Anxiety & Stress

What is Gaslighting?

A woman gazing into the distance with her hands folded under her chin.

Gaslighting, named word of the year in 2022, is a serious issue in which one person manipulates another into questioning their own reality. The word “gaslight” originated from the movie of the same name, in which a woman is manipulated into questioning her own sanity. While its rise in popular culture has contributed to some misuse of the word, gaslighting is a real tactic used to manipulate people. Experiencing gaslighting may also lead to or worsen anxiety and depression. 

Why might people Gaslight?

Someone might gaslight for multiple reasons, including the following:

  • In relationships with an imbalance of power, such as a parent-child relationship
  • To control a romantic partner 
  • As a manipulative defense strategy
  • Can be linked to personality disorders like narcissism 
  • To maintain a narrative or explain why you experience something, such as consistently taking the blame for why someone treats you poorly

Common Signs of Gaslighting 

While gaslighting can take many forms, here are some signs that someone is gaslighting you:

  • Often convinced that your feelings are invalid
  • Being called “crazy” or “overly emotional”
  • Being told the way you experienced an event did not happen or happened differently
  • Constantly questioning yourself
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs
  • Constantly apologizing for perceived slights
  • Doubting your memory or mental health
  • Being cut off from friends or family who question the gaslighter
  • Feeling alone 
  • Feeling trapped in a relationship 

Gaslighting Yourself

While it is common in abusive or unhealthy relationships, gaslighting may also eventually occur in one’s mind. If you are being gaslighted consistently enough, you might begin to internalize the words of the gaslighter. Without realizing it, you may begin to think things like “what I’m experiencing isn’t that bad,” or “maybe it is my fault.” 

It is not easy to stop this thought process all at once, but recognizing you’re doing this and experiencing something harmful in your life is the first step. 

Ways to Deal with Gaslighting

Before discussing gaslighting with someone, consider if it was a case of someone trying to share their perspective, or if there was an intent to control. If the gaslighter is consistently making you question your experiences to benefit themselves, then if it is safe to do so, try to calmly discuss their behavior with them. Other ways to deal with  gaslighting:

  • Keep a journal of these interactions, even if just for yourself.
  • Confide in people you trust.
  • Work towards trusting yourself and your instincts.
  • Speak with a professional.
  • If possible and necessary, disengage with the person.
  • If you are in an unsafe situation and you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. 

Keep in mind that if you have experienced gaslighting, it is not your fault, and that many people experience gaslighting. If possible, surround yourself with people who support you as you navigate the situation.