What is Gaslighting?

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

If you watch the news, you’ve no doubt heard the term “Gaslighting.”  But what does it mean, when is it used and what are some examples of it?


While you may think that the word is new to our language, it might surprise you to learn that the term “gaslighting” comes from the name of a 1938 play and 1944 film, “Gaslight,” in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness.

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Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves. When you hear it in today’s news, it is usually meant to ask you to question yourself and your beliefs, often concerning a political issue.


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, examples of gaslighting can include:

  • Countering: This is when someone questions a person’s memory. They may say things such as, “Are you sure about that? You have a bad memory.”
  • Withholding: This involves someone pretending they do not understand the conversation, or refusing to listen, to make a person doubt themselves. For example, they might say, “Now you are just confusing me,” or “I do not know what you are talking about.”
  • Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards how someone else feels. They may accuse them of being “too sensitive” or overreacting in response to valid and reasonable concerns.
  • Denial: involves a person refusing to take responsibility for their actions, often by pretending to forget what happened, saying they did not do it, or blaming their behavior on someone else.
  • Diverting: This occurs when a person refuses to take responsibility for their actions. They may pretend to forget what happened, say that they did not do it, or blame their behavior on someone else. For example, they might say, “That is just nonsense you read on the internet. It is not real.”


Gaslighting is also a method of gaining control over someone else. It begins with breaking down a person’s trust in themselves to increase that person’s dependence on the abusive person. In personal relationships, one member may begin gaslighting by suggesting that their partner is not reliable, is forgetful, or has become mentally unstable. This can cause the other person to question himself and think that their partner is right. The more this happens, the more power and influence the abusive person has over his/her partner. As this goes on, they may no longer trust themselves and begin to rely heavily on their partner to recall those memories or make more decisions for them. They may also feel that they cannot leave that partner because they doubt their own mental stability or ability to survive without the manipulative partner.


With political gaslighting a group or person lies or manipulates information to control people. For example, a political party may downplay things their administration has done, discredit their opponents, imply that their critics are mentally unstable, or use a controversy, real or imagined deflecting attention away from their mistakes. The desired result is the same – to gain power and influence over people.


Gaslighting has a significant impact on mental health, and people experiencing it need to make sure they look after themselves. If you believe that you’re experiencing abuse of any kind, you should seek support. Over time, emotional abuse may escalate into physical violence. Even if the abuse does not become physical, gaslighting and similar negative and controlling behaviors can significantly undermine a person’s self-esteem, mental health, and control over their own lives.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com