel confused or if someone you know is in immediate danger from domestic violence. Contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline is possible round-the-clock via:

Call 800-799-7233, chat live at thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522

There are numerous additional resources, like hotlines, in-person assistance, and transitional housing.

Local resources and others organized by demographics, such as assistance exclusively for People of Color, are available here:

The Office on Women’s Health

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence


A form of abuse called gaslighting makes a victim question their views or sanity. It can occur in any form of relationship, especially romantic relationships but a power disparity is frequently present.

When someone is gaslighted, they could feel lost or as if they are incapable of doing anything well. They might doubt their recollections or be concerned about a mental disorder.

Additionally, they could feel dependent on the abusive individual and defend their actions.

Protecting oneself against gaslighting and other types of emotional abuse requires finding safe means to record experiences, develop a safety plan, or end a relationship.

A domestic violence group or mental health professional might offer assistance if a person is worried that their partner is gaslighting them.

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CSN Team.

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